This happened just the other day: I’m sitting with a good friend I haven’t seen in forever, and I was talking about sanctuary and the utter revolution it has been in my life. She asked, “So you have this place of peace – that’s really wonderful. But what do you do when you’re sitting there in that special spot?”
The truth is that I do all kinds of things in my sanctuary. I work on my book, paint with my watercolors, notice the beauty outside, plan, cook, think, read, you name it. But there are a few things I do that are really focused on making my life richer, more full of joy. I want to share my favorite one with you.
The Morning Writing Ritual
After getting up early, walking our dogs and meditating, my husband and I sit down to write. Usually by that time I have a steaming latte in my hand (thank GOD) and the sun is just climbing over the trees across the lake.
I’ve written before about my morning writing practice. I really love it. So when I started structuring my writing in this way a few months ago and it was AMAZING, I realized that I had to share this too.
So here’s what I do: Every morning when I pick up my favorite pen, I write about these five things:
I. A Good Thing
Everyone knows that when we think about something specific, like red cars for example, we suddenly notice red cars by the dozen that we never noticed before. The same principle is true with gratitude: When we think about the things we are grateful for, we tend to notice even more of them. So with that in mind, my sanctuary practice of writing starts and with the grateful acknowledgment of at least one good thing that has happened in my life recently.
II. A Hard Thing
In reading Kelly McGonigal’s book The Upside of Stress I learned that there is something called eustress – a good kind of stress. Eustress is the kind of stress that strengthens us and gives us resilience. This kind of stress actually gives us a greater capacity to face the challenges that life throws at us.
The difference? Dr. McGonical found that the only difference between bad stress and eustress is that good stress has meaning in our lives. Her studies also show that we can convert bad stress to good stress by (and this is amazing) plumbing the depths of that meaning ourselves.
Here is an example: having more work dumped on my desk when I’m already on a tight deadline. Initially frustrating. But where’s the meaning? Well, in truth, having the extra work allows me to make more money, which then lets me pay for the tutor my daughter desperately needs, and it allows me to help my son with additional financial support so he can work a few hours less to pay for college, and study a few hours more. Now my work takes on a meaning that is deeper, it becomes actually life-enhancing.
And so, a second part of my sanctuary writing practice is to write about something tough that I’m going through, and its greater meaning in my life. Sometimes it’s only a few lines. Sometimes I can fill two pages with just this step. But I dig deep for that meaning, and when I find it, my whole experience changes from dreariness to absolute incandescence. The power that our perspective has over our mind and our lives is truly incredible.
III. A Goal Achieved
The third part of my writing practice is also inspired by Kelly McGonigal’s book: A goal achieved. I write about one goal that I achieved yesterday. No matter how small. I celebrate it on my page. In this I can see my life moving forward. I can count another small step toward the big goals I’ve set for my time on this planet.
IV. A Goal Set
The fourth part is to set a small goal or intention for today. I admit it: I strive to be an achiever. I give it all I’ve got until I return exhausted at the end of the day, either humbled, or exhilarated.
But I find that this doesn’t always serve me so well. So many other worthwhile things surface in the course of my day – my daughter needs some extra attention, or a design client pops in unexpectedly. Things go off-track (unexpectedly, sometimes delightfully) all the time. Setting a small goal gives me the freedom to deal with all the things that go off-track and still accomplish what I had in mind.
V. Another Good Thing
And so my fifth and last thing is the same as the first thing: I want to begin and end with gratitude. I pick another good thing that has happened recently and write about that. Sometimes it’s as simple as “The sunrise is so beautiful this morning.” Sometimes I write in depth about someone who is a total blessing to my life or an experience I had.
This whole list may sound like I have hours in the morning to lounge with my coffee and write, dream, contemplate. I don’t. I usually set a timer for twenty or twenty-five minutes and put pen to paper, only looking up to take a sip of coffee or when the timer goes off. (Okay, I lied, sometimes I pet my dogs or laugh at their silly antics.) I usually get through these five things and also have time to write about a few things that are on my mind just then.
This is a soul discipline for me. This, and my meditation, are my spiritual stretch and warm-up for the day, and I wouldn’t attempt the acrobatics required of me throughout the day without them.
A final tip
If writing is your practice as well and you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to be abundant with yourself. Yes I mean spoil yourself! Find that perfect pen to write with. Buy yourself that beautiful notebook with gorgeous paper that begs to be written on. This is for your soul. Nothing is too special.
So now that you know one of my “Sanctuary Practices,” I challenge you to try it for a few days with me. Come back and tell me how it went. I can’t wait to hear!