A couple of months ago I read the War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and I get why it’s such a classic book, it applies very well to the whole of life, not art alone. One main concept in his book is that of Resistance, a powerful and pitiless force that often has the effect of preventing us every single day from doing the things that we know we want to do and should do and will bring us authentic, soul-deep happiness.
It was mid-winter then and I immediately applied it to my own creative writing life (ie. the relative lack thereof) and to my one other primary daily problem at the time: Getting up in the mornings and facing each day.
It actually made it harder that our children are now able to get up and serve themselves breakfast. Because before I had no choice about getting up and organised for the day – a crying baby or toddler shouting ‘get up’ in my ear, or ‘it’s a beautiful day!’ brooks no excuses.
I would lie there and hear the others getting their breakfast, and not be tired but not have any desire to join the morning fray.
It sucked. Every morning. And it hurt, because I knew, that as the mother of a young and relatively large family that my mood largely sets the tone of everyone else’s mood for the rest of the day. Thus their ability to learn, to foster relationships, and almost everything else. That’s quite a responsibility to be struggling with.
It’s easier now, maybe because I’ve pulled even further away from the burnout I experienced earlier in the year, maybe because the weather is warmer and the mornings sunnier, or maybe our family’s dynamics have improved with those extra months of growth and maturity. Maybe it’s down to sheer grace. Maybe it’s a bit of all of these, but I don’t feel now like it’s a test of my will to get out of bed every morning. A couple of months ago I did.
Here’s what I now do:
Have something to look forward to. Right now I love going outside, coffee mug in hand, to check on my little potted spring garden, see if anything needs watering and remove any damaged leaves from snails and slugs in the night. The fresh air wakes me fully up and I feel like I’m accomplishing something even before the day gets properly underway. It’s also an unintended, but nevertheless effective, practice of mindfulness and lends itself naturally to prayer too.
It only takes me a few minutes, and there’s always something new to discover – a strawberry that’s ripened since yesterday morning, a shock of new growth on the rosemary, snow pea seedlings beginning to clasp their bamboo stakes with thin, curled tendrils. When I get back inside, nearly everyone is up and eating breakfast and I then grab a bowl and join them too.
Start the night before. At the moment I’ll watch a couple of episodes of Star Trek: Next Generation until nearly 11pm. I don’t particularly like it – it’s just that I can tolerate it ok. And my husband will watch anything that I am willing to watch with him. This is how we hang out together after our kids in bed, two or three times a week. I know, I know. It’s sad! And I know that I’ll get up much better in the morning and cope better in that first crucial hour when I’m up but not fully awake, if I can get to bed by 10.30 at the latest.
Dress for the temperature. It’s much warmer in the mornings now, but several weeks ago when it was winter I discovered the brilliant strategy of sleeping wearing my dressing gown when I needed to be up and out the door early. I can’t believe I just discovered this this year. I’m such a wuss about feeling cold that I hated those few seconds it would take me from pulling back the covers to getting on my jacket or dressing gown in the morning.
Once I wore an extra layer to sleep I never woke up in the night to adjust the quilt, and getting out of bed without losing any of that toastiness was much easier. And now, I have to remember to dress for bed more lightly, not to wear my trackies and long-sleeved t-shirts to bed out of habit or I’ll be too warm and again not sleep properly.
Give myself a pep talk. I tracked my time a few weeks ago because I suspected that I was trying to fit too much into my days and I was right. Our family’s mornings are often the most hectic part of the day, and a lot rides on them going reasonably well. There are seven people in my family – that’s seven personalities, and a couple of us, like me, are not morning people, which means most school mornings, especially, are likely to test my ability to stay composed. I need to give myself a little pep talk to get the mental energy up to face them well.
Morning offering. I pray this every day, joining everything that happens to me today and everything I do, to God’s great creative and universal work. This is actually the best thing I do – because no matter how I feel, or how I might stuff up, or what might be annoying, or get broken, or be disappointing or difficult that day, that it all – all – belongs to God. I tell myself that no day is a bad day, or a wasted day, when I’ve claimed it for God.
A woman I met on my mothers’ retreat this year gets up super early to spend an hour in prayer before going to work – and absolutely loves it. It is her thing to look forward to each day. I felt like St Augustine when I heard this – he prayed for God to make him a saint, but just ‘not yet’. In my case I thought, Lord, let’s spend a hour together in the pre-dawn every day. But just not yet.
Take time to be creative. I’m still working on this, but in the last two weeks since I’ve decided to give blogging more attention I’ve been excited every day about learning something new or trying something different here. Time lying in bed when I’m not sleepy anymore actually feels like time taken away from something fun later – that definitely makes it easier to get my day in motion.
(Cute postscript: My husband and I woke up not long ago to find our three year old in bed between us, lying on his back and pondering aloud to himself – Why is everyone still sleeping? It’s not dark….it must be morning time. Why is everyone still sleeping? Only I am awake…that’s very strange.)
For some more inspiration on getting up and out of bed in the mornings, this article from Jennifer Fulweiler is a few years old but still relevant. Brandon Vogt’s follow-up piece is good too, as is Sam Guzeman’s take on the first battle of each day.
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Image by Quin Stevenson