“Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand-new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully each moment
and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Buddhist monks wake up every morning, at approximately 4 a.m. while the stars are still out and the world appears to be peacefully sleeping.
Although this might sound shockingly early to some, it is widely believed that people who regularly practice meditation require far less sleep than the average eight hours.
The monks wash and refresh before settling down to think in depth about their motivation, which is known as bodhicitta. This is the setting for an authentic open heart and mind and the hope that all sentient beings will one day be free from suffering.
Usually, the monks then spend approximately one to three hours focusing on deep breathing while meditating. They pay particular attention to chanting mantras as our voice carries very powerful vibrations that are essential for the manifestation of mantras. They also focus on the motivation they have set the intention for, which is to practice compassion, loving-kindness and to remind themselves to use their thoughts, words and actions to benefit others.
Not many of us will have time to dedicate hours to meditation, although even if our practice is only 10-30 minutes we will find we are better are able to remain in the present moment throughout the rest of the day.
To prepare for meditation we can place a large cushion on the floor, or sit on the bed for comfort, whichever we find more appropriate. Pema Chödrön admits she stays in bed lying down for approximately an hour to carry out her morning meditation, so it really is a personal practice that should compliment how we feel in each moment.
Before, during and after our meditation we can drink herbal tea, which contains antioxidants or a cleansing hot lemon and honey drink, as the hot water cleanses toxins from the body.
Starting the day with meditation slows the mind of all our early morning thoughts and helps us to stay in the present moment, keeping us aware and alert, which will then significantly heighten the quality of our day ahead.
We can incorporate into our meditation setting our own motivation for the day. Our thoughts carry very powerful vibrations. Whatever we think about when we first wake up will set the tone for the rest of the day. We can also use the time to let go of any worries or repetitive thoughts so that we do not begin the day with mild anxieties.
After the meditation we can spend a few moments considering mindfulness and the impact our words or actions have, so that we retain a heightened awareness of how our behaviour is expressed throughout the rest of the day.
Following meditation we can eat a healthy breakfast in silence, feeling gratitude for the food and paying attention to each bite.
Once we have eaten breakfast we can prioritize our most important task of the day and tackle it before we do anything else, if possible. Whatever holds the greatest weight in our minds should be carried out first or scheduled so that it is not lingering where it could possibly get forgotten in the back of our mind and side-lined for less important tasks.
Even if the task is arduous, we will feel far lighter and our mind will be calmer if we make the effort to complete it before our day fully starts.
During the morning we can take a small amount of time out for exercise. If we have commitments in the morning we can set the alarm clock a little earlier or just spend a very small amount of time on exercise. Even if we can only commit to five to 10 minutes, it will make a huge difference.
We can practice Yoga, go for an early morning walk with nature, paying attention to our surroundings while all is still and calm or we can engage in more cardiovascular exercises. Whatever we choose to do will release endorphins and energize us for the day ahead.
Devoting time early in the morning to learning something new will spark our imagination and creativity. Morning is the best time for learning as the mind is more open at the beginning of the day, so it is the time when Buddhist monks focus on starting a new skill. It is the perfect opportunity to take time out for creative pursuits as we can focus easier very early in the morning when the household and streets are tranquil and calm. We should try to ensure we focus only on one task at a time, without external stimuli or distractions interfering.
These practices aren’t unique to Buddhism—many people do them naturally as part of their daily routine. However, the main element in Buddhist rituals is focusing on how we can be of benefit or service to others and give our time or attention to any living species that may be less fortunate.
Our days can spin passed us with the amount of responsibilities many of us have, however, when we manage our time well we can squeeze so much more into our day by rediscovering the beauty of the early daylight hours.
Importantly though, when we focus on our morning ritual we will start to notice if we are making the most of our mornings or if we are wasting precious time that could be used to enhance not only our day ahead, but many aspects of our overall life.
Tiny alterations to our schedule help to change our mind-set and heighten our energetic vibration so we feel recharged and reenergized quite simply by scheduling a little time for ourselves early every morning.
Author: Alex Myles
Editor: Travis May
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