Every morning I want to kneel down on the golden
cloth of the sand and say
some kind of musical thanks for
the world that is happening again
— Mary Oliver, “On Thy Wondrous Works I Will Meditate”
A daily practice is the difference between a purely theoretical Naturalistic Paganism and a Naturalistic Paganism which is a lived reality.
I recently came across an article at the Huffington Post on “7 Things Mindful People Do Before 9 a.m.” drawing from various sources, from the Dalai Lama to Oprah to a Pagan priestess. Usually, I don’t find these kinds of spiritual “listicles” helpful. But in this case, I noticed a correspondence between many of the items and practices that I have found work for me in my morning ritual.
Having a morning ritual has been very important for me. A morning ritual sets the “tone” for the day. And I definitely feel a difference when I skip it — or rather, I don’t feel it; when I don’t do the ritual, then I don’t feel what the ritual allows me to feel.
A morning ritual doesn’t have to be complicated, or even difficult. If you don’t have a morning ritual, these elements may help you construct one, or if you have one already, this may help you refine yours.
1. Wake Up Just a Little Bit Earlier.
This one is the hardest, but also the most essential. If you don’t give yourself the time to do a ritual, then you won’t do it. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time. Five to fifteen minutes is enough. Five to fifteen minutes of extra sleep will not have an appreciable effect on your grogginess, but a five to fifteen minute ritual can transform your day.
2. Awaken With a Prayer on Your Lips.
Do something immediately after you wake. You can do it while you’re still in bed or maybe after you sit up. You’ll still be groggy. That’s okay. Do it anyway. It can be something simple, like a gesture or a phrase.
In my case, I do a simple breathing exercise: I breathe in and breathe out while saying to myself, “I breathe in … I breathe out.” And then, continuing to breathe in and out, “The world breathes out [while inhaling] … the world breathes in [while exhaling].” Sometimes I substitute “Goddess” or just “You” in place of “the world.” This helps me feel connected the world around me. Sometimes I fall back asleep while doing this. That’s okay. The point is to do it, not to do it perfectly.
3. Spend a Few Moments at Your Home Altar or Meditation Space.
A lot of us Pagans have altars or special places in our homes where we meditate. If you don’t have one, you should create one. The morning is an ideal time to stand or kneel in front of our altars or sit in our meditation spaces and get centered. This is a good time to pray or make an offering, if prayer or offerings are part of your spirituality. Or just light a candle.
In my case, I bring a bowl of water to my altar, which I had emptied the night before. Each morning I fill it, and each evening I empty it. In the morning, I recite a “prayer” adapted from Teilhard de Chardin’s “Hymn to the World” which uses water as a metaphor for the material world and which helps me to ground myself.
4. Move Your Body.
Movement is critical for ritual. The mind and the body are connected. Moving one moves the other. This can be exercise like running or stretching, or physical meditations like yoga or Tai Chi. Or it can be simple gestures with personal meaning. Try doing the Sun Salutation or just a single yoga pose. The author of the article suggests the Child’s Pose as a sign of surrender to what the day brings or the Mountain Pose to signal your readiness to take the day on. Or like me, you can just raise your arms in greeting to the morning sun. I do this while reciting a hymn to Indra from the Rig Veda. You can choose something else, like the Mary Oliver poem that introduced this article.
5. Savor Nature.
We Pagans know how important connecting with nature is, but we don’t always take the time to do it. Just go outside for a minute or even a few seconds in the morning. And I’m not talking about the time running between your front porch and the car door or standing on the train platform. I mean taking an extra few moments to just be outside. Even if it’s cold or raining. Bundle up or put on your rain slicker and get out there.
In my case, before heading to my car, I pause and take a few moments, squat down, and touch the earth. I push my fingers onto the dirt. Sometimes I have to push through cold snow or sodden grass. And I recite a snippet of a poem by Mary Oliver which reminds me to be present in the here and now.
When I do this, my attention is drawn to the present. I hear the birds singing and I notice the unique texture and taste of the morning air. The world comes into focus and I feel ready to live the day.
6. Let the Ritual Evolve Naturally.
Thanks to Jon Cleland Host for this bit of advice. If you have trouble sticking with your morning ritual, you may just need to force yourself to do it for a while (“fake it till you feel it”). On the other hand, you may need to change your ritual. Rituals can sometimes become stale. A living ritual will evolve over time to meet your evolving needs. You’re not the same person from year to year, so why should you expect the same rituals to work for you? You may need just a small tweak or a major overhaul.
I hoped this has helped some of you think about creating a morning ritual, if you don’t already have one, or refining it, if you do. Are there elements that you would include that aren’t listed here? Please share in the comments.
About the Author: John Halstead
John Halstead is Editor-At-Large and a contributor at HumanisticPaganism.com. He blogs about Paganism generally at AllergicPagan.com (which is hosted by Patheos) and about Jungian Neo-Paganism at “Dreaming the Myth Onward” (which is hosted by Witches & Pagans). He is also an occasional contributor to GodsandRadicals.org and The Huffington Postand the administrator of the site Neo-Paganism.com. John was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment,” which can be found at ecopagan.com. He is a Shaper of the fledgling Earthseed community, which is described at GodisChange.org. John is also the editor of the anthology, Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans.
To speak with John, contact him on Facebook.
Lovely post, John. I think about the structure and timing of morning rituals a lot. Several months ago I moved mine to after my hour of writing, because the level of awareness and awakeness called for by even the simplest morning ritual seemed at odds with the level of unfocused drowsiness I prefer for my morning writing. But that’s not entirely working, either. Now I’m wondering if I need to rearrange my order of operations again and look for another way to slip back into that “writer’s mind” that I need so much when I sit down at my computer.
This is so very helpful. I do have a morning ritual. I am naturally a very early riser – a Lark by nature. I have a dog and we get ready – go out for our walk. Whilst he is sniffing around as dogs do I stand and listen to the birds, the rustling in the grass – watch the rabbits bounding in the fields and face Glastonbury Tor as the sun rises. At this point I give thanks for my day – for all the things I am blessed with and reflect on actions I would have liked to have done differently yesterday then let it go. I breath and quietly sing the Awen.