“In my natural, unaltered state, I am not a morning person. Not at all. Mornings have always been a time of stubborn resistance for me.” – Sarah Athanas Share this quote on Twitter

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Sarah Athanas

What is your morning routine?

In my natural, unaltered state, I am not a morning person. Not at all. Mornings have always been a time of stubborn resistance for me, while the evenings have always brought energy and creative flow. That being said, I’m somewhat obsessive in my quest for the perfect morning routine. The once-and-for-all cure that will get me out of bed and producing brilliant work in those quiet, peaceful moments of early light. I have yet to find that cure, but in the process I’ve stumbled across some rituals that help me to face my stubborn resistance and at the very least coexist peacefully with it.

So the rituals look like this: I keep a journal and pen next to my bed, and the first thing I do every morning is write three pages before I get up. The idea is to write whatever comes to mind – a stream of consciousness, to get something flowing out before I start taking new information in. This was a pretty gruesome process when I started. It forces you to really acknowledge and be accountable for all of the crap in your head. In the beginning I found a lot of self-doubt and uncertainty. But I’ve been amazed to discover that getting all the bullshit down on paper is like bleeding it out. Once it is out of your head, you can move on with your day.

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Once I am out of bed with the dreaded three pages behind me, I meditate for thirty minutes, followed by breakfast. Before I turn on my computer, I take a moment to write down my target feeling(s) for the day (i.e. grounded, open, playful, etc.) and three things I absolutely must accomplish. The list can be less than three things, but never more.

How long have you stuck with this routine so far?

I’ve been hardcore about the thirty minutes of meditation for about three years. I’ve added the journal and other components in the past year, since I made the switch to working freelance.

How has your routine changed over the years?

One of my favorite routines was when I lived in Colorado and I had a roommate who shared my love for drinking yerba mate, a South American loose tea. We would get up really early, at 6:00am, just to have a luxurious hour to drink mate and shoot the shit before work. It was great, and probably one of the only times I really looked forward to getting out of bed.

I also spent two years in Buenos Aires packing myself into the rush-hour subway five days a week. It was this really intense experience of collective suffering. Nobody seemed to want to get wherever they were going, yet nobody wanted to stay on the subway either. Often the subway would break down before you got to your stop, and in the summer you would get off soaked with other people’s sweat. As unpleasant as it was, I’ve never felt so intimate with humanity. You can’t help but emerge from that subway with some sense of compassion for your fellow travelers. Incidentally, it was around that time that I became very dedicated to zen practice.

What time do you go to sleep?

Usually around midnight. On a good day, I meditate for another twenty to thirty minutes before bed.

Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?

Yes, I use an alarm, and I admit to serious snooze button abuse. We’re talking an hour of snooze.

I’m a zen student and I’ve been on retreats where my role was the Jiki-Jitsu, or time keeper. So I had to get up at 4:30am to prepare the morning tea and then ring a bell to wake up everyone else. The snooze button was not an option, and I can only imagine what would happen if I ever slept in. Needless to say it was a very challenging but worthwhile practice for me. I’m still working on incorporating that discipline into my daily life.

How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?

Usually breakfast happens after meditation and before starting work. I change it up a lot but in the winter my favorite is oatmeal with toasted seeds and coconut, and in the summer I prefer a bowl of fruit with toasted seeds. I’m a big fan of adding seeds to my food. (I use sesame, flax, chia, and sunflower seeds.)

The important thing for me about breakfast is to eat slowly and mindfully, not while staring at the computer or reading emails! When the weather is nice I eat breakfast in my hammock.

Do you have a morning workout routine?

Nope. I have major resistance to morning exercise, so I always work out in the evening to clear the day from my head and get back into my body.

How about morning meditation?

For a zen student, this is the most essential part of the routine, no question. I have a corner in my apartment with an alter and cushion, and I light a candle and incense every morning. I also maintain a vase with cut flowers. It is very important to create and care for a sacred space if you want to have a regular meditation practice.

I read a short poem or gatha before sitting and chant the bodhisattva vows afterwards, followed by three full bows. In addition to having an incredible grounding effect, this practice is a constant reminder that this life is about much more than me.

Do you see to email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?

I like to accomplish one major task before opening my email. I once read that starting your day by checking email is a great way to let other people set your priorities for you. So true! When I screw up and check my email first thing, I fall into a fuzzy black hole and don’t accomplish anything before lunch. I dream of a day when I can live without email.

How soon do you check your phone in the morning, either for calls/messages or social media and news?

I group most of this “intake” stuff along with email, so I try to wait until after the first task unless there is something urgent I need to attend to. I do like to listen to NPR while I’m in the kitchen making breakfast. I live outside of my home country and I don’t own a TV, so I try to get at least a tiny bit of news into the day!

What and when is your first drink in the morning?

I drink a mug of warm water with the juice of half a lemon every morning, usually before I meditate. I switched over to this beverage ritual just a few months ago and it feels really good. I still reach for my caffeinated favorites (coffee and mate) but not until after lunch.

On days you’re not settled in your own home, due to traveling or staying with a friend, are you able to adapt any of your routine to fit in with a different environment?

I’m making an effort to maintain the routine as is. If all else fails, I always meditate. Even five minutes is better than nothing. On the other hand, I intentionally break the routine every so often, even at home, just for the hell of it.

What do you do if you fail to follow your routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?

Without my routine, I notice that I am scattered and less focused and I tend to get more carried away by emotions. Also I get stressed out and effected by external influences much more easily.

If I catch myself feeling this way, I usually stop what I am doing, take a few moments to sit quietly and meditate, and then set some intentions for the rest of the day. The morning routine is a beautiful reset button, and it’s never to late to hit the reset button.

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