When was the last time you opened your eyes, took in the early sun, and, instead of hastening to silence the alarm for nine more minutes of unsatisfying sleep, rose from bed to welcome the day with a morning ritual? This morning? Last week? Never?
If you’ve been struggling to find meaning on a daily basis, the counterintuitive move of setting your alarm ten or twenty minutes earlier to cultivate a morning routine might change your life.
Rituals don’t have to be saved for the morning — and they don’t have to be daily, either. Bringing more mindfulness to major life events can transform your experience. To add a pause and a bit of reflection, an intention-setting ceremony can be in order at any consequential turn or transition: after a breakup or a move; after leaving a job or profession; at the start of a new year or on a birthday; on important anniversaries, both celebratory (sobriety dates, marriages) and solemn (deaths, serious endings).
One New Year’s Day in Santa Fe, I was invited to an intention-setting bonfire on the south side of the city. I drove down Agua Fria St. along a dried-out arroyo and parked my car in a thicket of juniper bushes to join five other women in jotting down a list of things we wanted to let go of and, on the other side, a list of things we wanted to manifest.
I can’t remember now what I wrote, but I can tell you that I felt a little lighter watching my lined notepaper glow orange and crinkle as it turned to ash. The air thick with sage — growing nearby, burning in my friend’s hand — the sun setting, the temperature dropping ten degrees: it all felt magical. And in some ways, it was.
The ability to let go of the things that no longer serve us is vital. And though it’s certainly possible to say goodbye to something without a formal ceremony, it’s worth considering, especially if you’re finding it difficult to bid something adieu. Or if you want to welcome something new in a sparkly way. Research has found that mindfulness can lead to higher emotional intelligence and social connection, according to a study on stress conducted at Carnegie Mellon.
You don’t have to be sitting around a fire pit in the Southwest, though that is a great place for an intention-setting ceremony.
But next time you want to give some energy to a new phase, release some attachment to an old phase, or just mark a special day, set aside some time — alone or with friends — and see what happens tweet
To begin, try lighting a candle, incense, a bundle of sage, or a stick of palo santo. If you’re into prayer, you could say one; if not, you could say (out loud or in your head) a few words about your intention. Write down what you want to accomplish, say goodbye to, or remember that day. Sometimes, if you’re doing this alone, it feels good to write a few pages; if you’re in a group, perhaps you each write down a few things. Playing music in the background can be a nice addition.
If you’re outside, burning the paper is powerful, but if that’s not possible, it’s not necessary. The important thing is setting something down on paper. After welcoming it in or letting it go, try a few minutes of meditation, focusing on the purpose of your ceremony, following your breath. If you’re in a group and you want to share reflections afterward, this can be a great way to close the ceremony.
If you began by lighting palo santo or sage, do so again to close the ceremony. If you lit a candle, blow it out. Again, saying a few words or a prayer, silently or aloud, can be a lovely way to end.
It’s that simple. This can all take place in twenty minutes, if you feel pressed for time, though it’s nice to set aside an hour or two and let it feel leisurely. Either way, this has the power to shift things in a new direction.
The morning ritual is a daily slice of the same pie. It can be tailored to fit your needs — what do you love to do? How do you feel happy? For me, I light palo santo, play my favorite song of the moment, dance around my apartment with the lit palo santo, invite new energy and spirit into my day, and then sit in meditation for five to twenty minutes. When I’m feeling fancy, I add some yoga, stretching or dance to the mix — depending on how much time I have, I can add or subtract as necessary, but this is a jumping-off point to my day.
I’ve spoken to a lot of people about their own personal morning rituals, and the only constant I’ve found is variety. Some like to read the newspaper front to back; some like to sketch for fifteen minutes; some like a brisk walk around the block or along a path. There’s no wrong way to bring in the day, as long as you’re doing it with an attitude of being present.
Just like the more formal ritual, a morning intention-setting ceremony can be performed alone or with others. If you have a partner, sex and relationship expert Dr. Megan Stubbs, Ed.D, suggests beginning with an affirmation. “Start out your day with a positive affirmation to your partner,” she says. Though you can keep it simple, this can “help set the tone for their morning and let them know that you’re in their corner — no matter what the day may throw at them.”
Next time you’re feeling in need of some meaning in your life, try an intention-setting ceremony. And if you just want to ensure you wake up on the right side of the bed, try a morning ritual. You might not feel any different right away, but you also might feel a slight shift. No matter what the outcome, feel your feelings, breathe deep — and enjoy.