Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to live a balanced life — mainly, wondering if such a thing is even possible to achieve in today’s world (without moving to a remote cabin in the woods and living off my organic garden…which, some days, sounds quite lovely), or are we all destined to live out our days feeling pulled in a thousand directions (between family life, work overload, our ringing/dinging/vibrating cell phones, nurturing friendships, filling our fitness quota, volunteering, and generally just racing around in a state of constant busyness.) Since I’m realizing I don’t actually want to give up any of those things, I’m increasingly realizing the importance of finding a way to balance, to step outside the endless list of to-do’s and find a place of serenity that will help bring focus, joy and calm as I bounce from one to another of life’s demands. I’ve also discovered that a lot of it depends on the way I start my day.
I’m realizing (or perhaps, remembering) the necessity of carving out my own space for calm first thing in the morning, before I get swept away on the fast-moving tide of the day’s demands. When I look back at times in my own life when I’ve felt the most balanced and at peace, it’s when I’ve scheduled early morning time to quiet my mind, consider what’s going on in my life, and instead of trying to strategize or problem-solve, learn to release any anxieties to God’s control. No matter what your spiritual beliefs are, taking time to meditate, pray and be still is a practice that reaps exponential benefits relative to the time it takes. There’s no doubt that it requires discipline, especially when it may mean setting the alarm for a bit earlier than usual, but I’ve found that there really is something magical about the morning — that hour when it’s just you and God, or the universe, or even just yourself — that creates a space for uninterrupted calm and deeper reflection.
Do you guys ever feel like you have a mental tape running in your head about everything that you think you should be doing? Brigid Schulte writes in her new book Overwhelmed that time-use researchers call this phenomenon “contaminated time…it’s mental pollution.” I’ve long felt this nagging sense that, even when I’m having fun with friends or taking a moment to relax in the evening, I’m not fully enjoying the moment as I should because my mind is preoccupied. (Am I the only one guilty of instagramming mid-convo or tweeting at the dinner table?) So, how can we change our “modern” schedules so that we can reclaim our time, live in the present and enjoy a state of serenity without completely giving up things that are really important to us?
Here are a few simple tips I’ve found for letting my morning quiet time set the tone for the rest of my day:
1. Prioritize. By this, I don’t mean reorganizing our to-do lists so that the “most important” things appear first. I mean actually giving ourselves permission to put reflection and joy at the top of our priority list — make it happen in the morning before anything else gets accomplished. Because if you can make that happen on a regular basis, you’ve accomplished a lot.
2. Make it a ritual. When I was in college (before husband, kids, house and job), it was relatively easy to start the day in the same disciplined way every day. I discovered how much I actually looked forward to jumping out of bed so I could brew the coffee, pour it into my favorite mug, settle into a quiet spot on the couch with my Bible and journal before any of my roommates woke up. Even though it might be a little more challenging today, I can still make the choice to get up a little earlier than everyone else and savor the moments in a quiet house before the day begins. Find the little touches that make you excited to jump out of bed, whether it’s the coffee/tea/green juice you love or a spot in your home that makes you feel relaxed.
3. Create structure. For me, my quiet time works best when I have some sort of sequence of actions I go through every day. Maybe it’s a chapter of a book, a series of words to meditate on, an order of prayers, a certain way of journaling, even a sequence of yoga poses or stretches. Maybe you’re a meditation master and can sit in disciplined silence without becoming distracted, but I’m not quite there.
4. Do it when you travel. Although it’s sometimes nice to break with routine when traveling, I’d encourage you to try having your quiet time for at least one morning when you’re on your next vacation or work trip. There’s something about waking up with the sunrise in an unfamiliar place that awakens you to the beauty of the present moment like nothing else.
I truly believe that creating a habit of starting the day this way has life-changing benefits. Even in the midst of our schedule-packed life, carving time for prayer, meditation or reflection each day helps us to feel fully alive, to cultivate our passions and really think about what’s happening in our lives. It reminds me of my priorities and helps me decide what I should actually be paying attention to each day, instead of just being swept along by my calendar — and most often, those truer priorities are the ones that lead to a greater sense of fulfillment. It reminds me of all the blessings in my life, fills me with a sense of gratitude and increases my capacity to love those around me.
I’d love to hear how all of you approach this topic. Do you carve out regular times for prayer or reflection each day? If so, do you always do it at the same time in the same place, or do you mix it up? Share your experience in the comments!