“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive — to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius (Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD), Meditations.
Like many mammals, birds, reptiles and some fish and insects, we sleep to replenish systems in our bodies. We also share an internal form of the circadian clock that triggers the release of the hormone melatonin, which makes us sleep at night. The melatonin peaks in the middle of the night and decreases to normal levels by the early morning.
Some of us wake when a cockerel crows, an alarm clock rings, or with news on the radio. Many of us like to turn over for a few more minutes in the comfort of our bed. Then thoughts start to arise as we haul ourselves out of beds, possibly feeling a bit restless as if we could have done with more sleep. We then sleepwalk into the bathroom routine and can sometimes find ourselves at work before we know what’s happened.
How we start something often determines the quality of what follows; so how we begin the day can make a big difference to our experience for the rest of the day.
When we first wake, if we’re very quick, it’s possible to become aware at the point of waking. In a similar way to when a computer is switched on and after a few seconds, boots up to load software, for a brief moment, we’re only aware of direct physical experience, before the knowledge of who and where we are arises, or other thoughts appear in the mind. This gap, between the awareness of our body and thoughts arising, is more noticeable when we wake up in unfamiliar surroundings, like on holiday for example.
One way to make waking with open awareness more likely is to set the intention to begin our day this way, before we go to sleep the night before. Also, maybe we can find an alarm that’s more conducive to waking us up without a jolt?
Here are some tips for starting the day mindfully:
- Body: At the point of waking, before you go off in thought, see if you can spend a few moments appreciating your body in awareness. Take your attention down to feel the soles of your feet tingling and work up your body to your head with awareness, appreciation, and gratitude for all that your body does for you, which is so easy to take for granted.
- Gratitude: As Marcus Aurelius advised, a useful first thought is to express gratitude; that you’re fully alive; have a roof over your head; maybe with loved ones around; hopefully you’re reasonably fit and healthy and have the gift of the next 24 hours ahead of you.
- Presence: When you brush your teeth and take a shower, see if you can remain in the present moment by focusing on the physical sensations; the taste of the toothpaste; the sensation of the warm water on your body, as you watch out for being drawn into automatic thoughts.
- Meditate: See if you can set aside some time to practise a simple meditation, like focusing on the breath and body before the day properly begins. To make this easier, see if you can find a quiet place where you’ll not be disturbed.
- Eating: At breakfast, you can practise eating mindfully, experiencing the tastes and textures and appreciating where all of the food has come from.
- Walking: Have a go at walking mindfully when you start your journey to work; aware of your feet touching the ground; feeling the air on your face; noticing the sky and open to the soundscape around you.
By waking mindfully, we set ourselves up to experience the day with greater ease. As you progress through your day, watch for any moments of stress or anxiety that arise and see if you can anchor yourself in the calm and wellbeing you experienced earlier in the day as a useful resource and see what difference this makes.
Suggested weekly practice
- See if you can bring your attention and awareness to your body before you start thinking about the day ahead.
- Watch for any moments of stress or anxiety that arise and see if you can return to the peace and calm you experienced earlier in the day.
- Establish the habit of a 10 or 15-minute mindfulness meditation before you start work.
- Find somewhere undisturbed and sit in a comfortable, dignified and upright posture, where you can remain alert and aware.
- Play the first settling practice, then read through the session content, which you can print off if that helps.
- Then close your eyes while this short meditation plays that explores ways to begin your day mindfully.
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