The magic of mornings

You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine. ~John C. Maxwell

I’ve been interested to learn about the morning routines of various entrepreneurs from as far-reaching backgrounds as science, fitness, entertainment and politics. All of these high-flying high achievers have a ritual they perform daily that sets them up for a winning day. Many of these morning routines have some common features such as meditation or focus time, movement, journalling and healthy eating.

My well long-standing morning routine has suffered some neglect of late and slipped into a regrettably haphazard, hit and miss, come what may state. I feel the lack of it weighing on me like a heavy wet cloak. Determined to reinstate my winning beginning to each day I have distilled my leanings, reflected on what has worked for me in the past and considered some new ideas.  My intended routine is fairly simple, it’s nothing ground breaking or earth shattering; I don’t have a cryogenic chamber or cold water plunge pool like Tony Robbins (though I could just take a cold shower to boost my immunity though I’m not terribly excited by this water torture technique), nor am I going to be as obsessive as Beethoven was in counting out precisely 60 beans of coffee for his morning java.

First thought:  On waking and before opening my eyes my first thought is always one of thanks and gratitude for another day on this wonderful planet. Test the difference between holding a thought of gratitude and holding one of wishing to sleep longer, being bummed the alarm has gone off, cranky it’s a work day.

Meditation: Always before this step I clean my teeth and wash my face. It just doesn’t feel right to settle into a meditation without having cleansed in some way. I’m not a great meditator but I do enjoy the peace it brings me, even if I spend only 10 minutes in this state.

Journalling: My journalling usually falls out of my meditation practice.  Thoughts and insights that have arisen in that time are written down. Sometimes I draw an tarot or oracle card to provide some guidance or insight for the day ahead or an issue I am facing and journal a stream of consciousness piece that arises from that stimulus.  I have explored Julia Cameron’s morning pages idea and engaged in that regularly for a period of time. Now, though, I am keen to explore some new ideas with regard to my morning journalling that include a focus on gratitude, guidance and intent. Check out the five minute journal.

How do you think you’d feel if you began your day by identifying three things you were grateful for, reading a poignant quote, piece of poetry or spiritual guidance and zeroing in on one thing that must be accomplished in the day? Would you feel more present? Mindful? Full of intent? I’m going to experiment to see what impact it has.

Movement: My steady yoga practice stagnated and died a slow and agonising death when my enthusiasm waned in the absence of a much-needed injection of new inspiration and stimulation. Sadly, my yoga mat languishes in a dusty corner.  I wish to reclaim my morning movement regime, my body is demanding it and my mind needs it, so I am going to experiment with a combination of yoga, stretching and brain gym.  Rather than leap back into a full on hour  and a half Ashtanga yoga practice I will commit to a half hour session of whatever postures feel right combined with some strength training exercises such as basic push ups, sit ups, squats and isometrics, along with some brain gym movements.

I avidly used Braingym routines many years ago in classrooms to increase student performance and focus.  I’ve begun using these again recently and I am keen to pull out my books and charts to refresh my memory to contribute to a vital and healthy morning practice.

How long will all this take? That’s the million dollar question isn’t it? How early does one begin, how much time should one commit to a morning routine? I don’t believe there are any rules. People’s morning routines vary in length from 10 minutes to 90 minutes and longer.  When rethinking my morning routines I allocated 20 minutes to meditation and journalling and 40 minutes to an hour for movement. An hour forty sounds like a lot of time before heading off to work at 7am when showering, dressing and eating breakfast all need to be achieved before walking out the door. Being an early riser helps but a more realistic estimation may be 10 minutes, give or take a few, allocated to the first two areas and then 30 minutes for movement. That’s definitely achievable while allowing room for expansion as the need and desire arise.  To be honest, I don’t think it matters how much time you commit, and I don’t believe you need to be rigid in following each step faithfully each day. Joy in life comes from being flexible and open to spontaneous redirection. Five focused minutes of setting your intention for the day is better than rolling out of bed, eyes half closed, mindlessly and robotically beginning the daily grind.

How might a more focused start to your day change your life?

 

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Walking the landscape of life

Be a hill seeker
Most of us try to avoid hills but what’s good about flat? Think about flat tires, flat hair, flat returns (what about flat cakes) and the ultimate flat – flatlining.  Life happens on the hills.  They’re opportunities to prove to yourself that you are stronger than you ever imagined.  If you never attempt the ascent you’ll never know the thrill of swooshing down the other side.

Have you read this quote before? What’s its relevance for you? As a hiker I love it but it’s also a nice analogy for life.

I’m not a thrill seeker,  I’m fairly conservative and non spontaneous and I baulk at hills, more so the physical hills but also the figurative hills in life.  I pretty much seek the easy path while wanting the ultimate outcome, prize or goal. It simply isn’t going to happen. Is it? Einstein said we can’t expect a different result if we do things the same way. It’s crazy behaviour as well as making for a mundane existence.

