Waking Up Mindfully
“Becoming “awake” involves seeing our confusion more clearly.” – Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
The morning can be a disorienting time. We often find ourselves thinking about the most demanding parts of our lives before our eyes even open, paving the way for anxiety, and depression to linger throughout our day. Without avoiding the reality of our lives, is it possible to wake up not only from sleep, but also wake up from our own confusion as fundamentally worthy human beings?
As a constant sufferer of “morning depression” (as Chogyam Trungpa, the founder of the Shambhala lineage calls it in “Sacred Path of the Warrior”) I was eager to explore the connection between waking up from sleep, and waking up as a mindful human in the world. I asked mindful teachers and friends how they ease into their day, and gave their suggestions a try. Below are some tools I’ve adopted; a few are obvious, others are more difficult to accomplish but very effective techniques. Some are simple, sweet and add a touch of gentleness to the day. Comment below if you have your own tips to offer!
Set a Bedtime Alarm
As a night owl, getting enough sleep is challenging, not to mention that I also need a solid 8-9 hours to function. A teacher of mine suggested setting an alarm for when it’s time to get ready for bed. I now have an alarm set for 10:45pm. Most surprising to me is my consistent shock when it goes off. Even though I’m usually at home, I’m nowhere near even beginning to settle down for bed. The alarm has not only helped me to get to bed on time but has given me a sense of appreciation for the hours between the end of the day and sleep.
Lose the Phone
It’s obvious, but keeping the phone on the nightstand and as an alarm is a relaxation killer. You can almost feel the device pulsating with delicious images and important emails. When I first switched to an analog alarm clock, I definitely felt some irritation in the morning. I wanted to look at my phone! But overall, coming to terms with my existence in a way that doesn’t include my inbox, my bank account, or my Instagram feed has given me just a few extra moments in the morning to feel my body, giving my mind a chance to catch up, and open my eyes wide, as opposed to tightly focusing on a tiny screen.
Honor Your Routine
For many of us, it may not be realistic to carve out space in our morning for tea or journaling but that doesn’t mean that the simple things we do have time for have to be rushed. Creating a little dignity around how we wash our face, choose our clothes and gather our belongings can change the pace at which we move through the rest of our day. With mindfulness, we can fully focus on the tasks at hand, and give them our full attention. Doing so has made my morning less chaotic and I ultimately get more done with this approach than when I’m trying to brush my teeth and check my email at the same time.
In the last few months, I’ve committed myself to a 10-minute meditation before the day begins. I’ve placed it after getting dressed but before packing up my stuff. At first, I really struggled. When I asked my meditation instructor about it, she said: “You’re making too big a deal of this, just sit down and breathe.” This advice went a long way for me. For others, more formality may help with getting to the cushion. Either way, meditating in the morning has provided me clarity for the hours ahead, and has made it easier to manifest kindness and gentleness during my day.
After working with my mind for a few minutes, I began to feel how much my body wanted to move around. Even when I was still sleepy, I found that a long, lazy stretch or loud, silly yawn wanted to come out. This may seem obvious, but the morning meditation showed me how much I was repressing movement in the morning. I seemed to have the impression that if I wasn’t doing a formal activity like running or yoga, it wasn’t important. I’ve now given myself permission to be silly if I feel like it. It’s amazing what a few happy jumps on the bed can do to synch up the mind and body, and us get ready for the day.
For more on waking up to your world, check out the latest semester of Learn to Live Mindfully, a series of workshops offering practical teachings and meditation techniques to help us grow into more mindful, compassionate and happier human beings.