There is something magical about early morning. I think we can all relate to the peace that lives in the still of a barely-awakened world. We can recall the sense of vibrant awareness we experience when the mind is uninterrupted and, therefore, the senses are heightened. In these special moments, when the light is soft and life is quiet, I personally feel as though I’ve slipped through the cracks of time, into a space that is open, otherworldly, and time-less. I enjoy it’s quality of freshness and the clean slate of possibility, just waiting to be ignited with a simple spark of intention. It’s ripe with energy and potential and asks nothing of us other than our presence.
The choices we make in these early hours, without doubt, set the tone for the day. They become the foundation of what we’d like to create on the next empty page of our life’s story. One of the biggest challenges, I’ve realized, is holding onto this receptive state of mindfulness as I move toward interacting with my world. I’ve found myself wishing I could savor it’s sweetness forever, only to lose it easily with the sound of an alarm, the ding of a FB message, the waking sounds of my child, or the reminder that there’s work to be done. The mental checklist starts flipping through my mind…and off I go. I get back to business as usual. In a flash, the daily routine begins.
Our routines are essential to our being, of course. They’re fantastic! They keep us on track, providing the structure to accomplish our goals and dreams. They serve as a “container” for life’s reliable chaos and gives us some semblance of control in our world of linear time. Routine is an invaluable tool, but one that can easily start to have the-hamster-wheel vibe if we forget to celebrate the moments that link our small successes.
I try to remind myself that once I’ve lived through a moment, I don’t ever get it back. It’s gone like the wind. Something that has softened (and somehow reconciled) this fact for me, is adding an element of ritual to my morning routine. I’m not referring to ritual in a witchy way, but rather infusing my actions with an element of intentionality. I’ve embraced the art of slowing down, really feeling into my morning. It adds dimension to my activities, giving them texture, color, and rhythm. It’s a way of bringing life to the checklists, energy to my to-dos, and infusing then with both meaning and purpose. I literally create a space where I don’t need to choose between feeling productive and feeling connected, between what is sacred and what is mundane. I remind myself that there is an intersection where I can have it all.
Nature runs on Sacred Time. Our ancestors knew this, and most indigenous peoples continue to let it guide their daily and life-cycle rhythms. They existed in close relationship with the natural world, seeing themselves embedded into it’s very fabric (rather than on the outside looking in, as we often do in our culture). They understood that while there are no clear boundaries, we live in a multidimensional reality where ordinary, linear time intersects with an element of something profound. Linear time is the very valuable world of schedules, plans, and timelines. Sacred time, is the space that exists between the linear moments, that expands and inspires as we absorb into the present moment of our lives. It is the place where art, creativity, love, deep insight, and spiritual connection reside. Sacred time exists in every moment and is available whenever we give it attention.
The Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh expesses it beautifully in his book Peace Is Every Step:
“Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty-four brand-new hours to live. What a precious gift!….Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in every¬thing we do and see. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it….We can smile, breathe, walk, and eat our meals in a way that allows us to be in touch with the abundance of happiness that is available. We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house.. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive. Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.”
This is what it means to live mindfully--to touch the extraordinary, within the ordinary moments of our lives.
When we begin our days with the intention of presence, when we infuse routine with ritual, we reclaim our rightful gift of sacred time. We feel cared for, connected with life, and as if our inner awareness is in alignment with our outer actions. Sure, the speed of life can pull us into the whirlwind of linear time and we forget. Once the seed is planted, though, it is a place we can return to over and over again. It’s a practice.
Here are some suggestions for making the most out of your magical mornings:
1. Early to Bed, Early to Rise (and Shine)!
If you want an epic start to your day, you’ll need to find a way to capture some of those early morning hours. I recommend going to bed early, so you don’t end up lethargic and lackluster when you’re preparing to seize the day. You’re looking to establish a healthy, quality rhythm to carry you through your daily experience. If you wake up in a rush, mindfulness will likely take a backseat to expediency.
Ideally, I like to rise about 30 minutes prior to sunrise to take advantage of the potent energy of these ambrosial hours. If you’re a night owl, this may be a hard pill to swallow. If you’re up for the challenge, approach these changes gradually and gently. Perhaps, rather than aiming for dawn, make 30 minute incremental shifts, to get there. In any case, try to give yourself at least 1.5 hours to get out of the front door. If you’re juggling children and lovers, I suggest rising a minimum of 1.5 hours before the rest of your household. You’ll benefit immensely from this quietude.
