I struggled for many years to learn to implement and maintain positive habits and routines in my life. In fact, for a long time I struggled to not have routines in my life – I thought I was a non-routine person, and to a degree that is true. However, over the years I discovered a core belief/truth for myself, and that is that a strong system allows for maximum spontaneity and creativity in my life.
When all of the maintenance details of life are managed regularly, as part of a routine, you have so much more space for the pleasures of life, big and small. When I make intentional space in my day for ritual, for spiritual practice and self-connection, I am more grounded, more at ease, and better equipped to face the challenges in life (of which there are many) with joy, and a playful spirit.
With all of the big changes, and intensely busy schedule, that have come this year, all of my systems fell apart. My positive, intentional habits went out the window as I slipped into the familiarity of survival mode. That is to say, barely surviving mode.
Last year I was working with my friend Binky Bell on a journal design. The metaphoric language we were using was all tied up in the sea, in the reality many women face – drowning in all that life and motherhood throw at us. While working on that journal, I had the thought that if you’re really in the midst of a storm, it doesn’t make sense to keep your head towards the pouring rain, trying to gasp for air in a sky filled with choatic water. Out of curiosity, I looked up what you’re actually supposed to do in such a situation – and I was correct. I read about something called a survival float – you give up swimming, you turn away from the sky and towards the darkness below. You keep your head down, sheltered by your arm, and you come up just long enough to fill your lungs.
This is an apt metaphor for life. Often times when we are struggling, we are the ones causing the waves with our own actions, habits, and panic. We are kicking desperately, splashing water in our faces, preventing ourselves from seeing what options we have. When we are the storm, finding calm, floating face up towards the light, and connecting to our sense and logic to find a way to swim toward something solid makes sense. When the storm is external, when the onslaught is out of our control – that is when we must simply stay alive. Things may fall apart, but you can’t put the pieces back together if you don’t make it through. Let them fall apart.
I’ve been in this place for months, just pulling myself up to taste enough joy & hope to keep myself alive. Things have fallen apart, and fallen apart again in new ways. But I’ve survived.
Now, not only is the storm calming – but I think that for the first time in my life, we are truly almost to solid ground. Sacred, promised ground. I look around me at the pieces of my life, and I see that what has survived with me is my dream life, all of the things I have ever wanted are right here. It doesn’t look like what I had wanted, of course – it’s a bit of a wreck. There’s a lot of work to do. But we have all of the pieces to build something beautiful, when we get to shore.
Now that the sky is clearing, now that the storm has lost force, I see the space and the need to bring my systems, routines, and rituals back into place – to put my life, inner and outer, in order. I know from experience that it’s not something that happens overnight, and that can be frustrating. One small habit, one change, one tiny step in the right direction – is how we get back on track.
I am taking stock, considering my priorities, and considering how to implement or be guided by the powerful lessons I have learned through my recent experiences. I am feeling hopeful, and capable.
I know that, as a person who is multi-passionate, who needs a spark to take action, and needs space for spontaneous pursuits of joy, I need that built into my daily life. When I am “out of routine” I lapse into the poor habit of escapism, which for me equates to staying up way too late, and struggling to rise in the morning, and doing the bare minimum to get through my days. For so long I thought I was a night owl, but in reality the night feels like relief, when the world expects nothing of me and the only “should” I am avoiding is sleep. However, when I am in routine, I am an early riser, quick to meet the day with excitement and motivation.
My “systems” are simple, designed to make life easy. The framework I created, after a lot of experimentation, is something I call bookending. I begin my day with ritual – I do tarot, journal, spend time drawing, read something delicious, and take care of my daily self-care and the quick morning chores that keep life in motion. I work early, before the kids rise, and wrap up as they are eating breakfast and doing their school work. I try to keep appointments and client meetings in this timeframe. Then, after the obligations are done, we shift into a desire-led day. What are we curious about? What are we drawn to? Do we want to have an adventure, create something, play a crazy game? Some days we may just want to hang out and play minecraft, or slink off to our own corners to dig into our individual projects. This slow paced way of life delights me.
Then, as the sun sinks towards evening, I shift again. Here, I make space for evening appointments and obligations, hanging out with friends, have dinner, and complete the wrap up activities for the day, cleaning up the messes, resetting the kitchen. Callie has her bedtime routine, and then everyone finds their own way to wind down for the day.
In routine, I use Sundays for meal planning, weekly preparations, and tackling the deep cleaning of one or two “zones” of the house/life, ala Flylady.
This is the ideal, this is perfect. Life rarely is perfect – sometimes I have mid-day appointments, sometimes I oversleep and my day doesn’t begin as I like, sometimes kids are grumpy or hyper on days when I had something else in mind. Sometimes PMS makes me a non-functioning monster. The framework is not about perfection, it’s about having a foundation – I know what my ideal life looks like, and I have a system in place to restore that order when things do go off kilter.
So now, it’s time to do what I know how to do – and restore the foundations of my life. It’s time to begin building something that can last, growing more intentionally, cultivating healthier soul and stronger roots, where for the last year I was simply throwing seeds everywhere and hoping something would grow. It is time for nurturing, nourishing, and balance.
It is time.