For the last 113 mornings I’ve been getting up at 5am and going for a walk around my neighbourhood. A then-acquaintance on Facebook declared she was getting up at 5am as part of a 66-day challenge. I heard something in her declaration – the possibility of new life – and joined her.
Since then we’ve become close friends through sharing our experiences. When coming to the end of the 66 days, we decided to start a new cycle and today is day 47 of the second cycle. Both of us have experienced this 5am rising as life-changing.
The first week was a revelation. Suddenly, there was so much time. The world is new and I’m creating it every morning. It’s spring and unseasonably warm. The wind is orange blossom and wisteria, blackbirds sit on TV aerials singing as I walk by, Venus, the morning star, shines in the east. I’m in paradise each morning. I’ve got a thousand times more energy and each night I feel the tiredness I felt as a child, a genuine tiredness, a delicious tiredness.
The original 66 days came from a video proposing that it takes 66 days to establish a new habit, the latest in a long line of such theories. In my case, around day 30 it had become normal and I’d started to wake before the alarm. Sometimes now I wake at, say, 4am and if I feel fresh I get up. The fear and resentment of getting up, particularly in the dark, which has been with me since I was a child is not there.
The number doesn’t matter at all. What matters is the repetition, the commitment. This is also new to me because all my life I’ve disliked routine and predictability and I’ve gone out of my way to overturn it. Now I know that whatever else is happening, I’m going to be getting up at 5am and that’s that. The difference is that it’s my word and each morning I get to fulfil on my word, and this provides such a tremendous platform for my days.
The walking thing is magic, sacred. Each morning, I receive gifts. One morning, a super-moon hanging over the city stopped me in my tracks, a massive pale orange ball suspended over the tops of the skyscrapers. On another morning, a waning moon snuggled up to Venus in the east made me gasp with beauty. I walk with owls and bats, and a few weeks ago, saw a small figure hurrying up the road towards me. All of a sudden I realised it was a fox and stopped dead. Then he stopped dead. We looked at each other and then he turned and calmly trotted back the way he had come. Another morning, I stopped to tie up my shoelace and saw the leaves of the bush next to me were burnished.
In fact, the birds and trees and moon show me things. They teach me, they lead me. I’d been conscious of this, and then a few days ago, I understood something further. I understood I could allow the path to guide me. I could rest in the path and have it show me how to respond. I don’t mean this poetically or metaphorically. I mean it literally, with the concrete situations I am dealing with in my life. I can relax and be alert and let the path show me. I don’t have to push or shape or will the path, I and the path can move together.
This is one of many insights I’ve started to receive while walking, and when I was writing about labyrinths the other day I realised that that’s what I’m doing each morning, walking a labyrinth. Even this is literal because I live in a tight nest of short streets and each morning after I walk up to the lookout over the river and look in the eastern sky, I have a choice of four or five pathways I can take. Some days I take one path, other days, another path.
To encourage the insights, I’ve started to experiment as I’m walking by reciting mantras, coordinating my steps with my breaths, or naming feelings and sensations as they arise. Today I was doing the latter and a new thing happened. Most mornings, I see very few cars or people. There are two men, a young Indian student around 19 or 20 and another Indian man in his 30s, who drive their cars around the neighbourhood with their hazard lights on, stopping and getting out to lay the newspaper at the front door of the houses who still take newspapers. I tell them I appreciate the care with which they do their job, and often the experience is as if the three of us are creating the world out there in the dark. Apart from them, I usually see two or three cars at most. Today was different. Thirty or forty cars must have passed by and each time one passed I noticed a tremendous irritation and anger rise up in me. It was quite incredible how strong this was, and it was all I could do to keep the irritation from eating me. It was new and shocking and interesting.
In a thousand ways, the possibility of new life is being born every minute.