I’ve examined this behaviour of mine and realise the root of the issue is that I constantly underestimate my ability to tackle hills or mountains; and I’ve trekked a few in my time. You know what usually happens though? Once I begin, the apprehension lessens, the fear rolls away, a little excitement creeps in and a decent sense of achievement blooms. Oh, yes, there’s sweat along the way and some discomfort too (there might even be some cursing when the path gets extremely steep and narrow and rocky), though the more I face up to the hills and mountains the less uncomfortable it gets. Of course all hills are different and they all have their own topography to navigate, so no two are the same. Once at the top I wonder why I ever doubted myself. The satisfaction, the triumph and the joy are just rewards for a little time and perspiration.

A little fun fact that has helped me no end when setting out to climb a hill, and I realise this can help too with those figurative hills in life, is that most humans overestimate the steepness ahead of by at least 15 and in some cases 30 percent. So next time you have the option of the flat or the high road, seek out the hill because the rise ahead isn’t as savage as it appears at first glance. There’s a great satisfaction that comes from challenging yourself and doing something different. Gaining a different perspective can change the map you were previously following. Sometimes you just want to go a different way once you get that bird’s eye view. It really does just begin with putting one foot in front of the other and committing.

I agree with the above quote in that we never really know what we can achieve until we set out to conquer something, be it a physical challenge or some other goal in life. My opinion differs from the wisdom above too.  It’s all life. Life occurs on the hills, on the swoosh down and in the flat places in between.  The thrills might occur when we take a risk and veer off the flat path but the key, I believe, is to make sure we experience the range of landscapes available to us, because variety adds spice to life.

Heartache to happiness

“It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being.”
 John Joseph Powell

As as pondered what I had learnt this week and what I could share that was interesting and meaningful, I scrolled back through my posts. I’m not sure what compelled me to do so but I stumbled upon this unpublished draft and wondered why I had shelved it. Even as I wondered I realised, despite my willingness to share and be vulnerable, that perhaps this was too raw, too private, something to be kept under wraps. As I write this introduction I have second thoughts about sharing. I have a gnawing unease. Will people think I’m mad? Probably. Will people think less of me? Does it matter? Will people judge me and ridicule? Perhaps.

Then another set of questions were raised. What’s the point of sharing? What’s the value in it? Is it self-indulgent? Is it interesting and meaningful to others? Oh, heck. I don’t know. Maybe it is self-indulgent but perhaps it could be cathartic and healing. This story might set some eyes a rolling but then it might also hit a nerve for one or two. Interesting? Most assuredly not. But confirming and validating for some, perhaps.

Well, I figure, you  can’t change if you don’t feel uncomfortable. Right?  I’m feeling VERY uncomfortable. But it’s interesting too, to see that so much has changed in 12 months. This post was written a year ago (I had almost forgotten how desperately dark and ill at ease I was) and maybe that’s why it’s begging to be released now. When all is said and done I believe there is a place for celebrating change and growth and new found peacefulness. There is room for celebrating life and choosing a different focus. Life can change. We can change it with small actions and with a choice to be, think and act differently.

Okay, here goes. I have resisted making any changes to the original post, it is as I wrote it all that time ago.


Moved to tears over years of anguish. And for what?

I recently read a brilliant post by Elizabeth Gilbert in which she shared a personal experience of releasing pain after fifteen years. She eventually. After trying everything sat quietly and asked her body what it wanted her to do to heal a knee injury. She got a clear message and was from then on able to move freely after following the advice she received.

I’ve tried this strategy myself many times with mixed degrees of effectiveness. Too often my rational brain pops in to make its voice heard, as does my ego.  Anyway, I felt, after reading this I’d give it another go.

I sat quietly, hugged my knees to my chest and asked my body what it wanted me to do to help it heal. The answer brought tears to my eyes. Very clearly I heard the words “Love Me”.

I cried for several reasons. Imagine being unloved for 40 odd years. I cried too because after 40 or so years of not loving my body, I didn’t know what that meant. How was I to do this?

Suddenly all the hateful self talk, all the anguished bathroom mirror rantings and frustrations flooded back to me, all the times I’d compared myself to others and felt lacking, all the times I’d ‘hidden’, dressed in nondescript clothing, refusing to wear make up, not wanting to stand out, came flooding back to me and I was ashamed. I was also suddenly aware why things weren’t working, why there were imbalances, why there was extreme fatigue and lethargy. Wouldn’t anyone feel this after being treated so poorly?

I saw the pattern of my behaviour over many years mapped out in an instant behind my closed eyelids. I recalled too an agonising self depreciating tirade my sister had delivered just the week before. She was on a diet. Another one. To lose weight for a wedding in which she is to be Matron of Honour. My sister is the mother of four beautiful children. She is stunning. If you were to see her you wouldn’t think she needed to lose weight at all. She looks fabulous, stylish and she is an outrageously entertaining woman. I asked her why she thought she had to lose weight. Her response was that all the other bridesmaids were younger and skinny.

She felt she had to be skinny to be accepted, to be worthy. All this was said in front of her teenage daughter.  I couldn’t help but wonder how very damaging family patterns can be. I’ve read a lot recently about the importance of mothers teaching their daughters to love their bodies. How can broken women do that? How can years of patterning be reversed? Do we even realise these patterns exist? Does our walk match our talk?

