Benjamin Franklin’s ideal daily routine, from his autobiography
Given this schedule snippet, I think ol’ Ben Franklin and I could’ve been friends. Last night, my friend Jeff lent me a book he thought I’d enjoy, called Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work, by Mason Currey. The image above is pictured alongside the title page at the start of the book, and right away I thought to myself: This is gonna be a good read.
I read the intro and the first 15 pages this morning and was hooked. Over 160 of the greatest philosophers, writers, composers and artists are featured in this collection of Daily Rituals. And I could relate right away with the author’s musings in the intro, which I took as a good sign of things to come. He writes:
My underlying concerns in the book are issues that I struggle with in my own life: How do you do meaningful creative work while also earning a living? Is it better to devote wholly to a project or to set aside a small portion of each day? And when there doesn’t seem to be enough time for all you hope to accomplish, must you give things up (sleep, income, a clean house), or can you learn to condense activities, to do more in less time…More broadly, are comfort and creativity incompatible, or is the opposite true: Is finding a basic level of daily comfort a prerequisite for sustained creative work?
…The book’s title is Daily Rituals, but my focus in writing it was really people’s routines. The word connotes ordinariness and even a lack of thought; to follow a routine is to be on autopilot. But one’s daily routine is also a choice, or a whole series of choices. In the right hands, it can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time (the most limited resource of all) as well as willpower, self-discipline, optimism.
And my favorite line from the intro:
A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.
With the catalyst and accelerate of going to Deer Park Monastery every January for the past 4 years, to spend a few weeks on retreat, I’ve parlayed myself into something I’d been wanting for a long while: a consistent and diligent routine, primarily to help me develop a writing schedule that I could stick with. As someone on disability, who works a job-job just one day a week, I have a lot of unstructured time on my hands. But, as I am also someone who is highly organized and manages, plans, and hosts a wealth of different things, I perform optimally when I come up with a schedule to follow.
Every day I am balancing my passion for writing with my to-do list associated with being the director of a mindfulness community center, serving in my capacity as a spiritual leader to my cherished sangha, and being a grateful home-maker, helping to take care of my household and the people who reside within its humble walls. There’s also the delightful element of cultivating friendships, which is a great joy for me that I prioritize in my life. And last – but actually first in the priorities department – comes the relationship that I build and strengthen with my own self and my mindfulness practice. So, these are ALL part of my every day balance: writing, to-do list on the mindfulness center/sangha front, to-do list on the home front, staying in close contact with friends, and staying in close connection with myself. And in all sincerity, I do each of these things with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Each element nourishes me in different ways. AND, I actively practice to keep it that way. How we live is a matter of choice – it really is – and I choose to fuel up my joy and gratitude tanks on the daily.
While it doesn’t speak to everyone, of course, having daily rituals and a schedule works really well for me. Lately, I’ve been stepping into sharing about this side of myself more, which can be challenging, as there’s a tendency for others to either feel bad for not having such a regimented accounting of their own time or for them to be rather incredulous about the nature of how I craft my daily routine. What?! they’ll say, you get up every day at 5am?! That’s crazy! And then I’m all like: Is it? I mean, on some level I get that it’s not super common and comes as a surprise to hear, but on another level I’d rather not draw unnecessary attention to myself and have to field people’s shock-and-awe response.
But, as I’ve been working towards sharing more and more about myself, in regards to both creative and mundane matters – in the last year especially – this new read I’ve just started offers a wonderful writing prompt for me to embark upon. So this is me, embarking upon it.
I wrote this in my leather-bound journal early this morning:
Just as the sun needs to trade places with the moon in order to construct the most suitable conditions for life-dwelling, so too does my desire for solitude and stillness sit in balance with the nourishment and inspiration I richly receive from being in the direct and precious company of others. Like the in-breath and out-breath, I require both solo and collaborative time, in order to thrive.
So, I feel as though I could whittle my daily intention down to this: I strive to develop a balance between keeping good company with myself so that I may provide and keep good company with others. I reckon that’s what life is about. Self-cultivation for the benefit of everyone in your wake.
On a logistical level, my daily rituals include the following:
- Waking up at 5:00am
- Sitting meditation (30 minutes)
- Gratitude practice (after meditating and before each meal)
- Eating the same breakfast each morning: 2 hard-boiled eggs and a banana
- Eating the same lunch every afternoon: 1 apple (cut up), 1/2 a cucumber (in slices), a handful of cherry tomatoes, and a granola bar
- Drinking tea
- Music! (listening to, dancing to, playing guitar, etc.)
- Connecting with people (which takes many forms, from hand-writing letters to checking in via email with beloved friends and family; and from meeting up in-person to finding inspiring quotes/articles to post on the Facebook pages I manage for our Be Here Now sangha and the Open Way Mindfulness Center)
While I do some kind of writing every day, I’ve found that what works best for me is to devote certain days of the week expressly to writing, where the focus is on writing for most of the day. Writing days are a time when I primarily work on my two book projects. A typical writing day schedule looks like this:
5:00am: Wake up
5:00-6:00 or 6:30 (depending on who in the household is waking up when): Drink tea, read and/or write in my journal
6:00 or 6:30: Sitting meditation (30 min), followed by a gratitude practice I came up with
6:30 or 7:00: Turn on laptop, get music going, eat breakfast, make breakfast or tea and/or lunch for husband and/or stepson, tend to matters in need of attention online (emails/website updating/social media posting/bills/reading the news)
8:30 or 9:00: Enter Writing Land
Noon: Eat lunch & take a nap
1:30 or 2:00: Re-enter Writing Land
5:00: Say farethee well to Writing Land and prepare dinner
Evening: Variable; typically downtime/resting or attending something out & about in town
9:30ish: Bed time
I delighted in seeing Benjamin Franklin’s morning and evening questions: What good shall I do this day? and then What good have I done to-day? What a splendid summary of things – of living, loving, being of service and in the interest of getting to the heart of things.
And I love his order of business in the morning: Rise, wash, and address Powerful Goodness! I can resonate with this declarative statement, as my early morning ritual involving tea, a good book, and my journal sets the stage for continually strengthening the foundation for building powerful goodness in both my own life and, hopefully, in the lives of others. I aim to move in the direction of powerful goodness, as he so aptly puts it. And diligently maintaining set rituals and being well-scheduled allows me to do just that.
Again, it’s not for everyone, and I think that’s important to put an emphasis on, as we have a human tendency to compare ourselves to others and feel as though we come up short. This is part of why I so appreciate Buddhism, as the Buddha was adamant in teaching about how we must test out suggested methods and ways of being in the world, in order to discover for ourselves what works and what doesn’t. The Buddha was not interested in people blindly following what he had to say. He urged people to try things out and see what happened as a result, staying as open and inquisitive as possible. In short: if something is working well and providing benefit to our life, then we’d be advised to keep doing that – if it’s not working well and providing benefit, it would be suggested that we discontinue doing whatever that something is.
For instance, in the short write-ups I read this morning on seven different well-known powerhouse people, most of them held in close companionship some form of intoxicating vice, whether alcohol, amphetamines, or sleeping pills. W.H Auden, for example, an English-American poet who died in 1973, regarded amphetamines as one of the “labor-saving devices” in the “mental kitchen.” I don’t need to devote my time and attention to weighing the pros and cons of such behaviors to know full well that that would not work for me, personally. So, as much as the writer in me humorously – and please know I say this in jest – imagines it being good autobiographical content to share years down the line that I had a mad love affair with whiskey, I’m comfortable with having my particular vice be good tea and leave it at that.