“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.