“Being in bed, having a shower, having breakfast in the kitchen, sitting in my study writing, walking in the garden, cooking and eating our common lunch at my office with my friends, going to the movies, taking my family to eat at a restaurant, going to bed again…. There are surprisingly few of these patterns of events in any one person’s way of life, perhaps no more than a dozen. Look at your own life and you will find the same. It is shocking at first, to see that there are so few patterns of events open to me. Not that I want more of them. But when I see how very few of them there are, I begin to understand what huge effect these few patterns have on my life, on my capacity to live. If these few patterns are good for me, I can live well. If they are bad for me, I can’t.” – Christopher Alexander
When irritability churns in my stomach, the reason is easy to identify. It is linked to some break in the repetition that sets the cadence of my days. The mood of my day is tied to routine. There is a holiness that exists in the repetition of doing the same ritual day after day. A quiet peace exists in participating in ordinary pursuits.
What are some of those rituals that nurse my life? Every morning I make my bed. This practice is something that offers a particular comfort. I enjoy the order that it provides, and there is goodwill that emerges from knowing that I slept underneath familiar sheets with the smells I recognize. A water glass hangs out at the corner of my nightstand that also houses a stack of books. The physical surroundings of my room are etched like lines on the palm of my hand.
Some of this need to stay consistent with routine stems from what I witnessed with my father. During the course of his illness, he spent so much time in hospital beds, with coarse white sheets and a metal railing that served as a constant reminder that indeed, he was not home in his usual place of slumber. When he passed away, he had the privilege of dying at home, but on a hospital bed that the hospice agency delivered when the doctors made the decision that he could no longer move or walk around without assistance.
Intersecting with my father’s helplessness prompted my commitment to routine. Some may view this as being wound tight, but I regard it as a meditation. Making my coffee in the morning and unloading the dishwasher as my daughter storms down the stairs is something that happens everyday in our house. Calling my mom everyday is a habit I’ve kept since I left my childhood home. I always listen to music in my car while driving. Walking to the mailbox everyday is not a chore for me. It reminds me that I exist, knowing that a few pieces of mail will be addressed in my name. Every week I clean my house. I find a particular calmness in vacuuming, folding laundry and sweeping my floors. These are the ways I honor myself, my home—these patterns tell a larger truth about my life.
There’s no question that I gravitate toward certainty. There’s something so clear about routine that is powerful. I believe if I did not have these rituals to hold onto, I could let the darkness of uncertainty cast its presence on my everyday.
The practice of routine and ritual lies at the heart of my life. After experiencing the alternative, I know that a fulfilled life means honoring those patterns that repeat themselves. There is a palpable holiness in the things I do day after day.
Image: “Morning Routine” by LW Yang via Flickr.
This post originally appeared on the First Day.
I love a good routine too! So comforting 🙂
I agree, Windy. There is something nourishing about rituals that you do over and over again on a regular basis.
I love routines and rituals. I’m not as good with them as I’d like, but I’m not a morning person and it’s hard to find clarity there. When I do get into a morning groove, it helps so much! Little acts of comfort and health and love.
The routine in the morning is key for me. If it tilts in the wrong direction, I spend the entire day trying to regain my momentum.
I just love this, Rudri. This line really struck me: “There is a palpable holiness in the things I do day after day.” Yes.
Thanks, Dana. I do find a spirituality in my routines.
Routines and rituals give me comfort as well ! Love the sentiments of this post.
Thanks, Ayala. I think we all have certain routines that serve as the landmarks of our day-to-day life. When these tiny comforts aren’t present, there is a sense of incompleteness.
I love that first paragraph…yes, yes, yes. Routine and repetition to set the day’s cadence…it certainly works for me. Even the tiniest shift or surprise can send me reeling sometimes. I think having a child has helped me overcome (most of the time) the bitterness I used to feel about that, but I certainly function much better with my days leaning more toward redundant than anything else. Love this post so much, Rudri. (And I love how we are living parallel lives, NE/SW style.)
Thanks, Kristen. I am grateful that my words resonated with you. I too feel off kilter when there is a tiny shift. Motherhood certainly makes it challenging to always stay wedded to routine, but I am learning. xo
This is so interesting to read… I don’t have all that much repetition except in the things that are scheduled outside of my home/control – things like preschool and classes and regular, yearly events.
I struggle to create patterns, actually – things like getting a shower before the kids are up (fat chance), regular time to write/draw/read/run/etc. They slip out of my hands. I am not sure if I’m not trying hard enough, or if I really can blame it on outside forces (example, the kids wake up earlier and earlier and I can’t seem to get ahead of them while also getting enough sleep). As soon as I find a rhythm, something happens to interrupt it.
At the same time, I get bored with the same thing over and over – my husband used to get together to do tabletop games with friends every single Sunday, and I know that is not something I can maintain, I’ve tried it, and I chafe at the restriction. I wonder if the difference though, is something that is self-care vs an obligation… I’d much rather be able to count on an hour or two in the early morning to work, and wouldn’t mind keeping that routine.
I loved reading your perspective. I wonder how much spontaneity I breed with my writing and life since I am dedicated to my routine. The restrictions might impede my creativity and your viewpoint offered some food for thought. Thank you.
I’ve always been a person of routine. I’m finding some give me more comfort than others. There is sacredness in them and I’m finding the same about times when I alter my patterns of life.
I do think we appreciate our routines more when we are pushed out of them. For me, losing my father became the catalyst in acknowledging the magic of the everyday.
When you have small kids underfoot and you feel like you’re constantly switching gears and getting distracted, routine is most welcome.
Yes, I definitely agree, that routine is especially important in a mother’s self care while raising children. It offers a sense of order.
Oh my, yes yes yes. Right now, with the move and all, I’m clinging to whatever semblance of routine that I can. This morning, there was no milk for my coffee, and I was quite derailed for at least 20 minutes. That’s how tenuous my routine is now.
But I know that life is full of transitions, and I will slowly make my way back to the wonderful meditation of routine.
(I also make my bed nearly every morning and speak to my mother nearly every day)
In the midst of a move, routine is difficult to establish. I certainly understand the angst about the milk (that one missing element can cause such a different tilt to the day). I hope your move is as smooth as possible and you can soon return to honoring those every day tasks that you enjoy. xo
I am the same. I do so much better with routine!
I think most of us thrive on repeating the same daily regimen and probably don’t even realize it.