A friend posted a quote on Facebook that popped up on my timeline the other day. It was attractively positioned over a lovely photo, and at first glance, I didn’t have any problem with it. “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It’s lethal” -- according to Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho. As I cleaned the stalls in the barn like I do each morning, I mulled this over, and it began to stick in my craw.
I love routine. Maybe I tend to elevate it too much, thinking of the mundane daily tasks that frame my day as “rituals” or “practices”. On the days when I am too busy and have to forgo my usual routine, I feel off-balance and unsettled. Things are especially hectic around here right now, with houseguests, graduation activities, trips to the city. Today is the first day I can sink back into my beloved routines and take a deep breath.
Routine benefits the young, the old, all creatures big and small. When I first moved here, one of my neighbors told me that she feeds her horses at all different times every day and night so that they don’t get conditioned to expect their food and become too demanding or needy. I totally disagree with her. In California, I got wise advice from a kindly cowboy at the ranch where I kept my horses. He said that if I wanted to have calm, easy to handle horses, I should feed them as the sun came up and the sun went down, as close to the same time every day, because that’s how they learn that they can trust me to be there for them. My dog, cat and horses can absolutely count on it that at 6 am and 5 pm every day, they will see me with food in hand. Silk and Siete often go to their stalls and peer out the doors at five o’clock when their inner clock tells them that it’s time for dinner. If I glance out the window and see those beautiful heads, I can almost set my watch by it.
The other day, my daughter and I visited my mom at the nursing home and were surprised to find that the activities director had taken her out with a group of residents to get ice cream at the local Dairy Queen. We were delighted that she was having a fun outing, but when they returned, my mom was distressed. She asked me, “What is this place? Is it a dorm?” I had to explain that this is where she lived. We were pretty freaked out, thinking that her dementia had caused her to slide a little further down the slippery slope. She usually enjoys walking us to the elevator to say good-bye when we leave. This time, she told me that she didn’t want to because she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to find her way back to her room. I was so sad and worried when I left her. On the way out, I spoke to my mom’s favorite nurse about it, and she told me that routine was the most important part of keeping dementia patients stable and content. I was relieved that the next day, with everything back to the schedule she was used to keeping, my mom was tracking normally again and she has been okay ever since.
Even my eighteen-year old, ready-for-adventure daughter confessed to the need for routine. She missed her “couch time”, she told me this weekend, after a particularly exciting but demanding week. The routine of sitting next to her dog, wrapped in a cozy blanket, reading and writing and fooling around on her computer is a necessary anchor to ground her.
I find that in the rhythm of the mundane tasks, imagination has time to percolate. One might say that being stuck in a routine makes you feel trapped and suffocated, as Paulo Coelho implies in that quote. I believe that denying your creativity and not using your imagination is what really makes you feel stifled and frustrated. Routine is the secret ingredient that offers the security and space to let my best ideas develop and fly.