I shuffle from the kitchen in the direction of my desk, unshowered and still in my pajamas, a bowl of cold breakfast cereal with blueberries in my right hand and a mug of chamomile tea in my left. I pull out the chair and sit down at my oversized black desk. It’s perfect for art projects, laying out books while researching, or collecting clutter. Today it just has clutter. After settling myself into my chair, I turn on my happy light.
I live in Washington, not too far south of Seattle, so we don’t tend to get a lot of sunshine here. I love all that glorious green but we pay for it through the nose by giving up most of our sunshine visitation rights. And like a lot of Washingtonians, I’ve become rather well acquainted with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) over the years. Last February, however, was different. Last year it felt like the smog of depression just wouldn’t lift (save those rare days when the sunshine lit up the sky and made all of us poor sun-deprived folks more than a little gaga). So I bought one of those fake-sun lights and added it to my morning regimen, right before showering and right after pouring almond milk on my favorite cereal.
The light does cut through some of that I-really-could-use-some-vitamin-D depression; it does help me wake up. But what I hadn’t expected was for it to become such a self-preserving, soul-saving morning ritual for me. Here it is a year later and I’m still using it. This February just in need of it as the last. February is one of the hardest SAD months for me; there are no longer any holiday lights to add some warmth but it’s still cold, dark, bleak winter. The winter solstice might mean that we’re halfway out of the dark, but February says, “You’re not out of the dark yet.”
After I turn on my light, I sit there crunching my cereal, and when I’ve fished every last piece out of the white ceramic bowl, a favorite wedding presents from two years ago, I start in on my mug of tea. The pace is slow and rhythmic, like breathing—breathe in, breathe out. I don’t plan my to-do list for the day. I just sit there focusing on my warm tea as I gradually sip it down.
I’m a recovering productivity enthusiast. Relaxation makes me uncomfortable, just-for-fun is hard. What is the purpose? I want to know. How is this being productive? What greater good is being achieved? How is this helping anyone? But there is nothing to achieve, no purpose to accomplish. I let my drive to be productive go, at least a little. And I just sit there greeting the morning, being aware of the now.
Breathe in, breathe out.
The timer indicating that it’s been forty-five minutes hasn’t gone off, and I’m done with breakfast. But I don’t move on to the to-do list. Instead, I journal or collage; play with poetry or read a novel; make a greeting card or compose a letter. I relax into the moment. I stay in the moment. I enjoy the moment. (Or at least I try.)
Breath in, breath out.
Since I was a kid mornings have always been the time of day I’ve seen as having the highest productivity potential—a chance to really get the day started off well. Part of this was my childhood church’s emphasis on morning devotions happening every day (and it literally had to be in the morning). Ideally, you would pray for about fifteen minutes, then read a chapter or two in the Old Testament, followed by a chapter or two in the New Testament, and then if you were really an overachiever (I was) you’d also add in a Psalm and a chunk of Proverbs. And then finish it all off with another prayer (being sure to include the different types of prayer: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication).
For me mornings weren’t spiritual, they were regimented. And I didn’t always keep to my rigid schedule, so often times there was a lot of guilt hanging in the morning air. Guilt, like depression, is heavy and sticky. And it’s hard to shake.
Some of this morning legalism was church related, and some of it was just me and my own purpose-driveness. But my forty-five minutes with my little happy light has helped with both. My new morning ritual has made mornings about relaxation rather than achievement; self-care, instead of perfection; spirituality, instead of legalism; fighting the winter blues, instead of fighting demons.
As Lent begins tomorrow I find myself looking forward to Easter, spring, and the summer solstice. I want to wear bright colors and unpack my sandals and run my fingers through the cool, green summer grass. I want a little more sunlight, dammit.
As a quasi-Lutheran, I somewhat observe Lent. I don’t fast. Even though I wasn’t raised in the liturgical tradition so Lent wasn’t a part of my life or faith, I’ve done enough fasting in the name of religion to last a lifetime. So I use it as a season of self-care, a chance find light and warmth in the winter. This year during Lent you’ll find me in the mornings with my happy light, thankful that we’re more than halfway out of the dark.