To break the routine or not to break the routine?
I woke up feeling low-spirited today morning.
As my 7:10 am alarm rang, I extended my arm and fumbled for my phone on the floor, where it lays at night. I switched off the alarm. Then I pulled my arm inside my white duvet again and closed my eyes. My partner shut off his 7:20 am alarm, too.
While he pushed his phone under his crumbly pillow, we took a peek at each other, and then our eyes closed.
Even though I have been running three miles three-to-four days per week continuously for four months, today I didn’t want to go for a run or do yoga or waggle my arms while pacing up on my gigantic balcony overlooking a dense forest in the middle of the city.
I wanted to continue resting in my queen bed. As if the mattress had wrapped his arms around me and caressed me softly. The morning cool breeze from the forest wafted through the window mesh and touched my cheeks.
Usually, I leap out of my bed as soon as I wake up to stand on the rooftop and feel the fresh zephyr on my face while clouds fly above. My eagerness to charge out of bed like a rocket has something to do with wanting to see the blue sky, the Brahmini kites gliding above, and soaking in the freshness of a new day. And once I have risen, I never lie down again.
But today I was happy to have a tiny puff of wind whisper in my ear while I snuggled inside my silky duvet. I came back from the toilet, ignored the blue sky, sat on the edge of the bed, and then let myself fall backward. I pulled the duvet over my face and closed my eyes.
I had sunk into the bed. Every inch of my body sighed gratitude for the prolonged rest.
I pushed away the ideas of doing yoga or eating breakfast that would have made me get up. I had nothing on my mind. Neither did I plan ten years ahead nor I dug the graves from five years ago. I became thoughtless.
After a few minutes, my cat Cheeku pounced on my feet.
Like every morning, Cheeku walked towards my face to get pampered. She ground her nose against my nose and licked my cheeks.
Every day I pamper her once before I rush off for my run with my earphones playing Anoushka Shankar or a new science podcast. Today Cheeku and I cuddled multiple times within the 15–20 minutes. When she slipped away to the edge of the bed to unpause her incessant grooming, I picked her up and laid her on my neck with her cheek against mine.
Soon I floated in a pool of calmness. A vacuum enveloped me. As if I had nothing to do, nothing to think about. No past, no present, no future.
But what about my usual morning routine?
My morning schedule is a set of activities such as exercising, meditating, showering, eating, having tea, et cetera. This systematic trigger routine starts me on the right foot into the day. (The above-linked guide talks about trigger routines in detail.)
I believe in trigger routines for they put us in control of our day. A schedule gives us a structure through which we can make sense of our lives. [Psychologists suggest (re)bringing some structure into our everyday life can help create a sense of time in the pandemic.]
As Annie Dillard says in The Writing Life, “A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.”
But sometimes the schedule that is supposed to make us feel better leaves us burdened under responsibilities. Mundaneness kicks in. While following strict timetables, we feel trapped and bored. A sense of lack of freedom seems to sour high.
Today my body screamed, slow down. Break your daily routine. Relax. Breathe. Rest. Keep lying down. Please do nothing.
I defied Marcus Aurelius’s advice that we should get out of bed for we have not come on earth to lay cozy but to do our duties. Today my duty was to make myself feel better. To pamper myself. To give my body that extra hour in the bed that it wanted.
So I listened to myself. Today I chose kindness and imperfection over routine and automation. Instead of following the trigger routine or feeling bad when I couldn’t stick to my daily morning habits, I gave myself a break and spent an action-less and thought-less morning.
When I got up around 9, I had been lying awake in bed for about an hour and a half. I was relaxed. A transcendental energy vibrated through me into the universe and back.
While showering, I didn’t play my usual Sufi song “Khwaja Mere Khwaja” on which I meditate. There was silence.
It was one of those days when the water in the shower didn’t work well. I filled the bucket with hot and cold water and poured mugs of warm water over me, as I used to do in my childhood. Instead of the planned fifteen-twenty minutes long hot shower, I took a five-minute bucket bath.
Though usually, I get grumpy without a warm shower, today I was
happy joyful with the simple fill-pour-fill mug routine.
I had been slow all morning. Neither did I do anything nor did I think about anything. How could I be frustrated when I had been so gentle with myself?
I was more energetic than I would have been after sweating out. I was more peaceful than I had been if I had meditated sitting down for an hour. I felt free and alive.
Habitual behavior can separate us from feelings and our immediate experience. Ever happened with you that you walked to the same Tube line because you were so used to taking it for office every day that you forgot today was Sunday and you were heading to farmer’s market instead? Or you were so engrossed about getting into the shower after your daily run that you didn’t notice the cake on the dining table? How many times did you postpone writing your diary because you would get late?
But today I had let go of the routine. Now I got time to connect with my environment again. I could appreciate the ginger tea, the buttered toast, like someone who had been given these things for the first time. Neither was I rushing nor was I aimed towards anything.
If your morning routine seems a bit tiring on any day, then try changing the routine for a day or two. Sometimes we are just experiencing inertia that can be broken down within five minutes of our morning activity (like your body warms up when you run the first rounds), but at times our bodies do tell us that they need time off. And it is okay to listen to them.
As John Connolly says in The Book of Lost Things, “We all have our routines, but they must have a purpose and provide an outcome that we can see and take some comfort from, or else they have no use at all. Without that, they are like the endless pacings of a caged animal.”
Sometimes we have such strict systems that instead of feeling better by having them in place we feel trapped. We feel oppressed by it all. We lose that sense of amazement about the world.
We should follow a routine but we shouldn’t be so scared of breaking it that life feels like a system rather than the system being a part of life.
Though exercise energizes us and mornings are the only time some of us love to move around, every now and then we all can ignore our morning rituals and indulge in our own morning bliss. We can pause whatever we do to do nothing. Or we can do things we like that are usually not part of our daily system.
The change in your routine could be as simple as not going for a jog but doing yoga. Or not doing surya namaskars but walking in the cobbled streets. Or not strolling but just sitting with a cup of chamomile tea in the garden under the pink bougainvillea. Or not drinking tea but lying down in the bed with the window open into the vast cerulean sky. Or just sleeping longer than you do every day.
Lie down in the bed. Feel the touch of the duvet. Twist and toss. Extend your arms and stretch. Push away unwanted thoughts. Do what makes you feel the best. Sleep for two more hours. Or tell yourself that I would get up now and finish this one urgent thing but only to get back into bed. Don’t worry about exercising for research shows that sleeping well today can motivate you to exercise tomorrow. (If you need inspiration read this book called The Woman Who Went to Bed For a Year. )
But the trick is that you don’t fret over breaking the routine. Else what is the point?
Design your systems. Get carried away by the habits. But once in a while, let yourself be. Realize that a break might be important than routine. Disrupt the regime to get back your willpower. Slow down when you have to. See the change. Get back into rhythm. Do nothing again.
As Stephen R. Covey says, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
Remember routine is not life, a schedule is a part of life. You created it to make your life better, and you can break your routine to make your life better whenever you deem right.