This Life I Swear By is a series about the things that rebalance and renew our well-being. Maybe it’s a supplement, a yoga pose, or in a cup of tea. Where does your strength come from?

The first time was an accident. It was one of those mornings when I woke up too early, my side of the world pitch dark, and I couldn’t go back to sleep. It’s not that I’d never seen 5 a.m. before — I have a 4-year-old, I’ve seen a lot of them — but never without a forced reason. The stillness was magnificent.

I left my husband in bed and tiptoed past my daughter’s room. I boiled water for tea, scooping the leaves from a big canister, mixing in the milk. Afraid of waking the kid — she sleeps with her door open — I plugged in our white Christmas lights, the string ones that sit crumpled in a pile in front of the fireplace.

What does one do at 5 a.m.?

Nothing.

Or anything, really. Read, write, sit quietly with my pre-dawn thoughts, enjoy my tea — really enjoy it, hot sip by hot sip — without someone whining for breakfast. I didn’t have to work, to exercise, to cook, to clean, to do laundry, to get dressed, to brush my teeth or hair. I could just sit there, undisturbed.

It was bliss. A kind of bliss one cannot find at any other time of day or night. The kind that’s full of untapped possibilities and free of obligation. The kind that’s both cozy and expansive — my little attempt at hygge. When my family woke an hour later, after the sun was up — I’d watched it rise, red and orange, out the window — I was tired, yes, but I could also feel how much more bandwidth I had, how that hour had fed me in more ways than an extra hour of sleep could have.

Simply having made the decision that I deserve this time for me, even if it’s only 15 or 20 minutes, helps me get through each day with less resentment, less pent-up anger, less anxiety.

I started getting up that early almost every morning and I noticed that having that time to myself made me a much more generous mother, wife, and friend. (Apparently, I was onto something: Even some shows this to be true!)

It even made me kinder to myself, because I was experiencing my life — can I say, my humanity? — without the nagging sense of having to produce and succeed and run, run, run. I had found a pocket that was just for me and my heart, that had no real goal attached to it. This, as a 40-year-old working mother, felt like uncovering magic.

Sure, there are days when I write, or meditate, or even do a little yoga or Pilates — when I try to squeeze something out of that “extra” time. And of course there are days when I get up to boil the water and my daughter yells out, “Mommy, come!” and the whole plan falls apart. There are also days when I am too damn tired to get up.

But even having the intention gets me somewhere. Simply having made the decision that I deserve this time for me, even if it’s only 15 or 20 minutes, helps me get through each day with less resentment, less pent-up anger, less anxiety.

It reminds me of who I really am: a beating heart, a body who breathes, a tiny spec in a big, glorious universe.


Abigail Rasminsky has written for the New York Times, O: The Oprah Magazine, The Cut, Lenny Letter, Longreads, and The Washington Post, among other publications. A graduate of Columbia’s MFA program, she lives in Los Angeles with her family. You can find her on and on .