Recent retirees tend to speak of having mixed feelings about routine. On one hand, they enjoy being free from the externally-imposed schedule of their work lives— they may choose to sleep later, to travel during the week, to eat meals when they fancy them instead of hewing to a strict timetable of meetings and business hours. On the other hand, the lack of routine can be a source of stress. If a person hasn’t shaped his or her own days for decades, it can be a tricky adjustment to determine what exactly is the ideal routine for this new phase of life.
I ask you to be open-minded: although it may take some trial and error, it is possible to find a routine that can begin to feel like a spiritual practice, opening you to guidance, energy and creativity. Creating routines for yourself that comfort you will quiet your mind, and it is this quiet mind that allows inspiration to spring forth.
My daily routine begins when I rise. Before getting out of bed, I reach to my nightstand, take hold of my notebook and pen, and write my three Morning Pages. Pages done, I turn to breakfast, and after breakfast I undertake the steps my pages have suggested. “Walk the dog, change the sheets, read my Ernest Holmes prayers, call my sister, write the foreword for Natalie’s book…” It is a rare day when the pages fail to dictate the next right thing. “Call Domenica,” my pages may suggest. Most of the time the pages yield “good, orderly direction,” which I use acronym for “G-O-D”— God. Afternoon exercise keeps me mentally and physically fit as daily I hike the dirt roads surrounding my house, keeping an alert eye for coyotes and snakes. Late afternoon is an ideal time for working on my current writing project. Once a week, I schedule an Artist Date.
With such minimal structure in place, we find ourselves feeling serene and secure. We are led in directions that serve our spirit. We are once more given routine, but this time it is a routine of our own choosing that responds our inner impulses, not an external taskmaster. Routine brings us into contact with our own capacity for discipline. We learn inspiration from the regular practice of Morning Pages. As we daily invoke the higher power to communicate through our pen, we are nourished with new ideas.
The spiritual value of routine is nowhere more evident than in a monastery. Monks rise at a set time, pray a set morning prayer, then enter a day where bells chime at regular intervals, cueing them to move from activity to activity. Setting time for work, time for prayer, and time for relaxation yields a rewarding, fulfilling and productive life. When we undertake Morning Pages, we undertake routine, but we also undertake a certain form of prayer. As we write, “Please guide me,” we are given a flow of inspiration. We are indeed guided. As we write each morning about whatever is current for us— feelings of loss, confusion, excitement, wonder, regret— we are, in effect, praying on the page. And it is indeed as if a benevolent force beyond ourselves is listening, whether we choose to name this force or not. Morning Pages give us a path through the day, a place to set our own goals and deadlines. When I call my daughter, I find myself serving as a sounding board. Our exchange is mutually healing. Morning Pages are a jumping-off place for the rest of our lives.