How to Use Your Routines to Break Your Own Mold

I know that it’s rather easy for me to spout off about how great it is to be creative each day and how a sitting practice can really help you slow down your mind, but it is not as easy to say that you’ll have no trouble finding the time to do these things.

Once you finish the dishes and the laundry and cleaning up the food that your dog knocked out of its bowl, do you really have time to sit and meditate for an hour? Who has time to take out the paints and go at it, especially given that they will need to get cleaned up after? Well, there is a solution to this problem.

You always have time. Not time to do anything new necessarily, but time to see it differently. Time to slow down.

One great thing about routines is that they are predictable. You can rely on them. We all have slightly different routines, but we know what they are. Maybe you take a shower every day, maybe you check the dumpster by the natural food store to see what treasures are there.  Maybe you do dishes, maybe you check your email. There are things you do, each day, predictably.

In some ways, these routines can make you feel less alive. They are repetitive, they are predictable, they are a time where you can tune out. On a familiar drive, you may not notice the curve of the big oak tree against the blue sky or the interesting feeling in your stomach as you take a sharp turn. You are going through the motions and thinking about what to make for dinner. You can let these routines give you more time to tune out, if you want. But then there are more routines to add in. Soon, most of your life becomes tuning out. And you can hold these routines up on a pedestal as you tell me that you don’t have time to meditate, don’t have time to paint; you are too busy with these things.

Or you can use them as built-in reminders to be present and creative. You can choose to be aware of how your body feels on those turns, to smell the difference in the air as the seasons change when you get the mail. To notice how different temperatures of water in the shower make you feel differently about the world. The point is that you are going to be doing these things anyway, they are like the string on your finger that reminds you to tell someone something.

Except the person you are talking to is yourself. And you are simply saying, “My routines are a reminder for me to be more present with myself.” They can be a reminder for whatever you want. I personally find that my routines are the time when I am most likely to obsess about negative things or indulge in my anxiety. This is a pattern that I acknowledge, and therefore, that I can let go of. I know that as soon as I am one-on-one with a sink full of dishes, my mind is going to start getting grouchy and anxious about the work I’m not doing. However, knowing this helps me to remember that doing dishes is my reminder to wake up. My reminder to smile, to feel centered and grateful for the world around me.

There is no getting rid of routines. You can escape paying the mortgage by living in your car, but then you have a gas tank to fill. You can watch the little numbers climb up at the gas pump under a new sky and still, you are in a routine. You can change your location all you want, but you are still going to have to do some things repetitively. If you can use these things to feel that energy of creativity, of presence, then you are going to have a different feeling when you are done.

Try to remember the last time you were really creative. Remember not what you did, exactly, but the feeling you had. The sensations in your body and the feeling in your mind. This is the feeling that you can have at any point, whether it is while you are painting a picture or while you are gently washing crumbs off a plate or folding a pile of clean shirts. The feeling is what matters, and if you are present while you perform these routine chores, you are going to see that there is quite a difference in the quality of your life.

Most importantly, cultivating that feeling while you do the things you have to do may help you to find the time to do the things that you really love. If you feel nourished and alive after folding clothes, maybe you will be more likely to take out a canvas and some paints and get creative with the colors. Each feeling leads to another one, so you may as well use any chance you can to feel the aliveness of creativity so that it can fill up  more crevices of your life.

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