Words by Jennifer Lauder / Photography by Jennifer Thomas
If I’m not up before the sun, I’ve slept in. I wish I could say I’m one of those people who jump out of bed and greet the day with enthusiasm the instant they achieve consciousness, but that just isn’t the case. Occasionally, I’m vaguely pleased to awaken; more often however, I’d prefer to roll over and get some more sleep. You would think that rising at five a.m. gets easier each day, and you would be wrong. It does not. Every morning I resist it and every morning I must convince myself to recommit.
A fetal position sleeper, I always stretch before putting my toes on the floor; curled up is no way to take on a day. In this moment, I clear my head and set my intention. This is a personal goal: “notice when you’re triggered by anger,” or “pause before you react to disappointment,” or “be curious about your fear and discomfort.” It’s a tool for mindfulness, not a productivity quota.
Then, I creep out of the bedroom lest I rouse the body next to me, or worse, my seven-year-old, whose door is just inches from my own, and whose beautiful presence is the reason I wake early. I am a homeschooling/unschooling mother, the co-founder of a cannabis-focused media company, a consultant, and a fiction writer. In order to keep those – and other – identities straight, I need time in the morning to gather myself and to create space for it all.
Once downstairs, I like to go outside and experience the morning quiet on a larger scale, breathe in the day’s own energy, and remind myself to come out – out of my head and into the world.
As a detoxification ritual, I use the Ayurvedic technique of oil pulling. I take a tablespoon of coconut oil and keep it in my mouth for 20 minutes, gently swishing it around and careful not to swallow. This pulls out toxins that have settled in overnight and cleanses the mouth. I’m usually tempted during this time to check my email or Facebook – for a recovering multitasker, it’s hard not to see these as wasted minutes – but that would leave me feeling disseminated rather than centered.
Instead of drifting into mindless distraction, I focus on morning pages. As prescribed in The Artist’s Way, I write three or more pages each morning: nonstop, pen to paper, stream of consciousness. Like swishing and spitting coconut oil, it gets the gunk out, helps process whatever residual emotions or thoughts linger and clog the consciousness. It starts the ideas flowing so that later, when it’s time to work, I can more easily access my best stuff.
After I spit out the coconut oil (in the trashcan, not the sink!), I drink at least one cup of warm lemon water. This has numerous benefits; it helps me hydrate before consuming caffeine and often settles my stomach so that I’m ready to eat once I’ve meditated.
At this point, I get moving with some yoga. Ideally I devote a half-hour to asana practice, but even if I can only squeeze in five minutes, the positive effects are noticeable. Whether I’m following an instructor’s podcast or simply doing sun salutation variations until my body feels open and loose and my mind feels receptive and clear, the sense of calm I achieve with yoga is the best preparation for meditation.
Meditation is the cornerstone of my morning routine and the foundation of my sanity. It’s a practice that takes different forms but has the same aim: to cultivate pure awareness. Sometimes I do a formal practice to deepen my capacity for compassion or equanimity. Sometimes I listen to dharma talks by Pema Chödrön or read Thich Nhat Hanh and meditate on their teachings. Sometimes I just sit for as long as I can, continuing to bring awareness back to the present moment when it begins to wander. As long as I am on my cushion each morning, abiding with the breath, learning again to pay attention, that is what counts.
Now I’m ready, and it’s a good thing, because my daughter is calling me and the day’s responsibilities are pressing in. But I’ve accomplished my morning practice, and I know how to find the expansiveness I need amidst the chaos of life. A holistic endeavor that nourishes my mind, body, and spirit, it, in turn, sustains my family, my relationships, and my ambitions. I can pause and breathe, I can reconnect with the natural openness of the meditative mind, and I can harness the energy that I collected in the morning hours to fuel me throughout the day. I’m always grateful at seven – a.m. and p.m. – that I made myself get up at five a.m.