I never gave much thought to mornings the first half of my life, the demands of life dictated my start to the day. If I had to get to work, I tended to leave just enough time to make it, or even be a few minutes late. If I had to be somewhere to do something for my business, then that’s what determined how and even why I got up. For many years, I got up because others depended on me, where others could not do their work until I showed up. That’s a pretty good motivator: 20 people waiting for you.
Over time, I’ve thought to impose some order on this part of how I live. This is more true now that I am no longer and afternoon and evening worker as I was for most of my adult life, and often have to get up in the mornings to go out to appointments.
My children often wake me in the morning. Or, missus will have an alarm go off an hour earlier than it was supposed to. This is almost always a leftover from last week sometime when she needed up, but then, forgot to reset her alarm.
We marry what we can tolerate. I remind myself of this at 5 am and go back to sleep.
Whichever way I wake up at other times, its usually not by alarm. In fact, I rarely use one. From decades of calculating my sleep needs, necessary tactics I used to combat insomnia in my early life, I manage sleep with a priority that works for me.
The first thing I do upon waking is grab my woman’s ass. I think touching her lets her know I’m happy to wake up beside her. Touch is the best way to show she’s appreciated. If she’s already out of bed, I stretch, grateful I got to be one of the lucky ones alive after the dark of night. This is the first thought in my head, and over the years I’ve trained myself to say this silently to myself: “I get to get up today.”
Then, I take the pillows and place them on top of our other ones. I straighten the comforter and sheet and voila! the bed is mostly made before I’m even out of it, needing only slight adjustments afterwards as I roll out and stand up.
I have a carpet under my bed which extend around its periphery. This is where I keep my slippers. But first, I flood light into my eyes suddenly when I whip open the curtain next to my side of the bed. While looking outside at whatever scene is there, I recite the same prayer I’ve said for over 30 years:
“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
It’s from Psalms, 118:24. My rabbi friend says to source something this way is to offer redemption to the world, something his Talmudic teachers taught him. Lately, when I say this silent prayer, I think of this wider frame and accord myself a little redemption, quietly stealing a little personal forgiveness before moving through my day. Who doesn’t want redemption? Now it’s psalm 118:24 and I redeem myself.
I hang the curtain so it remains open, do the same to the matching window a few feet to the left, dress in morning clothes (housecoat if jumping in the shower, leisurely stuff if I’m working at home) and head downstairs. I stretch high when I do this because I usually wake up a little sore.
I currently head to the kitchen window and drink two big glasses of cold filtered well-water while looking out at my bird feeder. Banter with the missus and kids ensues, especially now that I have imposed order on their morning. No toys at the table, eggs, toast with peanut butter, fruit and goat milk before they get their gummy vitamins as reward.
As I gaze out the windows above the sink, I like to take a moment to notice nature, to let my eyes take in the expanse of scrub brush and trails out back of my house. And the various chickadees, juncos, jays, cardinals, woodpeckers and other feathered visitors who dive in from the cedars to feed on oiled sunflower seeds. I often think of my mother when I do this. Fleetingly, it sets my spirit a little.
Currently, six red squirrels live above in the cedars beside my utility shed out back. My first summer here I never saw them, though we heard them scold us loudly the odd time, first thinking it was tree frog. We have lots of those, and in spring and summer their chorus will fill the evening with such song you must remain silent, unable to compete. This also sets my spirit as I remember what it’s like here in summer.
The bird-feeders I put up last year drew the squirrels out of their trees. I read recently reds can occupy a tree and set stores in its every nook and cranny, then pass the storehouse of food on to the next generation, often for up to 30 years. They don’t hibernate in winter like the Northern Gray squirrels, a solitary black individual I’ve seen only once or twice scampering in from the edge of the woods. Just this week I saw the black version of the Norther Gray, said to happen in Canada’s cold, hurriedly checking below the feeders unmolested. Sure enough, out of nowhere, a red came dashing at him and the chase was on, the black squirrel making it for the safety of the woods a hundred feet away. Those reds don’t like sharing and keep interlopers at bay.
When I was a boy, my two older brothers were Irish Twins and did everything together. In fact, they are the same age right now for another few days, the 3 and 13th of March being their birthdays. Ma had ten pregnancies in twelve years but lost the one before me. This meant a longer gap separated me from the two of them. I felt it deeply when they went to high school and left me still in primary. I felt cast adrift, abandoned.
Ma gave me a set of binoculars as encouragement. This was a rare treat in our family, to be so honoured with such an adult piece of equipment, and a guidebook to boot. It was all so… professional. I’ve been fascinated by birds ever since. I’m not dogmatic about it, I don’t have a list of birds I have to see. Not anymore. I tried that and it lessened my enjoyment. If I saw an Evening Grosbeak way back and then forgot about it, finding one again is like finding it for the first time. A list would be a way of reminding me how stupid I was to have forgotten. So, no list, I just like them. The white throated sparrow song is probably my favourite evening song in summer. Often at dusk one will perch at the very top of a nearby tree and let loose its song. It sets my spirit.
My original binoculars are long gone, but ma gave me her pair a few years before she died at age 86. Now her Bausch and Lomb’s are in the cupboard over the fridge, for me to use anytime. I used them an evening a few days ago when a bright red cardinal and his buff coloured mate were seen picking up leftover seeds off the snow beneath the feeders, right where the chickadees and woodpeckers would have scattered them earlier today.
