Morning meditation is a great way to begin any day. How we begin our day will affect the rest of the day, so I like to start my day from a home base of peace, equanimity, and happiness.
Globally, these are difficult times—a pandemic, pandemic related loss and grief, long-haul COVID, the ongoing impacts of climate change. And many of us have our own personal losses and difficult times that may or may not be related to the global concerns. The brain has a negativity bias, so naturally, when we first wake up in the morning, it’s easy for it to go to what’s not right with us and what’s not right with the world. And there’s seemingly so much that is not right with the world. But there’s still a whole lot that is right with the world as well. We just have to redirect our attention to noticing it.
The brain and nervous system respond to perceived threats by activating the sympathetic nervous system, or fight or flight, to prepare us to fight or run in response to perceived danger. So when we first wake up revved up in fight or flight with a tense body and racing heart and mind , we can remind ourselves that there’s no imminent threat in this moment.
As soon as I wake up, I check in to notice the state of my body, heart, and mind. Almost always during the past year, within a few moments of waking, I feel my body tighten and my breathing become shallow. I take a deep breath, expanding my chest and belly with the inhale, and then release it slowly. After several rounds of deep breaths, I feel my body relax and soften again. I turn my attention to notice what is right or beautiful about me and the world—I reach for my hound puppy, Ari Rooh, feel her soft fur, and pull her close. I turn my attention to notice the sound of birds in the back yard and take a few moments to appreciate the beauty of their morning song. I gently stretch my body and take a moment to feel gratitude for physical and emotional health and wellbeing.
After I get out of bed, I make a cup of my favorite tea and take a seat on my back deck with Ari Rooh. I fill the cup with mealworms for the bluebirds and place some peanuts and sunflower seeds on the tray feeder. A male Eastern bluebird comes for the worms, and soon his mate and several juvenile Eastern bluebirds from their 2ndbrood of the season appear on the scene flashing their brilliant blue feathers. Seeing them causes a warm, tingling sensation in the center of my chest. I take a moment to feel gratitude for the daily exchange with the bluebirds—I offer them mealworms, they offer me a sense of beauty and joy. Our exchange has been a daily affair for the past four months through their mating season and raising two broods of little ones. Wherever there are birds, I am home.
“In order to see birds, it is necessary to become a part of the silence.”
-Robert Lynd, The Blue Lion and Other Essays
Whatever we rest our attention on grows. I make effort toward this daily practice of noticing and savoring beauty and joy, because I know that doing so cultivates a positive mental and emotional state to help me stay balanced amidst all of the suffering in the world. I do this practice not to escape the suffering but to encourage a calm body, open heart, and steady mind in the midst of it.
A red-bellied woodpecker appears on the scene. He holds onto the side of the wooden tray feeder with his feet, trills noisily, takes a peanut from the feeder, then flies back up to the pecan tree to eat it. A downy woodpecker lands on the suet feeder, chirping between each bite. A Carolina wren lands on the fence top just inches from my head. Both Ari Rooh and I remain still as she then flies to the feeder to eat some sunflower seeds. I hear American crows up the street in back of a neighbor’s house, and then several fish crows fly overhead, making a nasal “uh-uh” sound.
I notice again the warm and tingling sensation in the center of my chest. I feel my body, soft and relaxed. I feel my lips and checks turned slightly upward in a smile. I look over at Ari Rooh, and she looks back at me. We smile at each other. She takes a deep breath and lets out a sigh.
I turn my attention toward the breath. I notice the coming and going of the breath in and out of the body, the rise of the chest and belly with the inhale, and the fall of the chest and belly with the exhale. Using the breath as an anchor, I meditate for a few moments. When my mind wanders, as minds do, as soon as I become aware that it has wandered, I bring it back to the breath. I continue this practice for several moments. I then turn my attention to notice the state of my body—I notice that my body is relaxed and soft, that I still feel a warm tingly sensation around my heart and a sensation of wind against the skin on my face and arms. I turn my attention to the state of my heart—I notice that I feel emotions that include joy, love, awe, and gratitude in response to my connection with Ari Rooh and the birds. I turn my attention to the state of my mind—I notice that my mind is focused and steady. I take a deep breath, then let it go.
I finish my tea and go inside to get ready for my workday. I feel grateful to have created a home base of peace and positive emotions from which to start my day. I know that now that I have begun my day with a felt sense of peace and joy that I will have an easier time being aware of when I leave this state. I know that recalling this morning practice can reactivate a sense of peace and joy. And I know that dwelling on positive events allows them to become positive experiences, increases dopamine in the brain, and leads to a greater sense of peace and happiness.(Rick Hanson, The Neuroscience of Happiness, Greater Good Magazine) I practice this every day, because I know from experience that it is true.