When Emma was a toddler, I bought a book called Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. It was like my Parenting Bible and I read it over and over when my girls were little. (I may need to give it another look since teenagers and toddlers have so much in common.) One of my favorite sections of the book is in the beginning when she takes a label that we might give a kid that has a negative connotation (like messy or exhausting) and changes it into something positive (so that messy becomes “creative” and exhausting becomes “energetic”). It’s amazing how a simple shift in how you label about something can transform how you feel about it.
I think you can overhaul just about anything, giving it a more positive spin, including the idea of a morning practice.
Last week I wrote a post about creating a morning routine that works for people like me, you know… normal people. One that isn’t filled with fanciful expectations and a lot of “shoulds.” Somewhere along the way, I subscribed to the philosophy that I needed a “practice” that started early in the morning in order to be spiritually transformational. And, really, that’s utter nonsense. The reality is that my morning routine involves waking up with just enough time to pour coffee and make my kids breakfast.
So while I don’t want to wake up an hour earlier every morning to fit in things like journaling, reading, and meditating, I still want to create a daily routine around the things that are important to me. But the labels, Journaling, Reading, and Meditating have become negative labels in my mind. Boring “shoulds” that I don’t really want to do. I don’t like the way I’ve come to view them. So I’m going to take them one-by-one and give them a Kurcinka-Renovation.
You get up hours before all of the people in your house awake, sit down with a warm cup of herbal tea (and by herbal tea, I mean coffee with cream and sugar), the fresh page of a journal, and the perfect pen. It feels so healthy, so relaxing, so important… like a great way to start your morning.
Or maybe it’s at the end of a long day. You climb into bed after all of the face washing and serum applying and grab your trusty journal, ready to eloquently write out all of the things that have happened to you that day. Ready to explore your thoughts and feelings and capture all of your light-bulb moments.
Only… I hate both of those things. Like I really, really hate them. And I have been forcing myself to do one of these things or I have felt wildly guilty about not doing one of these things for decades.
The thing is, I love writing. I have to write. If I don’t, I won’t understand what I’m thinking or feeling or really process anything that is going on in my brain. I am grumpy and difficult to be around. And if I don’t write about it, I have to talk about it. Usually I do a lot of both (much to joy of my husband… except probably not really). So it feels like it should come very naturally for me to journal. I should totally love journaling.
But here’s the thing. I don’t. I hate writing in an actual journal. It’s why I have seven partially-filled journals on my bedside table at this exact moment. Apparently, I figure that buying a new one will fix the problem. It hasn’t.
The first issue is that my hand and a pen will never be able to write as much or as quickly as I’m thinking. There are just so many words in my brain at all times… my hand is exhausted just thinking about it. Also, I am freakishly prone to be perfectionisty about my handwriting and the pen color, and then as soon as I write something out I want to reword it a different way. And then there is the thing of trying to unload an entire day onto a page that is just so overwhelming.
I solve this issue by writing on my computer and ditching the idea that in order to “journal” I have to have a pen in my hand. A keyboard is the only thing that can keep up with the constant chatter in my head. I also don’t subscribe to the notion that you have to “journal” first thing in the morning or before bed. Anytime of day will work.
So I write on my computer. Everything. A lot of random thoughts, scraps of ideas, pages of ideas, blog posts, paragraphs of rambling brain dumps, outlines, half-written articles, fully written articles that are crap, fully written articles that I love, and what looks like actual journaling. I have many folders filled with documents that are really just like an entry in a diary, they just happen to live on a computer and not in a fancy notebook. Most of it is garbage. But it serves the purpose of helping me make sense of the thousands of things that ping pong around my head all day.
So journaling becomes “writing.”
Why has reading become something that feels indulgent, almost lazy, when it used to be something that was required and important? My daughters like reading, but when reading is an assignment it doesn’t matter how much they love it, sometimes it just sucks. They will often complain about reading and I will feel this tinge of jealousy and hear myself saying crabby old-lady things like, “I wish I could spend hours reading this afternoon.” To which they justifiably roll their eyes and leave my presence. Because if someone was telling me what to read and at what pace, I’d complain about it too.
Reading seems to slip into to two columns for me: serious, bettering me as a parent or spouse or human, and thought-provoking OR fiction and therefore frivolous, fun, and to be done when all other tasks have been completed. When did reading a good book become something extravagant? Unless I can justify it as a book that is helping me in some way or learn something new or something that looks like work, I have a tendency to feel guilty about reading. Which is the stupidest thing ever.
I want to say something. Reading will make you a better person, regardless of genre. There are possibly some exceptions, but reading is just good for you, plain and simple. Whether you are reading a book about your spirited kid, a book about God, a page-turning thriller, or historical fiction… all good. But somehow I have internalized that you should be reading a nonfiction book at all times and should read it as a part of your daily routine, in addition to a frivolous fiction book. Well, I’m done with that nonsense.
I love nonfiction. Okay, I like nonfiction. In fact, I have five nonfiction books on my nightstand (Yes, along with the half-filled journals… I really need to organize my nightstand.) waiting for me. But I haven’t been in a big nonfiction mood lately… hence the five unread nonfiction books on my nightstand. But reading a book that I can’t put down, slipping into someone else’s life, or diving head first into a story that I can’t stop thinking about— there is hardly anything better. It can broaden our perspective, give us a lot to talk about, think in ways we may not have before… there is no end to the beauty that books can create.
So I do read every day, but it’s not always nonfiction and it’s not first thing in the morning. Sometimes it’s while I eat lunch, always before bed, or even (gasp!) on the couch in the middle of the damn day!
Reading is still “reading” it’s just “reading what I love.”
Just the word makes me die a little bit inside. This is the great big granddaddy of all Shoulds in my life. But it’s also something that I can’t stop hearing or reading about (could everyone just calm down about meditating?) and also I think about it a lot because I’m pretty sure that it would be helpful. That combination of “you probably should do this thing” and “yeah, but I’m pretty sure that it super sucks” is like the worst combo of all time.
For someone like me, who has a brain with one-hundred tabs open at all times, has a nonstop mental stream of so many things, has a million thoughts and ideas and a lot of words (so many words, you guys), the thought of sitting down and trying to shut all of that down feels like building the Hoover Dam.
And yet I know that the practice of creating silence and space in my brain would be a really good antidote to the noise. It would probably give me more control over it. But there is nothing that I resist more than the idea of meditating. The amount of mental energy required to shut down my thinking could run the electricity in our home. Probably our neighborhood. It just feels so hard.
But then I went for a run last week. It was this gorgeous, seventy-five degree day and I had one of the best runs I’ve had in weeks. It dawned on me, as the music was blaring in my ears and I was zoning out and hitting that glorious place somewhere during mile three that I wasn’t really thinking so much as just running. Obviously it wasn’t Sitting On My Couch In The Lotus Position, but I also wasn’t thinking sixty-five things at once either. Turns out my brain can’t make me run and think about All The Things at the same time. It’s not meditating in the traditional sense, but it’s meditating-adjacent.
So meditating becomes “running.”
Maybe one day I’ll be more likely to meditate “for real” and perhaps one of these days I’ll start getting up at 5:30 AM and read a nonfiction, life-changing books that give me all the aha-moments and maybe I’ll even get enjoyment out of writing in an actual journal one day. Ha… jk. I’m pretty sure that I’ll never do any of those things. But I’m a lot more interested in creating a routine that I can manage and that I actually enjoy.
So morning practice becomes “stuff I do most days.” And that first cup of coffee really is spiritually transformational.