Daniel Rashid, author of Fenced, shares how he incorporates ritual and mindfulness into his creative life.
“The creative adult is the child who has survived.”
–Ursula K. Le Guin
About a year ago, I started a morning routine. I was feeling uninspired, unproductive, and I wasn’t making art my priority—I’m an actor and a writer, but at that time, I didn’t feel confident in saying I was either of those. So I decided to make it the first thing I do everyday.
My morning routine started small. The first thing I actually started doing in the morning was making my bed. Then, at the very least—even if I did nothing else that day—I had made my bed. That is an accomplishment! Then, I added one sun salutation after the bed was made. I had been wanting to make yoga more of a daily practice, but it always seemed so daunting to roll out the mat and spend an hour, or even thirty minutes, doing yoga. So I started with one sun salutation. That was an easy habit to form.
Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Workweek and host of The Tim Ferriss Show, has a great example of habit-forming involving flossing your teeth. He says if you want to form the habit of flossing your teeth every night, start by flossing just ONE tooth. That is an easy thing to accomplish. When starting a habit, you want to make it an easy thing to show up for every day. If you decide you’re going to run 10 miles every day but you’ve never even done half of that, start by running around the block every day. And show up every day. If you show up every day to floss one of your teeth, then pretty soon you’re going to feel pretty dumb flossing just one of your teeth and you’ll end up flossing all of them. Once the habit forms, you allow it to grow.
So I started by making my bed and doing one sun salutation (it’s now up to at least five sun salutations, and I often end up doing more yoga once I’m there). Then, I added sitting down to do acting work on a script. This could be something I was working on for my acting class, something I was working on for an audition, or simply a play I had always wanted to explore. And this started at 20 minutes. Then it became 30 minutes. Then an hour. Soon after, I added writing to the mix. And just like that, I had a morning routine that included making my bed, yoga, acting work for an hour, and writing for an hour. And if I woke up at 7:00 AM, it wouldn’t even be 10:00 AM by the time I finished.
It was awesome. I was doing the work every day and I had never felt more inspired or productive. Making the work a priority every morning meant that I had the rest of the day to take care of any other responsibilities. Life is so full of adult responsibilities: Pay your taxes. Get a job. Eat vegetables. And while it's important to pay your taxes, paying your taxes (hopefully) doesn't involve much creativity. Creativity, at least for me, is a childlike act. It doesn’t play by adult rules. If you tell a child to “PLAY NOW,” he or she is never going to play for you. But if you give that same child a sandbox and a free afternoon, he or she will build worlds out of nothing!
We have to give our inner child the time and space to play. And that is where, unfortunately, I ran into trouble with my morning routine. It became a routine. A mindless habit that I do every day. It became another box to check off of my adult to-do list. I was sitting down to act and write, but the child was not coming out to play. And I didn’t even realize this was happening until my acting teacher brought up the word “ritual” in class—specifically the difference between routine and ritual. I couldn’t believe how blind I had been! The difference between routine and ritual, to me, is mindfulness. A routine is ordinary, repetitive, mindless. Brushing your teeth. A ritual is sacred. A ritual may be repetitive, but it is not ordinary and it is definitely not mindless.
So I decided to incorporate meditation into my morning ritual. Once again, I started small (those habit-forming lessons still apply!). I began with one minute. Then two. Then five. Now I choose either five or ten minutes, depending on how I feel. And I do this meditation just before moving into my acting work; it serves as a way for me to clear my mind, to take the pressure off of doing anything. Instead of sitting down to “DO ACTING WORK NOW,” I sit down and present an empty sandbox for my imagination to play in.
Mindfulness is an ongoing practice. No one is perfect. In fact, I have been slacking on my daily ritual recently and this blog post is kind of a way to kick myself back into gear. The beauty of mindfulness, though, is you can practice it whenever and wherever. Maybe mornings are not a good time for you to create. Some people work too early to get up beforehand. Maybe after dinner is a place you can carve out for yourself. Or maybe it’s your lunch break. The train commute to and from work. JK Rowling famously got the idea for Harry Potter in the middle of a train ride. You have to find what works best for you. Don’t force it, just mindfully give your child the time and space to play—if it so chooses.