It’s rare to see a mated pair in the backyard this time of year, and usually only one of the pair makes it to the feeder at a time. I like the way the female and male cooperate for survival, something I think provides lessons for humans. The male is bright red and attracts all the attention. If a Sparrow Hawk attacks, chances are he’ll get it first. The female is buff coloured with red accents, beautiful in her own way, easily camouflaged against the forest. And when she is sitting on the nest, it is he who is out hunting and returning with food, spelling her later in the day so she can come to the feeder alone and take her fill. It’s a model for much of life between the sexes.
Both were there, both on the ground, and as it was dusk, I needed the glasses to see their colour because everything looks black and white at twilight. Early March and here before me a mated pair of colourful cardinals. These moments set my spirit.
I still have the book ma gave me, though I have no idea how I managed to keep a copy of Peterson’s How to Know the Birds after all these years. My father’s handwriting is still there where he printed my name in full block letters on the inside front cover in pen almost 50 years ago. In this context, watching the morning birds gives me perspective, a sense of time, of lifespan. The book’s edition was out in 1957, the year of my birth.
My missus loves a coffee in the morning. Never a dedicated coffee drinker most of my life, preferring Red Rose tea like ma, at times I would drink coffee for ten years then leave it alone for another ten. Now, my gal has converted me. Studies which show drinking a couple of cups per day is likely to prolong life by a few years encourages me too. I need every edge I can get. I used to have a wonderful filtered coffee and carafe setup, now we percolate.
I get the beans from Ottawa Roasters, a middle eastern store down on Kilborn Ave, not far off Bank Street. It’s right behind St. Thomas D’Aquin, the French Roman Catholic church I used to attend and where I also served as an altar boy. It’s a little weird to see places like that all these years later, after I’d lived elsewhere until just under three years ago. I moved back to be near my father after ma passed away.
Flashes of remembrances hit me each time I pick up coffee at Roasters: walking through that parking lot; helping with the bottle drive for charity and filling that little garage behind the church with our take; the fence between the church and adjacent school now gone, but remembering attending my first day of school there and being dropped off just over there, in that spot, to face the kids in the yard.
It’s funny how those memories are there though we never think of them. In 1986, I began attending college in Cornwall and enrolled my son in daycare. That first day, I dropped him off and watched as he tentatively approached the yard where the other kids were playing, and it brought back a flood of memories that grabbed me by the throat. Suddenly, I was six and walking into L’Ecole Primaire St Thomas D’Aquin, an English kid at a French school, alone.
You can get Brazilian or Columbian dark in whole beans for 9 bucks a pound at Roasters. And Marie, the server with decades behind her counter, smiles easily. They roast everything, nuts too. I dare you to find better just slightly salted roasted cashews anywhere. Visiting places like this in my old neighbourhood remind me I am from somewhere. That’s an important thing to me. It’s another thing which sets my spirit.
With my coffee in hand, a dash of goat milk to neutralize its bitterness, I head into my office. There, another ritual ensues. You see, I read or recite the poem Invictus every morning. In fact, I recently added the Goal Tracker app on my phone to see how long a streak I can go on. This morning routine is one of them and I check it off once I’m done.
I tried to recite Invictus while doing deep knee bends or walking like a bear on all fours across my carpet so that I may stretch and absorb its tenactiy into my very bones. Mostly I just read it and then do something physical. I want to be sure my will and my body are in sync. I often think of the context in which Henley wrote his famous work: contemplating having his leg cut off, when he’d already lost one earlier. Fucker was a steely-eyed embodiment of masculinity in the situation and his words were his affirmation, a determination to live. It is men’s stuff this poetry, and it sets my spirit.
Now, I take my phone and review my goals. I used to carry all of these in a DayTimer binder but the digital world is messing with my system. I’m in a state of flux, ready to adopt or abandon a tactic at a moment’s notice.
I’m not the kind of guy who can just leave my life to chance and hope things work out. Distractibility is the curse of my curousity. I must schedule my time and my activities. If I don’t, I can be led astray. I’m also not perfect at it.
What I look for each day are two things: Resistance and Zone.
If I can identify my resistance and assess its merit in a situation, usually I find I can overcome it on the spot. Sometimes, I experience reluctance for good reason, of course, stepping out into traffic is not the goal of suppressing resistance. But, feeling resistance signals me to examine and assess, learning to become aware of bodily cues and subsequent thoughts which may be preventing me from living my best. By focusing on this one narrow aspect of my daily existence, I experience more regular wins. And each time I win here, my spirit strengthens and makes me just that much more powerful going forward.
Men tend to build systems. Mine helps me get here, to this place: when I enjoy a confluence of my passions and strengths–what I like to do with what I tend to be good at–and add in an intense focus while engaging in something of increasing complexity, I get so absorbed I feel alive at a level I don’t get anywhere else. This is when I experience my zone, and the more I get into it, the more I want.
I have not been able to narrow my thinking to the extent I can live in a zone all day long. I’m much too distracted for that. However, I do hit it regularly. In those moments, I’m on point, and I feel strongest. Not power in the sense of power over anyone else. No. It’s a self-mastery power, like I’m really steering the ship. It’s the purest form of agency I know.
At these moments, time flies by imperceptibly, like I can stop time. At other times, an hour feels like minutes, or an afternoon feel like my entire life because I’m so engrossed in whatever is before me. Stopping time like this is what sets my spirit.
I’m not always successful but this is what I strive for.
I believe the ancestral epigenetic effects on my methyl groups influencing my DNA combined with my databank of emotional states recorded in my body since I came into existence are what constitute my soul. It is this which I attempt to nourish each day. It is to these greater forces I submit my will and drive my actions.
My morning routine sets my attitude for the hours ahead. I highly recommend you find some kind of routine which will welcome you into your day with a consistent grounding of spirit.
Stay powerful: never give up
Christopher K Wallace
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