We’re already a month into this semester and I feel that I am yet again caught in a web of demands: deadlines for papers and projects are looming, readings need to be done, and I still haven’t hung up all the pictures in my new apartment. I have been trying to untangle the web a bit by scheduling my week ahead and by making realistic work estimates. This has given me some reassurance that I’m working on the right stuff at the right moment, but on a recent Sunday, I realized that even though planning is good, life often gets in the way of things. As I struggled through completing an assignment that was due that night, I alternated between blaming myself for meeting with friends when I should have been working on my project and feeling disheartened that I was already so stressed out two weeks into the semester. I wondered how I would be able to handle the workload in the weeks ahead.
That Sunday night, I realized that the problem was not so much in the way I scheduled my time or what I ended up doing, but that I was living my life too much reacting to things instead of being in charge. I remembered how good meditation and running would always make me feel, so I decided to re-establish a morning routine. I planned on meditating for 30 minutes and running for about an hour every morning for seven days in a row. I would also keep a journal to note down my experiences.
It took me a couple of days to start, but by Friday, I finally felt ready for it. I had already prepared the night before: I left my phone on my dresser so I couldn’t reach it from my bed. When the alarm on my watch woke me up, I simply sat up on my bed and started meditating.
The first couple of minutes after waking up are so precious. Usually, I remember parts of a dream, and often, I can still feel the aftermath of it. The mind is not yet influenced by outside impulses. Reality is slowly setting in, supported by birds singing outside and sunlight creeping in through the blinds. When I used to have my phone next to my bed, the first thing I’d do after shutting off my alarm was to look at the notifications on my screen that had piled up during the night. I would often spend 20 to 30 minutes before getting up, scrolling through various kinds of (social) media, partly to delay getting up, partly out of curiosity.
When I meditate, I don’t fill my head with stuff. I practice watching my thoughts and letting them pass by. I observe what is going on at every moment - sounds, emotions, bodily sensations. It is a very peaceful process that leaves me feeling content and happy. It’s also really hard. That Friday morning, I stopped meditating after 17 minutes. On Saturday, I stopped after 23 minutes. But on Sunday, I was able to sit for 30 minutes.
When I finished meditating that Friday morning, I put on my running shorts, a shirt, and laced up my shoes. After drinking as much water as I could stomach, I set out to run in the already warm and muggy morning air. One good thing about running is that you can’t as easily cut a run short as you can stop meditating (unless you want to walk home, which is definitely a less enjoyable prospect, especially in the winter). Since it was my first run after a couple of weeks, I was in less than desirable shape. My heart rate was through the roof and the whole thing felt really hard and tedious. But I finished my run, and I felt incredible afterwards.
While the immediate after-effects of meditating were harder to notice, I could always tell that I had been running in the morning. A general feeling of alertness and being energized, coupled with a slight soreness in my legs always reminded me that I had been pounding the pavement that morning. I also noticed feeling calmer and happier on the days that I followed my morning routine.
I am aware that I have only done this for a week. Getting up and following a morning routine can be hard, and the struggle not to look at my phone first thing in the morning was real. Looking through my journal and seeing how happy, energized and content I felt every day is a strong argument for continuing to meditate and to run for as long as possible. What I have learned is that it’s more important to meditate a little bit than not to meditate at all. The same goes for running - I ran only part of my usual loop on two out of the seven mornings, but at least I went out there. My biggest takeaway from following a morning routine for a week is this: What we do right after getting up in the morning shapes how we think, feel and act the rest of the day. It is well worth thinking about how to spend those first few hours of the day.