April 8, 2022

6 Cathartic Things I Learned from Buddhist Monks about Mindful Mornings.

 

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Before being introduced to Buddhism, I had lazy mornings.

I woke up late, I had a tremendous amount of coffee that made me feel jittery, and I was late to, ahem, everything.

When I traveled to India and Nepal for my Buddhist courses, my entire routine was changed. I learned new practices that were extremely tough at first, and between you and me, I wanted to leave one of the courses just because I thought I might not make it alive with so little sleep and food.

I eventually stayed (thank heavens for that!), and with a little bit of patience and open-mindedness, I realized that my body is powerful and capable, and like everything else in life, we eventually adapt.

During all my courses, we lived in monasteries with Buddhist monks. We (kinda) shared the same routine (which I hated at first), and to my surprise, that routine ended up changing my life for the better.

During these months, I found happiness in a consistent morning routine—something I was never used to before. In Buddhism, having a mindful, slow morning is key to having a good day with a clear and still mind.

I hope these six practices will inspire you, especially when you feel like staying in bed:

1. Rise early. Buddhist monks rise around 4:00 a.m.—we did too. The first couple of days were extremely challenging, and I couldn’t bring myself to open my eyes. But after a few days, my body magically adapted and I started enjoying the early rise. In Buddhism, we can get more things done during the day when we rise early. We feel fresh and ready to seize the day. I no longer wake up at 4:00 a.m., but I try my best to leave the bed as early as possible!

2. Make your bed. According to the Buddhists, making our bed is a good, mindful preparation for the day ahead. In other words, it’s good spiritual discipline. When we make our bed, we begin our day with a sense of success and accomplishment. Furthermore, we need to leave our space clean because it highly reflects the space in our own minds. Making our bed takes less than five minutes. Give it a try and see how you feel afterward!

3. Meditation. Before anything else and before we interact with anyone, we need to interact with ourselves first. Buddhist monks begin their day with meditation and chanting to clear their minds and develop the right attitude. In the beginning, meditating from 5 to 7 a.m. felt futile for me. Boy was I wrong! By the second week, I started enjoying the early meditation practice and realized that it helped me stay calm and aware all day long. You don’t have to meditate two hours like we did, but you can surely incorporate at least 15 minutes daily into your routine to focus on your breath and clear your mind of impurities.

4. Eat light. Most Buddhist monks have only breakfast and dinner. On the first day when I learned that we would be going to bed on an empty stomach, I cried my eyes out. It took my body exactly three days to adapt and enjoy the light breakfast and lunch. After meditation, we had oatmeal and fruits. And as you may know, most Buddhist monks choose to follow a vegetarian diet because it’s light and doesn’t involve killing any sentient being. According to the Buddhists, if we eat light, we can meditate better. Our food affects our minds, so naturally, consuming a big meal needs time and energy to digest and might negatively affect our performance (no wonder we feel sleepy after a hearty meal!).

5. Karma yoga. It means selfless action or service. Mindful chores in Buddhist monasteries are a way to feel productive and of service. I volunteered to wash the dishes after every meal; others volunteered to clean. Practicing Karma yoga taught me the gift of sharing, helping, and giving. Every morning, think of something that could be of benefit to others and do it. It is really life-changing.

6. Rest. Before studying Buddhism, rest was not a major part of my day. I thought doing more was smart, but the truth is it isn’t. In the monastery, we had more than six hours of rest every day—between meals and sessions. We walked in nature, made contact with insects, and went back to our rooms for alone time. Slowly, rest became a time of deep reflection for me, and it was back then that I understood the importance of giving my body and mind the “pause” they deserve. Whatever you are doing, learn to rest every now and then, especially in the morning. Stillness has many benefits; trust me!

~

 

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