The relief of routine

I am not one for spontaneity.  At all.  I don't mind change or newness--I enjoy both--but they must fit within the context of an already established routine.  Otherwise, the days vanish before my eyes: I sink hours and hours into tasks that seem urgent and later question what I even accomplished.  Leaving routine behind means that every single part of my day is up for negotiation again: when I go to bed, when (and if) I go to the gym, what I eat for dinner, how I write my sermon.  I have too many decisions, too much flexibility before me, and it's hard.

When I break my routines--and of course I do, and sometimes the flexibility and spontaneity is absolutely worth it (although I find that this usually is the case when another person's feelings or well-being are involved and not when I simply feel lazy, because then later I only feel guilty and regretful)--I return to them as soon as possible.  I do not want the opportunity to negotiate with myself about when or whether to do a task, or I will inevitably talk myself into putting off or ignoring the task altogether. 

Routines are like templates: they provide the basic scaffolding under which everything may fall into place.  Routines apply to more than the world of scheduling and time management; they are not dissimilar from poetry structures like iambic pentameter or haiku or the set liturgies followed by higher churches.  Limits make the "real" work, the deep work, possible. A poet can find the perfect words to evoke the mood and insight she wishes to share, freed from deciding how much to write and how to arrange her composition.  In my own tradition, Episcopalianism, the clergy may focus their energies on the execution of a beautiful service and on the movable parts (e.g., the sermon, the prayers) rather than dedicating huge amounts of time to rethinking communion's structure each week, and the congregants may immerse themselves fully within the routine prayers, not needing to invest the intellectual labor into to dissecting each word and ascertaining the prayers' surface meaning.  These routines anchor us.


I have learned that these artistic and liturgical truths have much to add to my own rhythm of life.  We all fall into routines and habits, whether consciously or not; this is a fact of human existence.  We cannot devote the mental or emotional energy to make every decision anew over and over again, so some practices become rote.  But given that habits will ground my everyday existence, I want to be as deliberate about them as I can.  I want to work to cultivate them, to put on habits that speak to the person I want to be.  My routines therefore have an aspirational quality: I am a person who writes every day, who finishes assignments well ahead of time, who cleans regularly, who makes time for fun activities with her spouse and friends.  As these practices embed themselves increasingly into my days and into the very fabric of my existence, they are less and less deliberate decisions. 

The mundane and the important have a particular place in my day and my week--the meal preparation, the writing, the laundry and vacuuming, spiritual conversations, meditation and reflection, relationship tending--giving my life predictability and meaning, a steadiness and a depth not unlike a spiritual practice.  I suppose following a routine is a spiritual practice in a way: it is an everyday liturgy, a way of deliberately and simply being that opens up something larger than itself, something far greater than the sum of its parts.