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According to the National Institute for Mental Health, 40 million Americans aged 18 and older are affected by anxiety disorders, which makes anxiety the reigning mental illness in the United States and Xanax one of its most commonly prescribed drugs. With no recognized single cause or cure, anxiety disorders appear to be an unhappy mix of genetic, biological and environmental factors involving different therapies for different people. It has been suggested that I can never eradicate the panic disorder that interferes with my life; I can only learn how to manage it. Anxiety is the granddaddy of all my fears, phobias, addictions and doubts. Or the result of them, I’m not sure which. Or an early warning system goading me to pay attention whenever I start off in the wrong direction. Apparently the prospect of cold sweat, the shakes and heart palpitations is not all bad. Toward the end of the last century psychologist Rollo May celebrated the fact that living in an age of anxiety forces us to be aware of ourselves.

Coming in Out of the Wind – My Morning Routine

July 7, 2014 – 9:15 pm |


I thought I’d try to be helpful and share my morning routine with you, despite the fact that when I went looking for other people who have shared their daily practices, Google in its impossible way showed 45,100,000 results.

They’re all there, including the harried parent trying to routinize school mornings, the mom with pre school children and instructions on how to get the kids out of bed; someone called the Productive Muslim; entrepreneurs eager to set themselves up for success all day long; people who are not morning people, people lucky enough to start the day with a swim in the ocean and the large number of people who wake up to yoga followed by Julia Cameron’s famous three pages of free writing.

There are super star daily rituals, summer routines, winter routines, advice on how to simplify and fast-track your morning routine (especially when it comes to makeup and hair) and the suggestion that in order to have a productive morning routine, you should have a restful evening routine (sleep on your right side, never cry yourself to sleep, no backlit screens in bed).

I found a fine description of the need for a morning routine while reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I am taking his words out of context when I paraphrase him as saying that the real problem of conscious life arises the very moment we wake up in the morning.

Says Lewis: “All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.”

I developed my morning routine after a health crisis that triggered a prolonged spell of anxiety, a three-year convulsion of tears, panic attacks, colitis, frequent heart palpitations that required emergency medical treatment and a crash course in terror management. The trauma is now behind me, but I have not forgotten the value of a morning routine. I may even have come to think of it as an enchantment against the return of evil spirits.

The routine has evolved over the years to accommodate changing circumstances in my life. Here is what it is today:

1. I begin with reading and prayers, even though I am an atheist ninety-three percent of the time. The subject matter varies but I always begin with a new thought from a book of daily reflections (which can be found for every occasion, time of life or state of mind). Right now I read from Forward Day by Day, which is issued quarterly by the Episcopal Church, where I find spiritual sustenance for the seven per cent of the time that I’m a believer.

2. I don’t go so far as to reflect on the scriptural passages assigned to that day; I just get on with the material I have assembled over the years from the Book of Common Prayer, St. Augustine’s Prayer Book, Celtic and universal peace prayers. The significant thing here is repetition, saying the same words everyday in an effort to reprogram my neural pathways and change my internal bearings from negative to positive.

I find this one to be an especially powerful re-programmer: “Help me to journey beyond the familiar and into the unknown. Give me the faith to leave old ways and break fresh ground with you. I choose to live beyond regret and let you recreate my life.”

Here are other samples and excerpts:

“Come, spirit of fortitude, give me courage and determination, that in all distress and uncertainty, I may with a calm and confident spirit remain strong in faith, patient in hope and constant in love.”

“Open our eyes, Lord, that we may see all you give so abundantly and teach us to be grateful. In all that you have given us, let us see your hand and let our delight in your gift become an unending prayer of thanksgiving and an ever-growing habit of generosity toward others.”

“Open wide the eyes of my soul that I may see good in all things;
Grant me this day some new vision of thy truth;
Inspire me with the spirit of joy and gladness;
And make me the cup of strength to suffering souls.”

3. I follow my prayers with belly breathing. You know the drill. As you inhale, expand your abdomen and pull the air into your lungs with as little movement from your chest as possible. As you exhale, flatten your abdomen, pulling your navel in toward your spine so as to empty out completely, like a balloon releasing air. Breathe through your nose: rhythmically, deeply, effortlessly.

I may say to myself, “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I release all tension.” (Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Breathing out, I smile.”). Whatever my choice of words, the intent is to draw in love, peace, joy and whatever else makes me feel whole and to expel the crazies from my soul.

4. The abdominal breathing seques into meditation, which I am terrible at. But I keep trying, for at least ten minutes each morning. If I must experience thoughts at this time, I make sure they are a contemplation of some current event, issue or challenge in my life.