2. Meditate/Breath in Bed
Perhaps, before jumping out of bed, give yourself permission to lie down for a few minutes to acclimate to being awake, access how you feel, and set your intentions for the day. For the ultimate centering, enjoy a few minutes of mindful breathing. One of my favorites is Dirga Pranayama, or 3-part breath, in which we close the eyes and calmly breath into three parts of your abdomen (low belly, low ribs, sternum). Inhaling, we draw the breath to the low belly (just below the navel), then into the low ribcage, and then to the top of the sternum. We move in the opposite direction on the exhale, expelling breath from the sternum, ribs, belly. Let it flow rhythmically and appreciate the way the breath moves freely in the body. Bring awareness to the fact that while the breath is one of the most basic of all bodily functions, it is also the most miraculous. It is none less than the reliable backdrop that carries you through every experience of your life. Give thanks. When you open your eyes, you’ll feel renewed and ready to ease into your day.
3. Avoid Electronics as Long as Possible
We want to approach the outside world slowly and be especially mindful of the energy we let into our inner atmosphere in the morning. We want to dip our toes slowly in the conversations and thoughts of others. Stay unplugged until absolutely necessary. It can be a knee-jerk reaction to jump at every message indicator on our phones and computer, as these devices fuel our impulsive nature and desire for connection. Many of us are, in fact, addicted to the dopamine bursts (which creates a rush of excitement) that we get every time our devices prompt us. Simply keep in mind that interruptions break our present moment flow, pulling us into the past and future. Rest assured that all voicemails, emails, messages, and status updates will be waiting for you safely on the other side when you plug back in. I avoid the temptation altogether by leaving my phone and computer in another room while I sleep.
4. Sit for a Tea Meditation
In a world that glorifies the ability to multi-task, taking it one activity at a time can feel, well, unproductive. However, giving our full attention to the task at hand is precisely what we’re after. The present moment is where we’ll enjoy sacred time. A tea meditation is one of my most cherished morning rituals for arriving in the here-and-now. This is my first waking activity where I get a chance to put my intentions into practice. Even though the steps of making tea (preparing my ingredients, heating the water, steeping the blend, clearing my space, pouring it into the cup) are the same as they’ve always been, the attitude and pace with which I do them has shifted. I’m aware and grateful. When I fold my hands into prayer with a bow, then take my first glorious sip, it feels like something special. As I drink in silence, I try to keep my mind from wandering and simple take in the sights and sounds around me. And the best part is that all this indulgence takes only about 15 minutes.
5. Dry Brushing and Oil Massage
Dry brushing the body is one of Ayurveda’s daily self-care rituals. (Ayurveda is a sister science of yoga that promotes holistic health and wellness). It’s a simple activity of using a dry body brush to massage the entire body. It improves circulation, revitalizes the skin, and eliminates toxins by sloughing of dead skin cells.
Brushing can feels like a ritual act of self-love. When done slowly and deliberately, not only is it pleasurable, but it leaves the skin feeling smoother and vibrant. Simply start at the feet, using circular motions, and work your way up the front and back body in the direction of your heart. Move from the extremities towards center. Spend some extra loving time on the belly, rubbing in counter-clockwise circles. At first this process may tickle or feel uncomfortable, but with practice the tingling and warmth are quite enjoyable for most. Afterwards, I shower with warm (not hot) water and apply moisturizer to keep the skin supple. My oils of choice are coconut, jojoba, and sesame.
6. Move Your Body
Start the day by getting into your body. So often, we live from the shoulders up, thinking our way through our morning experience. Physical movement circulates Prana (energy) and draws awareness down into the body. Hatha Yoga is my chosen practice of embodiment, but anything that warms the body, stretches and stimulates tissues, and calms the mind will do perfectly. Just be mindful that even with great intentions, vigorous exercise can actually cause us to lose touch with what is happening in the body. It disconnects and distracts us from our experience. Make sure the mind and body are in sync, moving meticulously, so you can make healthy choices for your body. Feel every breath and every movement. Treat this time as an inquiry into you body-mind. Once you’re centered, expand your awareness outward and contemplate the beauty and gift of the body you live in.
7. Dive into Something Creative
Now that you’re centered and nourished, make a date with your inner artist. Draw, Paint, Photograph, Write, Sing, Dance….whatever inspires you to get your vital, creative juices flowing! I know some of you believe you have no intrinsic artistic skill, but I assure you it’s in there. Creativity soars in the absence of thought and flows freely when we’re absorbed in the moment. Notice the simple things such as the rhythm of the breath, the subtle movements of the body, your passing thoughts, and the arising sensations. This is about becoming aware of the process of creating, rather than on the perfection of a finished product. It encourages a quality of child-like playfulness and discovery which is free of expectation. We can enjoy a sense of freedom and expansion that arises from being fully engaged in whatever we’re doing.
Experiment with these suggestions and be willing to listen deeply. Choose the ones that makes sense for you. Remember, the particular routine and rituals you choose for yourself are less important than the simple mindset. Happy lives are built upon healthy habits. They aren’t crafted overnight, but rather slowly and steadily with the intention of shining our brightest light.