Our biological rhythms are the symphony of the cosmos, music embedded deep within us to which we dance, even when we can’t name the tune. – Deepak Chopra
I’m really enjoying the transition to Fall that we’re experiencing in the Pacific Northwest; I’m savoring the cold mornings, the crunchy leaves, the rain we finally see again. The shorter days and the sense that the world around me is slowing down has me thinking a lot about this word: rhythm.
When you start thinking about it, rhythm is everywhere: in the changing seasons, the ocean tides, the cycles of the moon. It’s also in us: the pulsing of blood in our bodies, the ebb and flow of hunger, and the need for activity and rest. When our ancestors lived in a closer relationship to the earth around them, rhythm was a natural part of life; unfortunately, our modern-day temperature-controlled environments and artificial lighting systems can make it difficult to know and honor our internal rhythms.
Rhythm is deeply, deeply ingrained in us, but we often live as though we’re machines who can simply work at the same pace all day and then be shut off at night. We act like we have simple on/off switches when really, we’re much more complicated and nuanced. Jennifer Ackerman, the author of Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body, writes “We are usually unaware of [our] internal rhythms, sensing them vividly only when we abuse them, during shift work, jet lag, or adjustment to daylight-savings time.” We spend so much energy, often at full speed, and forget that renewal is an equally important part of the equation.
Anders Ericsson is most well-known for his research on how important practice is in the formation of someone who is considered an “expert,” but he also found that the highest performers in his study had clear activity and rest rhythms. When you think about your own internal rhythms, you can probably think of times during the day when you feel like you do your best work, and times when you feel your energy waning. Your body needs rhythm, and by working at the same speed all day and taking no rest throughout, you risk a) doing shoddy work, b) making yourself sick, and c) losing touch with a deep, natural part of what makes you human.
So how do we incorporate more rhythm into our lives when we live in a world of 24-hour news cycles, working lunches, and a demand for more, faster? It’s a big, pervasive problem, but I have some humble ideas to get us started:
1. Pay attention. “Always with the ‘pay attention,'” I know, but it’s so important! Simply start noticing when you feel your energy waxing and waning. Consider relying less on caffeine to get you going in the mornings and see what happens to your afternoon crash when you eat a more nourishing lunch. Just start looking at your own internal rhythm and, if you feel like it, keep a note or a journal to track its natural cycles.
2. Make more space in your mornings. I get that this one might not feel possible for many of us, but we don’t do ourselves any favors when we run out the door frenzied with a sugary scone and huge cup of coffee in hand. If it’s at all possible, try to get to bed earlier and wake up with enough time to do a small contemplative practice, eat a nourishing breakfast, and maybe even get your body moving. You’ll arrive to work with so much more energy, clarity, and focus.
3. Create ritual. Many of us lack any regular rituals in our lives, which is really a shame. Rituals help us process events – pleasant or difficult – and mark the passage of time. Rituals can be large or small, involved or simple. A ritual could be as simple as lighting a candle when you get home in the evening, saying some kind of blessing over your meals, or creating an intention for each new month. Simply by doing things to mark transitions in our lives, we connect to the rhythm around us and walk through life more purposefully.
4. Schedule renewal. I’ve become much more attuned to my own need for renewal, but it’s still difficult to make it a priority on par with activity. In a “doing” culture like ours, I feel like my inherent value lies in my ability to do, not in the fact that I just am or can be. That said, my doing is so much more potent and effective when I can just let myself be and get the rest that my body, mind, and spirit need; unfortunately, this won’t happen on its own, so I’ve learned to build renewal into my schedule. Some ways that this could play out are: scheduling breaks into each day, scheduling a time for a contemplative retreat (even if it’s a quiet afternoon at home), or blocking off large chunks of time on the weekends for whatever truly renews you. Most of us need to create more space in our lives for the natural ebb and flow of energy.
I hope you’ll consider adding some more rhythm into your day today. I’ll leave you with two questions to chew on in case they help you get started:
1) When was the last time you really felt renewed?, and 2) What can you do today to support your own internal rhythm?