5. When I’m done sort of meditating, I say a morning mantra, which I wrote when I succumbed to the nameless, needless fear otherwise known as panic disorder: “It’s going to be a great day. I will arrive at all my destinations safely and so will all whom I love; I will look for God and for grace in all people, places and things; I will listen for the voice of Jesus telling me I have nothing to fear.”

6. I then set my intentions for the day. While framing a to-do list of appointments, meetings, classes, errands, activities, work assignments and social events, I visualize successful outcomes and goals fully realized.

7. Then come the gratitude prayers. I acknowledge and give thanks for all my blessings, past, present and future. I begin with the established ones: food, clothing and shelter, friends and family, good health, my intelligence, resilience and rich inner life, my creative ingenuity and the free time to exercise it. I then select three incidents from the previous day that taught me a lesson, made me feel loved or gave me joy. Sometimes I have to give this some thought, but it’s worth it because when I go digging and come up surprised, I receive the extra gift of realizing how generous life can be.

8. Next, I assign myself homework for the day. I pledge to pay special attention to a specific personal issue, dilemma or flaw. It usually has something to do with managing anxiety or being a more loving, forgiving person.

9. I conclude these devotions with the words used in a 2,500-year-old Buddhist meditation on loving-kindness: “May I be filled with loving kindness; may I be well; may I be peaceful and at ease; may I be happy.”

10. This is a good time to have sex, if it happens to be available.

11. Then it’s time for news and music. I listen to all classical all the time, except when I’m in the mood for vintage jazz.

12. It takes effort but while listening to news and music, in an effort to relieve chronic back pain, I do exercises designed to strengthen my core. I think it’s called lower abdominal retraining and it takes me from a pelvic tilt and bridging to physical feats known as Back Lying Bent Knee Fall Out, Straight Leg Raise, Isometric Abdominal, Clamshells and Hip Flexor Stretch.

13. I am now sitting up. I spend several minutes working with a foot roller and a rubber ball to help ease the pain of plantar fasciitis.

14. Then I do Tapping, otherwise known as EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), which entails tapping your fingertips on the same energy meridians used in acupuncture while addressing a personal issue with an affirmation of unconditional self-love and acceptance.

15. If I’m not planning to swim that day, I do a vigorous round of dry brushing, an ancient practice from a number of traditions considered useful for buffing away dead skin, promoting circulation and lymphatic drainage, clearing clogged pores and eliminating toxins. While a washcloth or body brush are recommended, I use a dry loofah.

16. Once I’ve brushed all over, careful to always brush toward the heart, I give myself a light oil massage. At the moment I’m using lavender skin lotion, although the Ayurvedic tradition suggests cold-pressed sesame oil that needs to be “cured” by heating and then re-bottled. I’ll get back to the sesame oil when I have time to cure it.

I’m still trying to work up the courage to swish sesame oil in my mouth every morning for cleansing the blood and treating a lengthy paragraph of ailments and disorders. I am interested because after oil swishing for a month, a friend of mine began developing the cleanest, whitest most sparkling teeth I have ever seen.

17. I finish off the massage by liberally spraying my feet with diluted peppermint oil and enthusiastically sniffing one of my favorite scents: a mixture of peppermint, lavender and eucalyptus essential oils. (This is effective for perking yourself up at any time of day.)

18. Now I’m out of bed and in the bathroom, where aside from the obvious, I scrape my tongue and gargle with warm water (supposedly good for preventing respiratory ailments). I then do nasal irrigation with a squeeze bottle instead of a neti pot and a prepackaged solution of salt and baking soda. Next I drink a tall glass of very warm water, to which I have begun adding the juice of a whole lemon. (To reduce pain and inflammation, stimulate bile production and regular bowel movements, boost energy and remove toxins.)

19. Finally I eat breakfast, which, if I’m being good, I record in a food log.

20. If I’m being really good, I follow breakfast with full body stretching or a round of tai chi. I am currently trying to switch my workout time from late afternoon to mornings, which would mean leaving the house at this point to do cardio, swimming or strength training.

I have been following different versions of this routine for seven years now. I don’t always get to every item every single morning but I never ever skip my devotions. Reading and prayer has become a vital means for grounding myself and taking back the day when I’m feeling anxious.

Even when I wake up in a miraculous state of equilibrium, my morning routine enables me to step away from what C.S. Lewis calls my natural fussings and frettings, to push back my petty wishes for the day and make room for larger life. For me, silence, reflection and self-care are equivalent to coming in out of the wind.


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