1. Set your motivation
The first thing the monks do when they wake up is sit up slowly in their bed, cross their legs and spend 10 minutes meditating on their motivation. The traditional buddhist motivation is called “bodhicitta” and it is the wish that all sentient beings be free from suffering. The monks will spend the first part of their day reminding themselves of the vows they have taken to spend every action, word and thought helping other beings.
Setting your motivation like this is very powerful. Instead of jumping out of bed, smashing the alarm and walking out the door the monks settle down and bring compassion and love in to their mind. This sets and awesome tone to the day as it shifts your focus away from how crap you feel to how other people are feeling. It makes you feel more altruistic and as such you can free yourself from the bonds of your comfy bed!
Of course, if you aren’t in to compassion you can set your motivation elsewhere. You might want to spend the first 10 minutes of the day thinking about how you are going to achieve some lofty goal that you have set yourself. Or you might just spend the time clearing your mind and waking up for the day. Whatever you do, setting your motivation at the very outset of the day is extremely powerful.
2. Do your most important task first
The next thing that the monks do is their personal meditation practice. This personal practice was given to them by their most important teacher and is streamlined according to their own level of understanding, intelligence and capacity. Of all the study and practice that the monks do it is their personal practice that is the most important. And they always do it first.
Rain or shine, sickness or health, up or down… the monks will do their personal practice the first thing in the morning. This is a very wise thing to do. The monks realize the futility of life and know that if they put the important stuff off they will soon be old and sick and it will be too late. They do their personal practice first in the morning because by doing so they can be assured that they won’t miss it due to other worldy commitments.
We should also put our most important task first in the day. It might be playing with your kids or writing your dream novel. It might be going to the gym to work on your health. Whatever it is we should wake up with enough time to do this thing first so that we don’t get caught up in the activities of life and miss out.
3. Do some exercise
Many of the Tibetan monks will spend the early morning performing “buddhist exercise” called prostrations (pictured above). This is where they place their folded palms at their head, throat and heart to symbolize purifying body, speech and mind and then prostrate themselves flat on the floor. They do this hundreds or thousands of times!
Prostrations are like yoga. They are a great way to cleanse your internal energies, burn calories and help you focus. They do them in the morning because they wake you up and they also make you feel great. As we now know, exercise causes endorphines to be released into the blood and we are left feeling happier and more at peace. Starting the day with some exercise is a fantastic way to put yourself in to a good mood.
4. Drink some tea
If you take a look at the benefits of tea you will see that it really is a good idea to drink a cup or two first thing in the morning. Tea has many antioxidants in it which help your body find disease and infection. It also has caffiene which helps to wake you up and get you focussed. Traditional Tibetan Medicine also tells us that the hot water is a good way to remove some toxins from your body. No wonder the monks drink it!
5. Do your learning
If you are studying or learning a new skill the early morning is the best time to do it. The monks will usually do their personal practice and then have breakfast. After breakfast they will do recitation and memorization as they know that their mind’s are the freshest at the start of the day. This is a very good piece of information for university students and/or people who struggle to retain important information. Try learning it in the morning.
If you ever get the chance to spend some time with a group of buddhist monks I would highly recommend you do so. They are so full of love and energy and simply by being around them you will find your own good qualities multiplying and getting stronger. Starting your day in a productive and well-intentioned way is one simple thing that we can do in order to become better people ourselves.