I got out of bed earlier than usual this morning and went for a walk before 5:00 AM, the first time I’d done so in far too many months. I enjoy not only getting my exercise out of the way for the day but the solitude and quiet of walking my normal route before first light and being able to see the stars (Orion was especially vivid this morning) all the while getting serenaded by the symphony of sound made by birds roosting in every tree I pass by.

Because I have been sick much of the summer this particular routine is one I simply was not able to enjoy the way that I did this morning. As I reflected on that while I walked I considered the meaning and significance of the routines and rituals we partake of – and are subjected to as well – in our lives.

Webster defines routine as ‘a regular way of doing things in a particular order’. Many people, myself included, take comfort in the familiarity of following a set pattern of activity or methodology. My husband and I take delight in how nice it feels to share certain routines together, even things as mundane as sitting at Starbucks enjoying our hot beverages or watching our favorite programs on TV and Netflix. There is also the attention to detail (okay, this one is more me than Bill) of how the bed is made or dishes are put away or clothes are folded. I actually find ironing, which many people think of as a chore, to be a relaxing activity, a routine that I don’t mind doing at all. Bill and I also appreciate the visual delight and calming effect of sometimes taking a longer route to work – bypassing additional albeit faster travel on the interstate in exchange for a longer route laden with those pesky stoplights simply because it offers us the opportunity to perhaps catch sight of deer or turkey in the woods and fields on the edge of the city. It’s a pleasant routine we both enjoy.

An alternate definition of routine provides an opposing, somewhat gloomy view of the word: A boring state or situation in which things are always done the same way. Images of being forced to sit through Mass each Sunday when we were growing up or waiting in the car for hours while Dad ‘looked at trees’ for the sawmill or having to do the dishes after the noon meal in the summer – always a major production with six kids at home and hired men to feed. None of these things were particularly difficult or painful. They were just dull and monotonous and these activities were routinely required as part and parcel of being a member of my family. Routine used here takes on a negative connotation. And is perhaps why something being described as a ‘ho-hum routine’ gets a bum rap.

One’s perspective or outlook on life can go a long way in determining whether it be the yin or the yang when it comes to that which is routine.

This afternoon at work I stepped up to one of the two sinks in the restroom to wash my hands. Another woman followed suit and remarked that usually she washed her hands in the sink that I was using and wasn’t it odd how we get used to using one thing instead of another and when forced to use something else it feels so different. It got me thinking further that we often follow a set routine and when we waver from it in any way we may feel anxious or tense, out of our element, maybe even uncomfortable, awkward or embarrassed.

Routines can be cherished or loathed. They can provide warm fuzzies or feelings of dread. They can be reassuring or sleep-inducing.

Are there any routines that you find pleasant, that bring you joy and comfort? Or do your routines cause heartburn and angst or feelings of trepidation? Please – do tell!