I remember saying to my niece that our family had always equated being thin with being valued. That she should be aware that she was so much more than her body and that her personality, her intellect, her talents and skills were the bigger parts of her that contributed to the world, that her body needed to be healthy to help her reach her goals. There I was, telling her the very thing I couldn’t and had never been able to do for myself – value me for me and be grateful to my body for enabling me to move through life. There I was encouraging her to ignore what she heard us say and saw us do. I was asking her to understand what she’d just heard her mother say about her own body was unhealthy, irrational and unfounded. I was so impassioned that my beautiful, strong, energetic, sporty niece should not go down the same path we did, without realising I should have been preaching to myself.

I recall too, many years ago sharing my self loathing with a massage therapist and she didn’t understand. She had never experienced it. Her story was equally foreign to me. She told me she often looks in the mirror appreciatively and thinks “Hmm, looking good!”.

What to do? I’m thinking start small. I’ve been writing a gratitude note each day this year. I’m just going to shift my attention to focus on my physical body and thank it for something each day. Surely gratitude is one step along the path toward self -love.

I can barely see through the tears in my eyes. I guess I’ve just found a kernel of truth right there.

Sending you all love and wishing for you great wads of self-love and appreciation.

Connecting to place

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The city is a fact in nature, like a cave, a run of mackerel or an ant-heap. But it is also a conscious work of art, and it holds within its communal framework many simpler and more personal forms of art. Mind takes form in the city; and in turn, urban forms condition mind. Lewis Mumford

When I was young I used to associate Sunday mass with strong, floral perfume and giddiness. The intense perfume the old ladies wore coupled with the tropical heat and hunger (mass was at 6pm, dinner time) would make me giddy.

Purple reminded me of my friend Colleen, who loved the colour. On seeing it I would instantly be reminded of her bedroom, with the soft gauzy curtains and lush shag rug, where we spent hours playing as children.

Into adulthood, fish and chips was a meal that transported me to the beach, a place where we had indulged in this treat as children.

Our senses connect us to the world. They are of course valuable in and of themselves but they can also imprint experiences and emotions associated with them in our memories, for a very long time in some cases. Our senses can evoke strong emotional reactions.  There is a particular spray deodorant that triggers extremely negative reactions in me whenever I smell it. It sends me reeling back to a time and place that wasn’t one of the happiest in my life. On the other hand, there is a smell that I can’t describe to you because it isn’t readily available.  I imagine it occurs only in certain places but I vividly remember as a shy and socially inept teenager visiting the house of my uncle’s friend, a stranger to me, and instantly feeling at ease and at home because this house smelt like my Nana and Papa’s house. I’ve always been strongly aware, quite sensitive and reactive, in some cases, to sound, smell, touch and visual input.

After visiting an interactive exhibition about my city; in which a number of residents shared a smell they associated with the city and vials of some of those smells, including thunderstorm, frangipani and garbage were on display to strengthen the experience; I gave pause to consider if I have any associations linked to my fair city and where none instinctively existed, I began to ponder what associations I would consider best suited to the place I now call home.

It sounds a little odd, I know, but many people do this, perhaps unconsciously. Do you have any connections to where you live? Does it have a colour, a taste, a symbol, a sound that is quintessentially about the place you live?

What follows are my mental and sensory associations to my city.

Smell: The smell that reminds me most of Brisbane was formed in my younger years before I even lived here. The annual Royal Exhibition was a phenomenon I was captivated with. Growing up in a regional area we simply didn’t have anything comparable and so the smell that permeates the air at that magical wonderland is Brisbane to me. It’s not the smell of the cattle pavilion nor the scented wood chopping arena, it is in fact the aroma of Dagwood Dogs (frankfurters o a stick, coated in batter and deep-fried) and tomato sauce.

Symbol: The muddy, murky Brisbane river snaking across the city is the strongest image I have of Brisbane. The river is such a prominent feature of our landscape and lifestyle that  I can’t think about the city without also bringing to mind our river.

Colour: Jacaranda purple is the colour of Brisbane.  In my first year of university the flowering Jacaranda trees around campus took my breath away. The whole of Brisbane is transformed by these blossoms for several months a year. Parks everywhere are dotted with purple covered trees and carpets of purple flowers underneath. I love the deep shade they take on just before a thunderstorm.

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Sound: Cicadas and the Australian summer pretty much go hand in hand. I used to dread the chirrup of these insects on a hot and sultry afternoon when the heat and damp hung in the air, the grass crunched underfoot and ice cream would drip down cones faster than one could lick it. There was a sense of helplessness in the sultry heat that they conjured in me.

Credit to Dodgerton Skillhause

Credit to Dodgerton Skillhause

Touch: If I had to share a touch or texture that is Brisbane I would say it was bindis.  Yep. Those pesky barbed prickles that hide in lawns, parks and anywhere green.  I cannot tell you how many times my joyful run toward a playground swing would be crippled by feet burning and smarting from the sting of imbedded prickles.