Wisdom From The Goddess Of The Dawn (And Oprah)
My most recent project was a mural called Aurora, a tribute to the Goddess of the Dawn. As I was working up the concept for this piece, I thought a lot about the dawn—that space between night and morning, between dreaming and waking—with all its deep, luxurious spaciousness. And I wondered what Aurora would think of how our culture treats the early hours of our days.
There is a lot of advice out there along the lines of Do This Morning Routine For A More Productive Day. You can read about how famous people like Barack Obama, Victoria Beckham, and Martha Stewart start their days (cardio workout; two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar; skin care routine, respectively. My favorite though is Viola Davis, who starts her day with a soak in her jacuzzi. YES PLEASE.) I know that all of these can be great practices for starting your day off on strong footing. It strikes me though that everyone seems to begin their day with a lot of doing. There is a rush to go from sleeping to performing tasks, as though if you're conscious then you must be doing something.
But what about the dawn? What about the slowness of the sun rising and the air warming and the birds lighting up the trees with their calls? What about that time in between times?
I love the slowness of the morning. Most days, I lay in bed for two hours after I wake up. It's when I get a lot of good thinking done. I reflect on my dreams if I've remembered them, and think about the day ahead. If it's uninterrupted time, there is no limit to how much I can sort out before my feet even touch the floor. The more I have on my plate, the more I need that time in the morning to get right with myself.
For awhile I was convinced that I had to jam-pack my morning with lots of tasks in order to feel healthy and happy and productive (the advice articles! They got me!) I made the bed and did yoga and meditated and made tea and made smoothies and had a skincare routine and wrote three pages in my journal every day. And by the time I was ready to leave the house, I was exhausted. And I realized that what I really, deeply needed was time. I needed empty space every morning where I didn't have to do anything or talk to anyone, and I could just let myself wake up slowly. Now I do that every morning. I let myself wake up slowly, and then after awhile my internal timer goes off and I am ready to seize the day. I don't drink coffee, I don't meditate, I don't write three pages in my journal, because the best thing I can do for my productivity—my ability to create meaningful work and share it with the world—is to do less.
There is a huge pressure to do in our culture: to accomplish, to achieve, to produce. I feel this pressure all the time, as someone who produces things for a living. I'm prone to rushing and to worry and to always wanting to be productive. But honestly the best moments in my life—the revelations and the creative flow states and the things that become my favorite memories—all happen when I am moving within my natural rhythm. They happen when I'm allowing time for things to unfold at their own speed. Often, they happen in the pauses—those moments of emptiness like rests in a piece of music.
In the mornings now I think about Aurora, the one who tends that space between dreaming and waking. I think about how patient she is to let the sun rise at its own pace and be there to bear witness. Just as you can't rush the blooming of a flower or the ripening of a fruit, we can't rush our own unfolding, our own becoming. I also think about Oprah, and the way she describes her first moments of waking: “This morning, when I hit the blackout shades just after seven, the light was casting its golden glow over the green lawn, with the clouds and ocean in the distance. I watched three geese fly over the backyard and land in the pond. I hadn’t even had a sip of coffee, but it was already a perfect day.” Hers is the kind of spaciousness I want to practice, every day: taking one full, attentive moment to notice three geese flying over the backyard.