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PREPENT DAY 15: Tea, Leather, Journal, Silence: How to start a day and upgrade good morning to great.

unnamed-16PREPENT DAY 15

Elul 15 5775  – August 30 2015

Manhattan

 

“To be really great in little things, to be truly noble and heroic in the insipid details of everyday life, is a virtue so rare as to be worthy of canonization.” Harriet Beecher Stowe

I’ll skip sainthood for now, thank you very much, but I am very much interested in upgrading ‘good morning’ into ‘great morning’ – on as many mornings as possible.  How to best make sure that we create the best grounded, healthy and inspiring morning routine possible as we embark upon another day, with all the stuff we’re juggling and curve balls coming our way?

This is something I’ve struggled with for years.

In the past few months I’ve gradually developed a routine that mostly works and has gotten me to commit. This routine is a mix of actions, based on gentle suggestions of wise friends who somehow managed to convey this wisdom in a casual way that resonated and stuck – as opposed to so many other ‘you should’ and ‘thou shalt’ public service announcements that went unheeded.  The more I think about it  – the more I’m amazed that it’s the ‘who’ and ‘how’ of these inspirational reminders that makes the difference in making it work. The people who gave me the suggestions are friends – whom I respect. And they were not giving their advice as experts – just as friends.. The ‘how’ is just about a simple approach. Less judgement and not too ambitious a plan.  

On this Prepent  day 15 I want to share my recipe – with hopes that it’s helpful as one optional model or a reminder of the options and worth.

The key to success is this interesting state-of-mind called ‘Yishuv Ha’daat’ in Hebrew – ‘’a settled mind’. The late Rabbi Alan Lew writes about this state here – in his important Elul book – ‘This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared.”

‘Yisvhuv Ha’daat’ is necessary, according to a minority opinion in the Talmud, for the ritualized wrapping of one’s body in the leather straps called Tefillin. The prevailing law is that you put it on no matter what your state of calmness is like. As preparation for my Bar Mitzvah I was taught to put on Tefillin daily whether I liked it or not. This is a big deal for observant Jews – traditionally mostly men and today relevant for more women as well. But for many years I resisted and either lied, or put them on with haste and resentment and eventually like many others, dropped the daily do. The minority opinion helped me make sense of this  – I’d choose to put on Tefillin in the morning when I had enough time and serenity to really focus.

Which wasn’t often.

Until earlier this year my friend N. and I were talking about morning journals. He shared his model – just one page in his journal each morning – a paragraph about what he’s grateful for today, the next one about a challenge for the day, and one more about today’s intention.

I took it on. Takes about 5 minutes. Simple and effective.

A few weeks later E. talked to me about his morning meditation practice and somehow (how??) got me to say yes and take on 10-15 min. each morning. Just breathing. And then just three weeks ago P. gave me the super helpful Insight Timer app. to make the morning meditation even easier.

And suddenly Yishuv Ha’daat was not some rare gift from beyond but a short window of presence that I could create, with intention, each morning, for just 15-20 minutes of focus, reflection and intent.

 

And with that state of mind re-emerged the will and wish to start the day with my tribal gear – leather straps – the very ones I got for my Bar Mitzvah, now wrapped with the mystical intentions of marrying myself each morning – body to soul, arm to head, left to right brain, mundane and mystery combined to be more present.

Before I start I wrap myself with my father’s prayer shawl. The one he’d wear each morning. At his Shiva in Jerusalem I started using it and have done it daily since. A bit of his smell still lingers.. slowly becoming part of mine.

So here’s this looks now: Average 15 min.

  1. wake up with no iphone in bedroom and not check digital world for at least 30 min. after waking.
  2. make a cup of tea.
  3. sit somewhere quiet.
  4. wrap the tallit
  5. put on tefillin
  6. few, basic morning blessings – mostly the gratitude ones that I know by heart.
  7. sit in silent meditation for 5 min.
  8. write one page in journal.
  9. wrap it up.

There are lots of morning routines  and tips and grids online, with or without religion and with more yoga and body movement and other ways to start a day. I am grateful for this practice (still surprised by it, to be honest..), challenged to maintain it with serenity and joy and bring in exercise and movement, and am holding on to the intention of not waiting for but rather cultivating yishuv ha’daat – pockets of mindful being, each morning, as the summer fades away, September upon us and a busy season and year of busy days ahead..

What’s your routine/ideas/best tips? Be great to get some more wise and gentle suggestions for us all to compare and take on.

Good morning – and great day!

 – Amichai
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