A solitary figure. A tousled bed. The whistle of a kettle, the thrum of a coffee pot. Slivers of light ascending the sky, restoring what they touch with the vitality of their chromatic qualities.
Morning is the stuff of poetry, or at least metaphor. For those of us who behave diurnally (up with the sun and at rest at night) we’ve likely been told that we, like the day, are new each morning. Daybreak is the reset: the powerfully quotidian mark by which we organize and break our steady stream of living into measured, manageable portions. A time of day, a point on an axis, a reminder that we’re living on one spinning orb that is constellated to many others—as the poet Mary Oliver writes: “dear star, that just happens / to be where you are in the universe / to keep us from ever-darkness, / to ease us with warm touching, / to hold us in the great hands of light– / good morning, good morning, good morning.”
Your Brain at Daybreak
What else makes the morning meaningful and good? In addition to being atmospherically affirming and personally rejuvenating, morning is an optimal time to tap into right-brain activities.
While new research shows that boons to personal creativity are determined by chronotype (i.e. where you’re a “morning lark” or “night owl”) rather than time of day, there are several factors that make morning a natural time to get into the flow. Creativity is often high right after waking, thanks in no small part to the aid of increased willpower (the thing that gets you out of bed in the first place), by way of an active prefrontal cortex, and the accompanying defenselessness of still-sleepy synapses. The combined effect allows ideas to come forth without criticism, self-scrutiny, or what Julia Cameron—time-tested creativity guru and matriarch of “The Morning Pages”—calls the Censor, which dutifully rises by mid-morning.
The brain’s capacity to be awake, free of distraction, and uninhibited after a period of sleep make morning a perfect time to journal, meditate, or otherwise experiment with what your muses have to say.
If morning is never anything but hard—if you’re consistently struggling to wake up, or trying to see the early morning light at the end of sleep’s dark tunnel—you may want to consider an assessment of your chronotype. Chronobiology is the science of the body’s circadian rhythms, and while it’s well known that your biological clock determines the larger impulses of your life, such as reproduction, how chronobiology affects daily habits is a less discussed topic (which we believe we should be talking about a whole lot more).
Rise and Shine
For René Descartes—who often slept in—waking was a threshold to be crossed thoughtfully. “I awake to mingle the reveries of the night with those of the day,” he wrote.
Descartes’s is one of several dozen daily routines chronicled in Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals books and “Subtle Maneuvers” newsletter. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of how history’s most ingenious minds “did the thing,” this is the place to look, and yes, for the majority, early morning is esteemed.
Georgia O’Keefe woke at dawn, made a fire and some tea, took a walk, and returned in time for a 7am breakfast. Dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp (herself an expert on habituating an artistic practice) gets up at 5:30am to exercise, noting that what’s meaningful is not the workout itself, but the act of getting in the cab to go to the gym—initiating the ritual, fulfilling the pact she’s made to care for herself each day.
As Currey notes in his introduction, “grand creative visions translate to small daily increments.”
Don’t let this foment a stew of anxiety that you’re not doing morning “right” if you’re not waking in the wee hours: the schedules and anecdotes Currey assembles are motivating because of their peculiar specificity—the sum total proves that there is no best time to wake up in the morning, and that there are as many ways to wake up as there are people doing it. The most important aspect of your waking routine is that it is yours.
The Magic of Ritual
There is no more value in waking up and getting down to work than languishing in the loosey-goosy gift of not. In fact, the not is increasingly important to us being human. As contemporary culture would have it, we’ll miss out on the magic of morning if we’re not mindful. We live by a clock set by the economy, and its rotations are both imperceptible and never-ending.
In Jonathan Crary’s book 24/7, the cultural critic explains how the agreed and relied upon 24/7 schedule of commerce “disavows its relation to the rhythmic and periodic textures of human life.” In other words, what the economy defines as non-stop service is actually an attempt to debunk our body clock in order that we are more productive, more consumptive, and less autonomous.
In the face of one ceaseless day, rituals that break the monotony are particularly potent. Rather than seizing the day like an automaton, why not treat the morning as less of an instantaneous on, and as more of an interval?
More often than not we treat the sound of our alarms as the starting pistol of a day-long sprint. As soon as we’re up, we’re “at it”—preening our bodies before remembering what it is to be one, obligated to others before we’ve obliged ourselves. Perhaps this is why early morning solitude is often spoken of as “stolen time,” as though there’s something elicit about being awake, alone, and unaccounted for. So steal it. Light a candle, make a meal, move your body, listen to music.
Doubtful there is a prescription for a perfect day, but it’s safe to assume it starts where poetry and pragmatism meet—in something like a meaningful morning ritual. This was the motivation behind OneClock’s sensitive design. It lets you wake up gently, easing the transition from the depths of sleep to the lucidity of wakefulness—reminding you to catch all the intermingling reveries as you do.
“Good morning, good morning, good morning.”