Pretty much every morning, I have the same ritual …
Up at 5:50am
Turn coffee on (its set to automatically brew at 6am but I get a special satisfaction of beating the coffee clock)
Go outside and say a prayer of thanks for being alive another day
Make butter coffee and pour into two mugs
Sit in my chair in my corner of the living room and peruse news, social, etc whilst sipping coffee
Read my daily readers: Merton as a physical daily reader and daily emails from Richard Rohr and Seth Godin.
Journaling (sometimes in two different journals depending on the muse)
Do a meditation on Sam Harris’ Waking Up app
Go for a walk
Take a shower
Go to my office and get to work
Of course, not every day is like this. Sometimes, I intentionally mix the order up. Some days, I don’t have space for all of the above. Whatever the order or frequency, I love this morning ritual. Which is an odd thing to write because I generally have hated rituals and routines. They reminded me of loss of control, of empty rote. But as Jocko Willink says, “Discipline equals freedom.”
This morning ritual is how I get present, get centered, tune in to my soul, plan my day. I didn’t realize how much this ritual meant to me until this past week.
On 9/1, Lynna and I headed north to drive to Portland for the birth of our first grandchild. We spent the last 5 days exploring southern Colorado (I’m writing this essay from Grand Junction, CO). It has been a fun adventure with a nice blend of unexpectedness and solid planning — and a strange feeling of not knowing exactly when we will be back to Austin.
Throughout this first leg of the trip, I have struggled with being present. Which produced its own special blend of anxiety — a combo of “destination fever”, fatigue and contingency planning. I was present in a sensory way. I saw the beautiful valley from the big windows of the cabin in Del Norte. I felt the fresh mountain air in my lungs and on my skin. I heard the buzz of my reel as I cast into the Rio Grande. I saw new country that I’ve never been to before. I saw the towering Clear Creek Falls. Outside of our cabin in Cimmaron, I saw the vast expanse of stars. I took in the terrifying and beautiful Black Canyon. I sat on the bank of Crawford Reservoir with fishing pole in hand.
I was in all of these places and had all of these sensory experiences, yet …
Despite all of the majestic natural beauty, great conversations, exploring small towns I didn’t feel present. This filled me with guilt and doubt. My first reaction to any feeling I don’t like is “What is wrong with me?” My second reaction is “How do I get rid of this feeling?” Instead of these old responses, I decided to just sit with my feelings. And to extend myself some grace.
This provided space to realize a few things …
The intention of this trip is the momentous occasion of becoming a grandfather. This new chapter has brought so many feelings — unspeakable joy, excitement, anticipation. But also feelings of running out of time, fear of getting old, wondering if this next phase of life will leave my complacent and overly-content. One of the purposes of getting present is to understand and examine feelings. And these were feelings I couldn’t control — so I avoided them by staying on the go.
I am away from home. Austin is home. It felt like home the first time I went there on a visit in 2012. The mountains are where my body is from and family history is from. But Austin is where my soul is from. I realized that I was trying to experience all this newness as if I was going to move to these places. Instead of just experiencing it like a grateful visitor.
Presence has to be fought for. It doesn’t just happen. And it certainly doesn’t happen by going faster, staying busier. The breakthrough happened yesterday morning. I sat on the front deck of our little cabin, sipped my butter coffee and felt the morning sun on my face. I caught up on my Merton daily reader and also read a section in “A Course in Miracles” (a book I’ve been chipping away at for almost 4 years!). I cracked open my journal and listened. A musing came to me that I shared on social. I was present. Finally.
Ritual is good.
Home is good.
Travel is good.
Life’s big moments are good.
But presence is just returning to my center, my soul — and those are with me wherever I am.