Mental Sunrise: The Most Important Morning Ritual
There is a lot of advice about morning rituals and how important your morning routine is to your success, health, etc. I have never been good at routines, and if you have ever suffered from morning depression, you don't even know what the hell these people are talking about. You are more concerned with the anvil that seems to get dropped on your head before you even get out of bed. Yoga stretches, affirmations and protein shakes sound great, but it's hard think about all that when you can barely hold back the tears long enough to make it down the hall to pour a cup a coffee. And it doesn't have to be depression sabotaging you first thing in the morning. You could have kids in your face, chronic illness, work anxiety... just about anything life throws at you can make your first thought of the day, "Shit. I woke up." Your morning routine actual starts there... What do you do when you realize you are awake?
Waking up can be a tricky time mentally. You have barely begun surfacing from the murky depths of whatever dreamworld you were just involved in, when the story of your waking life comes rudely rushing in. Even though you may resist recovering from your nightly amnesia, you begin to realize before you even open your eyes, "Oh. I'm still me." What happens then? Are you immediately overwhelmed with anxiety at having to face the day ahead, or do you experience a spark of joy and excitement at the shiny new 24 hours in front of you? There it is...our first opportunity to make choice about our mental state.
Usually we don't even realize a choice exists. Your brain is off to the races and you immediately being a day of ducking and dodging "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" flying at you full speed through the darkness of the 3D theatre of your mind. This is where we have to realize that all we need to do for this to disappear is turn on the light. Sure, the sun comes up in the morning, and it's light outside. But unless it rises behind your eyes, you could remain in darkness. It's not that the dark is something to resist or fear, but it should not be in charge of your day. This is why the first (and maybe the only) morning ritual you need is to shine a light. Don't let yourself get out of bed without a mental sunrise...
1) Be still.
Remain calm for a moment before you open your eyes, and keep your thoughts inward for a bit before they take off toward the day ahead. This is that moment when you are waiting for the sun to appear, staring at the horizon in anticipation.
Then the sun starts to show itself. A thin line of light starts to grow and radiate. Start to feel the warmth and light. You could visualize the sun coming up and the sky of your mind becoming brighter and brighter. You could imagine a light glowing in your chest, or stomach, or a part of the body that needs healing. Decide what works for you. The idea is to begin the day with some glimmer of light, even if it is only for a few seconds.
Do this each morning and see what happens. The sun comes up everyday, and yours should too. Get creative with your visualizations as you become more sensitive to your waking state of mind. This is your personal moment of refuge. Make it yours. If you miss the opportunity when waking up, just do it whenever you are ready. It's your sun. You decide when it rises.
Cultivating this ritual can be important for two reasons. First, experiencing even a small amount of light helps you at least see that it is there. This little bit of hope is sometimes what we need to get us through. It is a minimal effort for a potentially significant reward. Second, you demonstrate that you have the strength to decide for yourself how to feel and what to think about. This builds your faith in yourself and increases your chances of being able to direct your thoughts to lightness again when you need to throughout the day.
Of course, a great way to support this practice is to watch the actual sunrise. The more often you can catch this daily spectacle, the more imagery you will have to fuel your visualizations. If you don't live in a place where you can watch the sun come up over the horizon, there are lots of people who stream it live online. It's a nice thing to watch with coffee instead of the news. Here are a few places you can treat yourself to the sunrise on your phone. I'm sure there are many more. Please share if you know of them. These are on the east coast of the U.S., since that is where I live.
If you need one to get started, here is a video of one of the sunrises that started all this for me. I was in my first months of sobriety, on a visit to Akumal, Mexico. While I could not partake in the festivities of margaritas and G&Ts by the pool, the thing that I did get excited about was getting up each morning to watch the sun come up. This experience was so amazing, I have sought ways to keep it with me always. May it inspire your own search for the light.