The Routine Of No Routine

The search is the meaning, the search for beauty, love, kindness and restoration in this difficult, wired and often alien modern world. The miracle is that we are here, that no matter how undone we’ve been the night before, we wake up every morning and are still here. It is phenomenal just to be. This idea overwhelms some people.

— Anne Lamott

vcxa8286When I retired nine years ago, the one thing I most looked forward to was not having to awaken each morning to the blaring of an alarm clock. I could wake to the natural rhythms of my body, to the light of the sun, the songs of the birds or the cranking of the garbage truck slowly making its way down the hill. I looked forward to shaping my days rather than having them shaped by the routines of my typical work day. I could live each day without the routine (a sequence of actions regularly followed, a fixed program*) of going to work, going to lunch, coming back to work, and finally coming home which was the only part of my routine I enjoyed. Unlike many people who fall apart without a routine, I thrived. I did not need a schedule full of meaningless activities to stimulate my life. I had books to read, poems to write, Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata to learn on my keyboard, walks to take, and oceans to visit. The last thing I wanted was a routine of any kind. I wanted my days to be free for me to follow my heart and my dreams.

The Buddha asked his disciples to empty their minds of all desires for desire was the root cause of all suffering and disappointment. Many find this somewhat paradoxical as the desire to empty one’s mind of desire is itself a desire which adds to the suffering in one’s life.

I experienced a similar paradox in my attempt to not follow a routine. Doing what I choose to do each day itself became a routine. Yes, it was a chosen routine of my own activities as oppose to a required one, but still a routine. The difference was that my new routine had more flexibility in its implementation. So, I embraced my new routine because each day I was doing the things I loved.

I only awaken to an alarm clock if I have an early flight to catch as I make all of my appointments late in the morning so I can awaken naturally. I may do some yoga stretches or go for a walk when the weather is agreeable. I have never been a breakfast person so a cup of tea or coffee usually comes next. Then I read the news and set about my work. I call my writing work because I take it seriously and because it fills a good part of each day. However, it is work I enjoy doing. This is usually followed by a nap, a meal, and another walk before the daylight comes to an end. In the evenings I will write some more, read, or maybe watch a rented movie on iTunes. On occassion, I interact with others or take a Spanish class. These activities are the core of my routine which changes daily and is yet grounded in that I no longer have to commit any of my time to activities I no longer want to do.

My new daily routine has become a ritual as it is repeated each day with the same  degree of love, devotion, and desire to live this life I love doing the things I love to do. This is my true secret of life or in the words of Jim Harrison, “You have to follow the affections of your heart, and the truth of your imagination. Otherwise, you will feel badly.”

  • Source Reference: New Oxford American Dictionary


Even in the best of circumstances, happiness is elusive. We seek pleasant sights, sounds, tastes, sensations, and moods. We satisfy our intellectual curiosity. We surround ourselves with friends and loved ones. We become connoisseurs of art, music, or food. But our pleasures are, by their very nature, fleeting. If we enjoy some great professional success, our feelings of accomplishment remain vivid and intoxicating for an hour, or perhaps a day, but then they subside. And the search goes on. The effort required to keep boredom and other unpleasantness at bay must continue, moment to moment.

Ceaseless change is an unreliable basis for lasting fulfillment… Is there a form of happiness beyond the mere repetition of pleasure and avoidance of pain? — Sam Harris

We get up. Maybe we eat breakfast or gulp down a cup of coffee. Drive in congested traffic for however long it takes to reach a cubicle dividing us from the rest of the world where we spend the best part of our day doing something we do in exchange for financial gain and pray for a raise. This is how life plays out until we reach an age where they tell us our services are no longer required. Then we leave to begin our life but by this time we have forgotten how to live. This is the routine for many inhabitants of the Western world. This could have been and was for a while how my life existed.

One day while shaving, getting ready to start my routine, I saw a 65 year old version of myself staring back at me from the mirror. I was thirty-six. He was shaving his face, donning his white shirt and tie just like me. In that instant I knew I could no longer follow this routine that had been a constant in my life for over fifteen years. I had to do something to change it. I handed in my resignation. A month later, I still looked in the mirror each morning but I was no longer shaving my face or putting on a white shirt and tie. I was not longer snarled in traffic jams, and I was unemployed.

It is difficult to change a routine. Many thought I had made a big mistake when I left the corporate world and for a time so did I. When you jump from the mountain top, you always do so alone. Always. “Some make it, some don’t,” I was told in a dream. Later your friends will tell you they wish they had to courage to do what you did but they have families, obligations, mortgage payments, car payments, etc.  They have to continue their ritualistic daily sacrifice to Big Brother. I did not want to reach the age of sixty-five knowing I had never lived. I did not want my retirement to be the beginning of my living.

Today my routine is much different. In the mornings I watch others from my windows following their routines. The unique horns of the sanitation truck notifies residents to put their trash out. The ladies bring their laundry to the open laundry center where they wash their clothes by hand in concrete basins and hang them on the line to dry. The milk man brings farm fresh milk to the city and the women gather around his truck with their pitchers ready to be filled. The taxi drivers wash their cars and hope for a busy day. The gas man drops off tanks of propane where the empties are standing on the sidewalk. Life goes on, and we all carry out our routines. The key to surviving a daily routine is to have a routine you enjoy doing. If you enjoy doing it, the feeling of it being a routine is lost. I hope your daily routine is one you enjoy. You could be doing it for a long time.