One of the truly eye-opening lessons that I’ve learned from spiritual traditions seems to be so obvious that it could go without saying. The lesson I have in mind comes not so much from the teachings themselves (as important as they are), but from what we learn to perceive about life and our selves by putting the teachings into practice. It turns out that this is not so obvious — lessons gained from experience rarely are.
I’m thinking of the first few precious moments (or minutes) of waking from sleep. Those moments, small and significant as they seem, are precisely when some of the most important “events” of the day happen. Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke of life as constant movement and of the transition from one state to the next as filled with spiritual power — which describes what those sometimes hazy moments between waking and sleeping are like. I’ll explain this briefly and then suggest a simple spiritual practice that we can do at the very beginning of the day.
Whether we wake up rested and ready to go, frightened and confused by a disturbing dream, or tired, having tossed and turned through the night, the key is how we respond when we actually “wake up.” I should add that the literal and symbolic meanings of “waking up” are both entirely relevant in those moments. This is a hugely important time of day. It’s the best time to call out our desire for mindfulness, while focusing our intent on the kind of person we hope to be. Let’s say we want to be kind and thoughtful, even joyful in the fullest spiritual sense of “joy.” Often, hopes likes these are choices in disguise – decisions that are ours to make, even when it’s seems that we’re not doing very well or believe that we have no choice. What I’m saying is that our hopes in the waking world can become dreams come true, if we focus our intent.
So this is the spiritual practice. Before we go to sleep at night, let’s tell ourselves that our very first thought upon waking will be kind and joyful. The most difficult part of this practice may be to remember it – but I can assure you that — with practice — we will remember. Then, when you’re actually waking up (bringing your attention to the here and now), let yourself notice what your first thoughts actually are. Observe them, without being judgmental about yourself and others. If there are fears and anxieties about the day ahead, just notice what they are, without giving them your life-energy. In that moment, turn your attention to how you want to be – kind and joyful.
Do this practice for a week or two. We’ll find, with practice, that this is exactly what will happen: we won’t be the center of our own world, because our worries won’t live our lives for us. We’ll be present to others and to ourselves – and probably surprised by our capacity to life more joyfully.