What is the most healthful way to spend the hours just after waking in the morning following a good night sleep?
Is it best to roll out of bed, on to a mat, and spend an hour in silent meditation? In prayer?
Is it best to begin your day with journaling? Exercising?
How about drinking a tall glass of room-temperature water with lemon and cayenne? Juicing? Stretching? Laying in bed simmering in the images of your dreams?
Anyone who claims to know the best way to spend your morning hours does not have your best interest truly at heart, even with the purest of intentions.
Each of us has a different body, a different set of circumstances. If I were to tell you the best way to spend your morning hours, and hope to be even close to correct, I would suggest you spend them awake and aware.
Awake seems obvious: We sleep. We (ideally) wake up from sleep nourished, having slept enough and well. We are awake.
Except, many of us are not really awake in the morning, especially those who have claimed the identity of “not a morning person.” Some of us are groggy. Some of us are even angry. Some of us wake up in the morning wishing for more sleep, more dreams, more time. We wish ourselves out of awakeness.
To be awake when you wake up is to be aware. It is to be attentive. It is to be and act with intention. It is to be mindful of how much or how little energy you have woken up with. It is the ability to know, and then choose for yourself, the best way to spend your morning hours.
I’ll tell you a little bit about how I’ve spent my morning hours for the last few years.
Many years ago, I read about something called a “morning practice.” It’s a phrase that’s become very popular in the last few decades in wellness / personal development, and I’m not even sure where I first learned it. (Perhaps, via Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way, in which she recommends “morning pages.”)
The basic idea is to wake up and choose an intentional way to begin your day. Religiously observant people may have this concept already as an acquired practice: many religions incorporate morning prayers into daily observances.
For the last six years, I typically have started my day by recording some or all of my dreams. On the weeks during which my children are with me, I may then get out of bed, and focus my efforts on making sure they are awake, moving, and getting ready for school. Once they are off or settled, I sit in a quiet space and journal.
My journaling practice has evolved over these last six years. In the tumultuous years of my divorce and move from Israel back to New Jersey, my journaling contained a lot of feeling, venting, and processing. It also contained many visions and hopes for the future. My journal writings included obsessive tracking of my and my children’s days and nights. They were filled with ruminations, worries, concerns, and grievances.
Over the last two years, as my waking life has stabilized a bit, my journal writings have changed. My desire even to journal at all has shifted. In the last two years, as my nervous system has calmed, as I feel more listened to and held, as I believe more in the hopeful visions of the future I prayed for five years ago, I find that the writing I do in my journal looks less like tracking, processing, and venting–and more like contemplating, questioning, and creating.
In recent weeks, I find myself asking the question: “Do I need or want to journal anymore?”
There is no one but me who could tell me if now is a good or bad time to stop journaling, or to shift my journaling practice. Certainly, a therapist, a healthcare practitioner, a dreamworker, or a close family member or friend who knows and cares for me could offer an informed recommendation for me. And, perhaps their suggestion would be a good one!
However, after six years of a regular morning practice of journaling, what I have learned most about myself is that the morning hours for me are the most energized. The hours just after waking are the ones closest to the dream state, and therefore, closest to sacred encounters with my higher self, my God self, my hidden self.
(These are some of the many names I play with to describe the loving, wise one who creates for me images in my dreams.)
I have learned that, for me, the first few hours of non-parenting time, as long as I take care of my physical needs (ie. eat and drink properly) are my most creative. Lately, I have been asking myself, “Should I be spending my most creative hours venting, processing, and airing my grievances?” I’ve been realizing that this may be counter-productive to creation.
I don’t work for a company or another person who is making demands on my time (other than my teenaged children.) When I did, I would still journal most days, but sometimes my mornings wouldn’t begin with journaling. The person I worked for might have sent an urgent request in the overnight or perhaps I had an early morning call that required my attendance and active participation.
On those mornings, I would rush about preparing for the meeting or for a potentially charged call or for an “important” presentation. I think back to those mornings now — how much time I wasted on other people’s needs, demands, and perceived urgency. I think back to the hours I sacrificed to the needs of others. I think back to how little I was aware of how sacred and precious the hours just after sleep are for me.
I don’t regret those mornings or curse those days and those people. I’ve realized it’s precisely the contrast between now and then that informs my current awareness. I am able to make a better choice for myself most mornings now as a result of previously engaging mindlessly in the activities others requested or demanded of me, and of which I willingly participated in.
To be clear: I don’t hold any judgment for how you move about your mornings. I wish for you simply awareness and awakeness. I wish for you the ability to choose.
Mornings for me, I realize now, are precious. The time just after waking from dreams is fertile. My mornings should not be sacrificed to the reactivity of others. Nor should I spend my morning hours unintentionally re-traumatizing myself by perseverating over grievances of past wrongs or wrong-doings.
Wow! I realized recently. What if I exchanged the hour I spent journaling with time spent writing a new essay, poem or blog post? What if I spent that time researching or reading about a very complex topic? One that puts me to sleep when I try to engage with it in bed at night?
What if I never ever again scheduled a morning meeting and instead held sacred that time? Kept it for myself, for my creating?
How would my life be different?
I don’t know if I would be asking myself that question if I didn’t first make a commitment to be awake and aware in the morning. I also don’t know if I would be asking myself that question if I hadn’t spent the last six years journaling, tracking, ruminating, and obsessing! Lastly, I don’t know if I would be asking myself that question if I wasn’t also able to forgive myself for practices I’ve taken on in the past that I now see as damaging to myself or hurtful to others. (Please consider this last one for yourself. I have found it to be a step impossible to skip over.)
This is why I am suggesting that the best way to spend your morning hours — maybe…if it feels right to you — is to be awake and aware.
Despite my wishes for my own morning practice, my morning hours don’t always provide me with the space or time to practice in the way I know is most healthful for me, even now that I don’t work for another person, and my children are (supposedly) old enough to dress and feed themselves.
However, my awakeness and awareness aren’t so easily disappeared. They are still there, having already been uncovered and accessed once; forever mine now, even on the mornings during which unexpected demands appear.
And maybe, as a result of being awake and aware, I may still feel angry when others attempt to occupy my morning time and morning space. I may still get into a spiral of frustration when my morning is interrupted, whether by a leaking ceiling or a noisy neighbor or even a loving family member, whose aim is pure and well-intentioned.
With awakeness and awareness, though, I can choose one cup of coffee instead of two. I can choose a hot shower and stretching. Aware of my body’s rhythms, I am able to notice the rise and fall of my irritability. I am able to sense the stiffness in my joints, the contractedness in my lungs. Awake and aware in the morning, I can note the weather, my mood, and my schedule and decide if now is a good time for a walk and talk with a friend in need. You get the idea.
Tell me: What is the best way for you to spend your morning hours?
My morning practice is a work-in-progress, as am I. It’s developing. It’s in flux. It’s imperfect. It’s not always in my control. It’s sacred. It’s a gift. It’s a song, a prayer, a memory, a dream.
My morning hours are best spent awake and aware — patient on the days on which awakeness and awareness is more challenging; forgiving on the days in which it feels almost impossible; grateful on the days my awakeness and awareness flow with ease.