What's the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? When I conducted a highly informal survey based on this question, the most common answer I received was:
"My alarm is on my phone. Once I have my phone in my hand, I check texts, email, and Facebook."
The smartphone. I can't imagine that any other gadget in history has changed how we function, spend time, and relate to ourselves and others more than this device. But this isn't a diatribe against the smartphone; I love/hate my iPhone just as much as everyone else. It's an invitation to ask yourself how, if you do begin your day by reaching for your phone (or television, computer, radio), that action may affect your levels of equanimity or anxiety.
When we first wake up in the morning, we're in a highly vulnerable state. Fresh from the world of dreams and the unconscious, it always takes a few minutes for our psyche to plant fully back into our bodies. Some traditions teach that the soul travels between worlds when we sleep, and that the first words to break the silence each each morning should be, "Thank you for restoring my soul to me." This speaks to the fact that morning is a time when the portal between conscious and unconscious is thin, the veil lifted.
So what happens when we fill this soft, vulnerable time with the loud sounds of the electronic world? And I'm not talking only about literal sound. I'm referring to the soundless chatter that emanates from scrolling through Facebook and absorbing the images and words of other people's lives; the silent cry of news stories that scream the latest tragic headlines onto your screen; the boiling up of feeling that churns from reading a friend's response to the email you sent last night; the rise and fall of self-esteem as you learn about news from work.
What I've observed with my clients is that the way you begin your morning sets the tone for the rest of the day. If you start your day by externalizing your experience—as inevitably happens when you reach for a device—you're already sending yourself the message that the world outside of you is more important than the world inside.
It's as if you had a young child who wanted to snuggle and share her dreams in the morning but you were constantly pushing her aside so that you could read your phone. Would the child feel loved and appreciated or rejected and cast aside? That's what we do on the inner level: When we fail to give ourselves attention by spending a few quiet minutes attending to our inner world upon awakening, we send ourselves the message that everything else and everyone else is more important.
As an experiment, I invite you to begin your day in one of the following ways for the next week. (If your alarm is on your phone, turn it off, set it aside and resist the impulse to "check.") The work is to create a gap between the tender "being" realm of sleep and the fast-paced "doing" realm that defines most people's days.
1. Practice mindfulness.
Even five minutes of mindfulness practice can set a calmer tone for your day. Mindfulness helps you come into the present moment and ground yourself to the here and now (here I am in space; right now in time). Cultivating that pause each morning will help you anchor back into it if the busyness reaches a crescendo as your day progresses.
2. Write down your dreams.
While dream-tending is an art and a science that usually requires the guidance of a skilled therapist, even taking a few minutes to jot down last night's dream can help you honor the vulnerable space of morning and fill yourself with soulful energy instead of technology energy. You may not understand what your dreams are trying to communicate, but if you carry one dream image with you throughout the day and roll it around inside your mind, you'll be able to maintain a tether to Self that will serve you well.
Yoga is a mind/body practice that is meant to be done at home. The world has climbed aboard the yoga train with a frenzy, which is mostly positive, but we also transmit the message that you have to take a yoga class in a studio in order to learn and practice yoga legitimately. There are many excellent yoga videos that can safely teach you the basics, including one from MindBodyGreen! Once you learn basic poses, you can practice without a video if that feels more natural for you.
5. Open the window or step outside and let the light rush in.