Our life becomes what we pay attention to.
If night is an inhale, the morning must be an exhale. On the morning I fell in love with sunrises, the mountain valley I found myself in was breathing out gold.
Light streamed gently through early summer wildflowers. Hundreds of tender sunflowers nodded their dreamy heads towards the sky. Every shade of purple lupine flourished in the ruts of the old dirt road.
The river was running deep and curving in languid swirls through emerald pasture. I snapped off a hundred photos with the digital camera I barely knew how to use, borrowed from my parents closet.
My coffee was hot.
My dog trotted breezily beside me.
It was in this moment I wished the slow, gentle way of the morning could last forever. But like all things, it’s fleeting. The cool, deweyness of mornings evaporates into daytime heat. The clock turns, and day sighs into night.
But every day, the exhale of daybreak comes again. Another opportunity to pay attention to the world waking up.
And it’s during this time, I invite you to bring a little magic into your life–no matter what your mornings might look like.
There is always a pool of sunlight, the sound of morning birds, a moment to steal the cool relief of dawn before the rush of day.
Since that morning in the mountains, I have strived to recreate that feeling as often as possible. It’s not always possible, but when it is, it makes life worth living.
We are certainly not here to just pay bills and die. We are meant to pay attention. To see and feel the world around us and be changed by it–if even just slightly. So if life is passing you by in a blur of to-do’s and money chasing, I ask you to read this. Because the world needs more people who have woken up.
It’s such a beautiful morning to be alive.
1. Leave your phone on the kitchen counter, take five minutes to step outside.
Walk around the block. Stand on your stoop. Pretend to read the newspaper. Just be in it, without the digital appendage we can’t seem to let go of. Act like you’re a kid that grew up in the 90s, free in the world, without the baggage of a cell phone.
What do you hear? What do you see? If your view is less than inspiring, close your eyes. Or find a tiny patch of beauty. Is it the square of light falling through the window onto a potted plant? Is it the swirl of cream into your coffee? Is it as small as your swirled handwriting on your to-do list?
If you want more magic in your morning, you must first find it. To find it you must look–which starts with leaving your phone behind so you can find the beauty in your own life, not someone else’s.
2. Jot a few things down on a piece of paper, a journal, a note card.
If you don’t know what to write, write what you see. Explore your senses. Describe the world around you. You can find out a lot about yourself by how your describe the place you’re in.
What are you focused on? The good? The beautiful? Or are you looking at the ugly, mean, sad things about your life and your surroundings? Your perception is one of the most powerful tools you have, and it’s 100% controlled by you. What you see in life you continue to see in life. You’ll get what you pay attention to.
3. Make yourself a nourishing breakfast.
It doesn’t have to be fancy, or it can be. It can be cereal, or an elaborate smoked salmon bowl. It literally doesn’t matter what you’re eating.
It’s how you’re eating it.
Nourishment is not just the necessary foods for good health. It’s the way in which you bring food into your body. Nourishment can be paying attention to how the milk slips into the crevices of the cereal, the coldness of the metal spoon on your tongue, the crunch of the flakes.
You nourish yourself by bringing a moment of calm attention to the way you eat and make space for such an intimate act. You’re loving your body with food. You’re giving yourself what you need to thrive.
Take a small moment to appreciate that, instead of distracting yourself with the trauma of morning news, the buzz of email, Facebook, or morning traffic.
Remember, how you do one thing is how you do all things.
4. Practice smiling at people.
On the bus, in traffic. At the gas station. Work on making eye contact, and actually seeing the human beings we share the world with.
We’ve grown so accustomed to interacting with strangers digitally, that face-to-face interactions don’t feel normal or safe. We forget how to make eye contact, to say hello to someone we don’t know. To just share space with people without distracting ourselves with our devices.
I have more heartwarming, joy inducing interactions with gas station attendants, and random people on the bus than I do with my family sometimes. I fall in love with strangers almost every day.
5. Take #4 a step further and learn to notice one positive thing about a stranger every day.
As a society, we are so judgemental. Our entire entertainment industry is based on judgement–does this person sing well enough to make the cut, is this photo worthy of a like?
What if we practiced noticing one positive thing about a stranger every day instead of something to discount/dislike about them?
Can you take it a step further and tell them? I have been utterly humbled by southern hospitality, and enjoy multiple compliments a day from strangers about my gray hair. Receiving these compliments makes me notice wonderful things about other people, and it gives me the encouragement to share my thoughts with them.
It’s contagious, and we bring magic to our lives by giving it to others.
