Life moves in cycles, a constant dance between beginning and end, birth and death. Our days mirror this dynamic, the mornings ushering in the new day’s sun, along with a host of new possibilities and adventures. Night brings darkness, and ending, and a space of contemplation and reflection before we pass to the other side—in most cases only temporarily—before being born once again the next morning.
In modern culture, we have lost many of the rites and rituals that mark the progression of time and honor the cycles of growing, dying, and starting anew. As a result, we so often find solace in habits, which appeal to our need for ritual. I think its important to provide structure to one’s life without falling into the often stifling space that routine manifests.
Instead, try to approach your mornings — and your evenings — with a sense of sacredness. These simple practices will help you greet the day with a clear head, and welcome the night with a sense of completion.
Morning Pages: Empty out the clutter
“It is impossible to write Morning Pages for any extended period of time without coming into contact with an unexpected inner power.” ~ Julia Cameron
The concept of morning pages was popularized by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. This magical book provides the reader with a number of powerful practices and shifts in perspective to help cultivate more creativity and freedom in writing. Morning Pages are, in my opinion, perhaps the most energy-shifting exercise in the whole book.
You start with a notebook, preferably something cheap so you don’t run into the problem of wanting to fill a fancy journal only with deep and eloquent thoughts. Your morning pages may at times be deep and eloquent, but they will undoubtedly be silly, perhaps peevish, and occasionally shallow at other times.
Then, notebook in hand, sit down and write whatever is tumbling around in your head. Complain about your neighbor. Offer a prayer of thanks to God. Write a poem. Just get it out, onto the page. Write until you fill three pages, or about fifteen minutes. Putting it down in ink gives all those bouncy thoughts a place to live, giving you more space to face your day with a clear head.
Morning Meditation: Swim to the middle of the lake
“The best way to meditate is through meditation itself.” ~ Ramana Maharshi
David Pond, author of Chakras for Beginners, offered this simple but effective meditation to help bring about a sense of clarity in the morning.
Find a comfortable seat, where you won’t be disturbed for at least fifteen minutes. Gently close your eyes and take a few calming breaths. Give yourself the opportunity to fully come into your body, noticing any sensations either physical or emotional that appear.
Now, envision yourself standing on the edge of a large lake. At your feet you see algae clinging to tree branches and murky water filled with silt and mud. Further out, sun glints off the clear center of the lake. Begin to wade in, stepping through the detritus, feeling the slimy rocks under foot.
Keep going, getting further into the water. As you make progress, you begin to see the water clearing. Soon, your feet lose contact with the bottom and you swim, all the way to the center of the lake, where the water is cool, clear, and beautiful.
The lake is your mind. Every morning when we wake up it’s filled an accumulation of stuff that bogs us down. Swim out to the center, the place that shines with pure, clean water, and begin your day from that perspective.
Evening Pages: Review so you can rest easy
“Control what you can control. Don’t lose sleep worrying about things you don’t have control over, because at the end of the day, you still won’t have any control over them.” ~ Cam Newton
Evening Pages have the same general concept as Morning Pages, with a slightly different perspective. As Cameron says, “With Morning Pages, you are prioritizing the day ahead of you (whenever that day begins for you). With Evening Pages, you are reviewing a day that has already happened–and that you are powerless to change.”
Evening Pages gives you the opportunity to get out all of the things you wanted to say, but couldn’t. Whether you had to keep silent in front of your boss, you thought of the perfect reply too late, or you found yourself too scared to express your truest thoughts and feelings, this is your chance to say it, so you don’t lie in bed having conversations with yourself that disrupt your sleep.
Evening Meditation: Drift off to dreamland
“May you fall asleep in the arms of a dream, So beautiful, You cry when you awake.” ~ Michael Faudet
In order to let yourself drift gracefully to sleep, try this modified version of Yoga Nidra. Lie on your back, in a comfortable position on your bed. Make sure you’re warm and your head is supported. Place your hands with your palms facing up a few inches away from your hips, and let your feet rest about a foot or so apart.
Gently close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Sense the air as it enters through your nostrils, dives into your lower lungs, then cycles back out. Don’t force deep breathing, just let it come naturally. After a little while, shift your attention to your body. Sense the different points of contact with your bed and your blankets, moving from your head to your feet, and back again.
Now, begin a gentle body scan, not forcing anything, but slowly and easily moving your consciousness through each part of your body. Traditional Yoga Nidra begins with the right thumb, but you can start wherever feels most natural. Pause for a few seconds on each point in your body, from your thumb, to each of your fingers, to your wrists and forearm, and so on. Chances are good you’ll be deep in sleep well before you finish.
Start and end your day with intention
With these practices, you can set up a powerful beginning and a relaxing end to every day. Move through your days with clarity, and let sleep come unimpeded by the stress and often frantic thoughts that move through us over the course of a normal day. Try it for a week, and see what changes you can bring about!