When you wake up in the morning, does your mind automatically launch into planning for the day ahead such that you’re already tense by the time you get out of bed? Do you often wake up feeling agitated or fuzzy headed or filled with a sense of dread? And does this mood seem to shadow you the whole day? Your mind state when you awaken can strongly influence what your attitude will be throughout the day, so you may be starting out your day in some unconscious or habitual manner that’s actually creating suffering.
How you normally start your day is the result of the mind being conditioned by past experiences to react in habitual ways to waking up. What usually happens is that the outside world rapidly intrudes and you immediately begin to interpret and concretize those experiences and conditions as though they are you. So you start having thoughts like, “I’m not going to do a good job because my boss doesn’t like me.” Or your desires kick in and you start clinging to getting what you want, such as wanting to make your spouse see that you’re right about the argument you had last night. This pattern is not only unskillful and ineffective it’s devoid of self-love, appreciation, or any sense of a connection to a deeper purpose. But it’s possible to develop a new habit of mindfully investigating your body and mind and renewing your intentions when you first wake up that will empower you to meet your day with a peaceful heart and a clear mind.
Starting out your day with mindfulness is not something you can make happen automatically. It’s something you will need to practice because like anything new you try to learn, it takes time and repetition to master. The practice consists of systematically examining your body and mind in such a way that you notice what’s true right now. You become aware of pleasant and unpleasant sensations in the body and you observe your mind states without judging or trying to fix anything. By just being present with body sensations and mind states in this “clean slate” way, you begin to develop a new relationship to them that gives you a lot more flexibility in meeting your day.
As soon as you wake up, you take as few as 10 minutes to as much as half-an-hour to establish mindfulness and renew your intentions for the day. You can do this practice while lying in bed (if you can stay awake) or sitting up (which may be better if you have a tendency to fall back asleep). If you have a meditation practice, you might sit on your meditation cushion and do the practice there.
1. Begin by observing the nature of your sleep, and ask yourself, “Am I awaking from a peaceful sleep or a restless sleep?” Avoid judging your sleep. Just be with it.
2. Next notice whether you feel refreshed physically or if you’re tired. You can have a bad night’s sleep yet still feel refreshed, however, some people never notice that. Conversely, you can have a good night’s sleep but somehow be exhausted.
3. Now start to focus on your body. Perhaps the first thing you notice is a feeling of pleasantness in the body then all of a sudden, an unpleasant sensation arises—your hip or your knee begins to hurt. By observing these shifting sensations, you’re seeing that the body experiences all of these conditions, but that they’re just conditions, and you’re learning to accept them with equanimity.
4. Turn your attention to your mind and notice if it’s tense or worried. Or is it relaxed? Is your mind clear? Or is it blurred? Next, notice your mood. Are you in a good mood, or are you already agitated in some way? Then observe whether you are looking forward to the day or if you are dreading some part of it. You may detect emotional residue from the previous day hanging around. Starting to make these distinctions is a skillful means for deconstructing old habits.
5. As you’re investigating your mind, you may notice that a story has already begun to form in your mind. There’s no stimulus yet, but you’re already living out a story, and it’s one you didn’t choose. It may not even be true. Your mind is just making up a story in anticipation of the day or in response to some difficulty you’ve carried over from the previous day, and it’s conditioning how you’re going to meet your day. It’s going to affect your mood, your energy, what you notice throughout the day, what you eat, and how skillful or unskillful you are the rest of the day. As you start to notice this story-making phenomenon, you realize that there are many other possibilities for how to begin your day.