(This was written circa 2014, while living in our house on Caper here in Boise.)
It’s just a few minutes after 5:00 a.m. Outside on my tiny, barely-holds-two-chairs-and-a-mini-table front porch I breathe in the smell of last night’s rain. It was just a short spate, just Mother Nature spitting last night, but enough for my new gutters – downspouts – to drizzle out a few drops, enough to make the summer-to-fall early transition, cool and sharp, more evident. It is cool enough this morning that I sit with a blanket on my knees, coffee cup at the ready, a bowl of granola cereal consumed. The usual book rack of books – never less than two, usually four or five, bundled out from the library and – of course – two journals, one of which I’m writing in now.
When I heard the sound of the hot air balloon – like the expulsion of air periodically from a prone sleeping, fat man (me, perhaps, with sleep apnea)– and saw the colorful blip appear over my house I ran and also retrieved my phone for a quick picture and video. Reminded me of home – Albuquerque will ever be my home – and the annual Balloon Fiesta.
On my left are rosebushes, three, with white and red petals. My neighbor Louie and I put up my new sprinkler timer just a week or so ago and it sits on the newly painted wall. The new device is just enough different than my old one that there is small rectangle of wall showing that didn’t receive the new paint, and it looks old and dirty in comparison. My sidewalk extends forward just a few feet then jogs left toward the driveway and garage.
Straight ahead is a tree and extending to the right, grass, which still has lines of paint – brown trim paint on it from when we painted the gutters before they were attached to our house. I’ve mowed it once since then and after another mow or two these lines will be gone. To my very right are additional bushes in front of the bay window where our library is.
The sun will peep over the garage on my left in just a few minutes, but in the meantime I sit in shade, drinking coffee, writing, and reading. We are a corner house and cars headed to work stream by on my right. Still, it’s a peaceful setting to start the day. As we face east so the sun will be in my eyes soon.
It is easy to overstate the impact of this or that, but it is safe to say that my world changed when I began waking up at 5:00 a.m. Not for the worse, but for the better, and I hate to claim it because I am not one of those so-called “morning people”. Waking up early is not natural for me. I’m like a bon vivant wannabe except I don’t really want to hang out with friends until early morning, drinking and eating and joking it up. Yes, the “wannabe” part is really outdated – I like to be out and about late rarely anymore at all, I’m getting too long-in-the-tooth for that. But I do like to stay up late.
Be that as it may. At 5:00 a.m. I’m usually up, a creature of habit, and I usually head out to my front porch if it is warm. If it’s cold I go sit in a rocking chair in my library, turn on a heating blanket, cuddle up with myself, and meditate for 20 minutes. Then, depending on the muse I might hit the computer straight out and just start writing. This morning I went over a final draft of an article and sent it off. That was a nice feeling.
Most mornings, though, I read-and-write, which means that I read something inspirational or something I’m personally interested in. I’m reading a book about mysticism, for example, and I just finished one by Sara Maitland called, “A Book of Silence” (which was btw, a book of creative non-fiction, incredibly well written). I am a kinda guy who highlights and highlights. Bright yellow most of the time because I’m color blind and I can see it easily. Then I’ll underline some of those sections or make notes on the side. The writing part, then, is informal. Jottings in my journal as the muse strikes me. Then to the computer for something more serious. Then back to reading, and forth to writing, and back, and…
The sun is coming up later and later now. I sit on my front porch these mornings and meditate for 20 minutes and when I’m done the sky has turned to dark gray. Of course those shades get darker and darker as we move deeper into fall.
The reasons getting up at 5:00 has changed my life are twofold. One, I have the luxury of thinking, reading, not-thinking (in the case of meditation), writing, and just being peaceful for a couple extra hours before the utilitarian part of the day formally begins. Two, the utilitarian part of the day – in a more joyous form – in fact, actually starts those two hours earlier because I find myself in front of a draft, or jotting down a concept, or pondering an idea well before I would have before.
What meaning has this particular day, if any? What gift will I contribute to the world today? What will happen? Who will I meet? I do not know, but the morning extends before me like a country road, waiting for the next town to appear.
Sitting here on my front porch I realize it is hard to be irreverent about nature. There is nothing to parody, we can only see hypocrisy in humans and human behavior.
I take another sip of coffee and watch the sun rise over the backdrop of my garage.
Up at 5:00 every morning, this morning my watch told me I woke at 4:47, I’m headed back to work today after the long weekend and there are things on my mind so there is no point in trying to go back to sleep.
The house is dark and quiet and I don’t want to wake my wife or pup. I turn on and off lights as I proceed through each morning activity. I go to weigh myself, 191 not losing, slip on the slippers that would have added some weight to the scales, and pad off then to the kitchen to make coffee. Four scoops of decaf for a big pot, add ice to a glass of water, grab my iPad (you never know when you’ll need it), also a blanket, settle into my rocking chair, find the timer on my watch and hit “start”. 20 minutes of meditation lie in wait.
While there is silence about me, inside my head is awhirl. Today I have to create groups for my classes, dividing them and also figuring out once again, as I have to do every semester, how to create them in BbLearn, then to create weekly discussions. Also, I have to figure out what I am going to submit to the conference I want to go to – it’s due next Monday, prepare slides for a presentation I’m going in Albuquerque on the 14th, and….and….and….and….
The noise reverberates inside my head. I keep trying to push my thinking back to my breathing, just like my friend Dave mentored me to do. In-out, in-out, in-out, and I relax a bit and get more into the moment.
Outside my mind the house is silent. Kind of. There is some hum in the house, like background noise, that is indeterminate. I can never figure out what it is coming from. The heater or air conditioner? Just the accumulation of things working – computers, refrigerators – that my ears aren’t sensitive enough to sort out?
The coffee is cooking and I can smell it too. Our machine kind of pops and pops until there is a final wheeze and then it’s done. (I can smell it now as I write – I’m off for a minute to get a cup. OK, I’m back now… I picked up some watermelon along the way too.) The sound of coffee making is settling, comforting, and I ease more into a contemplative state, fending off offending thoughts as I go. Soon the timer on my watch is buzzing. I stay quiet for a bit longer. Usually, it’s the period after the buzzing that is most peaceful for me.
I finished reading Sara Maitland’s A Book of Silence over the weekend. I had picked it up because I have become ever more interested in learning about the contemplative life. It was a good choice. I sometimes get into circular thinking that becomes overwhelming, kind of like driving into a roundabout and not being able to find a way out. National Lampoon’s European Vacation has a comic scene in London of Clark and the Griswold family trapped in a roundabout, going round and round and round and round. This is similar to my circular thinking when in full play, but a lot more entertaining. Perhaps. I’ve never really let anyone see fully into the roundabout of my mind. Perhaps it would be amusing to someone. Not to me.
How can I find silence, I wonder, in a world of meetings, and words, and things to worry about, especially since I am not an introvert and I do enjoy being with people? How can I find peace? Where can I…just…be, quiet, reverential, silent, alone-even-when-not-alone? One place are my porches, both the one in front and the one in back, and I am headed to the back now, coffee, journal, and book in hand,to greet the day once more.
Maitland, S. (2008). A book of silence. London: Granta.
To receive all our Profound Bartender posts, please subscribe (it won’t cost you anything but time to read): The Profound Bartender
Finally, please share this essay with others who might find it beneficial.