6. Learn something.
So often we spend our spare moments in the morning distracting ourselves with never-ending entertainment feeds that give almost zero to our lives overall (but the inverse, of course, is that social media makes us anxious, depressed and stressed out, so there’s that).
Be more intentional with your time. Every moment of your day is your life. So use it wisely, and learn something. Read a chapter in a book while you drink coffee for 10 minutes. Listen to a podcast that helps you be a better human. Watch a video on something you want to learn how to do.
7. So many of you want to be writers, but don’t actually do the hard work of writing.
Sitting down and hating it is basically how we all start. It is brutish, and hefty work to lug words out your mind and onto the page. It’s like moving a loveseat uphill. It’s awkward and sweaty.
I literally sat staring at the computer screen for 20 minutes before I started writing the piece you’re reading now. My hips started hurting and I battled with my ego telling me I was losing my edge the whole time.
This is it.
But once you get going, it can be life-giving work, and I think it often is for most of us. Otherwise, why would we keep showing up? It’s like surfing (which I’m awful at, and am still recovering from a terrible washout), you drown until you stand up, and then you spend the rest of your life chasing that moment of flow.
So if you want to write, take that spare 10 minutes, 15, 45, and sit in front of you computer or notebook and hammer something out. Or stare out the window until something takes shape, or you find the corner of the story and can lift it up one word at a time.
You can add a tremendous amount of magic to your morning by adding writing to your routine. And who knows, maybe you’ll actually make something with it. That’s what magic is afterall, right?
Making something where there was nothing?
8. Do something that puts you into a meditative state.
Notice how I didn’t say meditate?
That’s because I believe reaching a meditative state doesn’t necessarily have to look a certain way–like sitting crossed legged on a pouf with an alter in front of you and incense burning.
It can look like that of course. But it’s not necessary, and frankly that takes a lot of setting up, and can be overwhelming.
So figure out what allows you to slip into a quiet state of mind.
It might be running outside, or, like me, on a treadmill (where I don’t have to pay attention to anything and can really zone out). It can by swimming, staring at a candle flame, taking a shower, or driving.
Maybe it’s painting, pottery, or gardening.
Do whatever allows your monkey mind–your thinking mind–to get quiet and focused on one particular task, and that allows your other, creative mind to open up. This is where insight, clarity, and intuition can bubble up and be heard.
When we’re lost in an activity, the volume of our brains gets turned down, and our connection to the divine, and our soul can finally reach us.
9. Use your own two feet.
Can you park your car farther away from work and spend five minutes in the morning walking? Life is always speeding by, and this is amplified by the fact most of us drive everywhere we’re going.
Life literally slows down when we use our own two feet. We’re forced to pay attention. We’re not living in an enclosed metal container, listening to predetermined sounds, in a temperature controlled unit, oblivious to the world around us.
When you walk, you’re thrust into the world, you can feel the air, the sunshine, the warmth radiating from the sidewalk. You’re a part of the environment. You can feel the hum of the city, observe people, listen to the birds.
Instead of blockading yourself from the world through your car, your headphones, your Instagram feed, I challenge you to actively participate in the world around you by walking through it and experiencing it in your mornings.
One of my favorite writers and thinkers, Jedidiah Jenkins wrote a book about his journey on a bicycle from Oregon to Patagonia. In it, he details how the very act of bicycling, and traveling, shook awake his senses and his life. The title itself eludes to this transformation.
When we throw ourselves into a new reality by getting out of our cars, and spending some time walking, our brains are forced to wake up, to take in new stimuli, and actually see and experience the world around us, if only to keep us safe.
This forces us to stay present in the moment. Unlike when we’re barreling down the road in our cars, only to arrive at our destination having little recollection of actually getting there.
So often we are living on autopilot, going through our day without paying attention, waiting for a future moment when we’ll be able to actually start living.
But we can’t wait. Every moment that unfolds is your life.
It’s happening right now.
And how you spend your moments is how you spend the rest of your life.
So how can you use your time here more intentionally? More consciously?
How can you pay attention to your life?
My mornings are my practice. I practice paying attention in the moments that are calm and quiet, so I can learn to pay attention when the world is loud and insistent.
It has taught me to see the birds on the highway bridge, instead of paying attention to the traffic I’m stuck in. It teaches me to watch the kids on their bikes smiling and laughing, instead of raging at the idiot that just cut me off.
Your world is what you pay attention to. I would rather see the magic unfolding in the spare moments in between than the drudgery that life can sometimes be. I would rather wake up an hour earlier so I can experience my life, instead of sleeping through it.
I challenge you to do the same.
It’s such a beautiful morning to be alive.