Being in bed, having a shower, having breakfast in the kitchen, sitting in my study writing, walking in the garden, cooking and eating our common lunch at my office with my friends, going to the movies, taking my family to eat at a restaurant, going to bed again. There are a few more. There are surprisingly few of these patterns of events in any one person’s way of life, perhaps no more than a dozen. Look at your own life and you will find the same. It is shocking at first, to see that there are so few patterns of events open to me. Not that I want more of them. But when I see how very few of them there are, I begin to understand what huge effect these few patterns have on my life, on my capacity to live. If these few patterns are good for me, I can live will. If they are bad for me, I can’t. – Christopher Alexander
When my irritability rises, there is a reason that it occurs. It is linked to some break in the repetition that sets the cadence of my days. I am tied to routine. I believe there is a holiness that exists in the repetition of doing the same ritual day after day. There is a quiet peace in participating in ordinary pursuits.
What are some of those rituals that nurse my life? Every morning I make my bed. This practice is something that offers a particular comfort. I enjoy the order that it provides and there is some goodwill that emerges from knowing that I slept in my own bed and still have the ability to make my bed. Some of this need to make my bed and stay consistent with other routines stems from what I witnessed with my father. There were so many days that he couldn’t sleep in his own bed. During the course of his illness, he spent so much time in hospital beds, with coarse white sheets and a metal railing that served as a constant reminder that indeed, he was not home in his usual place of slumber. When he passed away, he had the privilege of dying at home, but not in his own bed. We transported a hospital bed to his home from a hospice agency he was unable to walk or move out of his own bed.
Intersecting with watching my father’s helplessness has prompted my dedication to routine. Some may view this as being wound tight, but I see it as a meditation. Making my coffee in the morning, while unloading the dishwasher as my daughter storms down the stairs is something that happens everyday in my house. Calling my mom everyday is a habit I’ve kept since I left my childhood home. I always listen to music in my car while driving. Checking my mail everyday is not a chore. It reminds me that I exist, knowing that a few pieces of mail will be addressed in my name. Every week I clean my own home. I find a particular calmness in vacuuming, folding laundry, and sweeping my floors. These are the ways I honor myself, my home, and are patterns that tell a larger truth about my life.
There’s no question that I gravitate toward certainty. There’s something so clear about routine that is powerful for me. I believe if I did not have these rituals to hold onto, I could let the darkness of uncertainty cast its presence on my everyday. The practice of routine and ritual lies at the heart of my life. I’ve experienced the alternative and a fulfilled life means honoring those patterns that repeat themselves everyday.