On Waking Early, Whenever That is....
+ a Mary Oliver writing prompt & happiness hack #2
Welcome to new subscribers to Writing in Company. I’m glad you are here! Each week I share some words and a writing prompt. They are meant to be jumping-off points for you to write on your own about what matters. Use the prompts however you like—to journal, to draft thoughts for your own writing project, as meditation ideas, or for another creative endeavor. Grab your pen and paper, and see what happens.
If you want to skip right to the prompt, without any preliminaries or wordy words from me, scroll on down to the heading: a writing prompt.
Last week I introduced a series to guide my summer writing prompts. Inspired by the article 10 Healthy Habits of Happy People from Intelligent Change, I’m taking one suggestion per week and seeing where it leads me—both in my writing and in my own habits, and inviting you to write about something related.
The poet Mary Oliver once wrote: “The patterns of our lives reveal us. Our habits measure us. Our battles with our habits speak of dreams yet to become real.”1
I’m learning, even one week into this series, that I have thoughts about my usual habits and happiness, and I don’t always like what they reveal—a tendency toward laziness, a great ability to confuse the urgent with the important, and questions about who gets to be happy and who am I to advise on it. So, yeah.
Mary also said:
In the shapeliness of a life, habit plays its sovereign role… Most people take action by habit in small things more often than in important things, for it’s the simple matters that get done readily, while the more somber and interesting, taking more effort and being more complex, often must wait for another day.
My summer hacks so far are pretty small. Tying them to writing about what matters—that may help with what Mary called “the shapeliness of life.” We’ll see.
about last week’s hack
Inspired by the first healthy happy habit—to get good sleep—and a poem prompt from Carrie Newcomer, I determined to add a gratitude practice to my evening routine. I kept it very simple—just bringing to mind three or four reasons for gratitude as I close my eyes: fresh blackberries from the farmer’s market, a catch-up lunch with a friend, the Pride display at my local library, my favorite Birkenstocks. I’ve managed it every night—a gentle transition into sleep from whatever book I’m reading. (Right now it’s a beautiful novel about grief and love: The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World, by Laura Imai Messina.)2
This is a habit I can continue. It doesn’t take supplies or extra time—just an intention to turn my thoughts in that direction, instead of a last glance at my phone. So far, so good. One week into it and I’m on a better slide-into-sleep roll. Surely health and happiness can’t be far behind.
happiness hack 2: an early start to the day
Apparently, healthy happy people wake up early. Isn’t that just the way it goes? You spend a whole week trying to get good sleep, then the experts—the same experts—tell you to stop sleeping and get up, already.
An early start is not really my style. I come from a long line of night owls. I need my sleep—at least an hour more than my spouse, a naturally early riser. When our youngest graduated from high school I was almost as happy about losing the 6:05 AM alarm as I was about her achievement. Now, I wake when I wake—which is more about when morning sun creeps into the room, and less about the time. On the occasions when I have to get up on purpose in the dark, I’m prone to think—it’s so quiet and still! This is wonderful! A whole world awaits for early risers! I’m going to do this every day! Then I’m back to sleeping until I just wake up, which is rarely in the dark.
All is not lost, though. My inspiration article says: “Quiet, slow mornings and early sun give us the most energy to get through the rest of the day.” I suppose early sun is a matter of perspective. For some, that’s the first hint of dawn. For others I know and love, any time before 9 is officially early. But a quiet, slow morning where I wake on my own, don’t feel rushed, and greet the sun—even if she’s been up awhile—is possible.
I’m grateful for any day when I don’t wake in pain—physically, emotionally, or spiritually. I’ve had mornings like that—pinned to the bed by my body, or curled under the covers in grief or anxiety. I’ve had enough nights when sleep is scarce, and worries wake me, to recognize the gift and balm of an easy morning. Maybe you have, too. Keep writing about it. I’m convinced that’s where the magic happens eventually.
a writing prompt
Mary Oliver was a 5 AM riser. She knew about early, about morning sun, and about happiness. She used her daily walks in the woods to pay attention, and her words to share it all.
Read her poem Why I Wake Early, or listen to the poet read it herself in the video below.
Then write about your own mornings. What is early for you? How do you greet the day? The sun? What helps you start your day well?
You might even use Mary’s format, starting with
and end with
“Watch, now, how I start the day in _______________, in _______________.
If you are in a season where mornings are difficult, write from that place. You might write about what mornings are like now, or what they used to be like, or what they could be like in a future where the shapeliness of your life is gentler.
Why I Wake Early —by Mary Oliver Hello, sun in my face. Hello, you who make the morning and spread it over the fields and into the faces of the tulips and the nodding morning glories, and into the windows of, even, the miserable and crotchety– best preacher that ever was, dear star, that just happens to be where you are in the universe to keep us from ever-darkness, to ease us with warm touching, to hold us in the great hands of light– good morning, good morning, good morning. Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness.
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The book is based on the real-life Phone of the Wind in Japan, installed just before the 2011 tsunami on a mountain near the sea. In the years since the tsunami, people from all over Japan, and further, have come to speak into the unconnected phone to those they are grieving. You can read more from the novel’s author here.
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