TLDR: With wisdom, we wake up to achieve our human potential. With mindfulness and metta, we rest our minds. Gathering the Buddha’s teachings, I reflect on waking and sleeping better.
Time flies. Days and nights passing away. How are we spending our time?
I pull overtime at my job almost daily. Time passes in a blur as if I were on a roller coaster ride. Exhaustion and sleep punctuate work; work thoughts disrupt my sleep.
Waking up, pangs of dread overwhelm the heart — the daily existence is a grind.
Despite the grind, an awareness that ‘Life can be better,’ nags on. The heart is eager for nourishment.
Two Important Moments Of The Day
If waking up and sleeping point to the start and the end of a day, they become two important moments. A question then surfaces, “What is a skillful way to sleep and to wake?”
What does the Buddha and the Sangha (the community of monastics) recommend? Tucking this question in mind, I sought for answers.
In a weekly morning podcast by Dhammagiri Forest Hermitage, I posed the question to my teacher Venerable Ajahn Dhammasiha. He is a German monk residing in Brisbane, Australia. His answer is simple:
“The Buddha teaches us to be mindful all the way to the moment we sleep.“
Lying down mindfully (on our right), we direct our minds to the time we wish to wake up the next morning. Intend to wake up by then. Thereafter, focus the mind on a suitable meditation object, such as loving-kindness (metta or thoughts of goodwill). Thinking:
‘May all beings be well and happy. May I be well and happy. May everyone be free from suffering. May all be safe and at ease…’
Meditating as such uplifts the mind to a wholesome state. The Buddha also highlights that practising metta will ward off bad dreams.
At the first moment of waking up, we develop metta within our hearts. We then radiate warmth and kindness in all directions.”
The Resolution to be Kind
Here, I recall a teaching from Venerable Ajahn Anan. Ajahn Anan is a Thai Forest Tradition master and the abbot of Thai Monastery Wat Marp Jan. He reminds us of the following:
“Waking up, be determined to not give in to anger and ill-will. Be resolute to be kind and compassionate to others because all beings are suffering.
Making this determination doesn’t mean that the mind will not experience anger or ill-will later in the day. We need to train our minds to let go:
‘What is the point of being angry when I am going to die? What’s the point of fear? We are all going to die- death is the culmination of our lives. It is inevitable that we will die.’ Knowing this, anger is a waste of our precious time.”
Fighting against the Sweet Nectar of Snooze
For some night-owl like me, waking up does not often translate to getting out of bed immediately. Zzzng zzng. Snooze. Just one more minute. Zzng zzng zzng. Snooze, repeat. Sounds familiar? All that snoozing conditions the mind for more sloth and laziness at our first opportunity for exertion.
There is simply too much inertia to overcome in the morning. This is evident if the day did not bring anything promising to look forward to. What can we do?
Venerable Ajahn Dhammasiha suggests automatic lighting that switches on with chanting, instead of a regular alarm. Now, that is creative. I wish my home had smart lighting. For those who use analog light switches, the next best option is to set your alarm tone with a recording of the Pali morning chant and spring up for the lights upon “Arahaṁ sammāsambuddho bhagavā…”
Is this challenge possible? What makes me so sure a perpetual snoozer would jump up at that?
Contemplating Hell to Roast Us Back to Reality
For monks in the Thai Forest Tradition, they sleep less and wake up earlier than most of us in the wee hours of the morning. How do they do that?
Venerable Ajahn Chah, the teacher of both Venerable Ajahn Anan and Venerable Ajahn Dhammasiha, had a curious way of training his disciples to wake up on time as the abbot of Wat Pah Pong, a Thai Forest monastery. I paraphrase Venerable Ajahn Chah’s exhortation as follows:
“When you are awake, think, ‘Should I return to sleep, may I drop to hell when I die.’ Really believe in this and you dare not return to bed.”
A fellow practitioner I know uses this method with much success for his morning spiritual routine. For those who are not ready to believe in hell’s existence or who prefer a gentler but no less serious reminder, contemplate death:
“Life is uncertain. Death is certain. I am grateful for being alive today. Death can come at any time. May I make use of what limited time I have as a human being. May I exert energy for the benefit of myself and others.”
Having tried these contemplations personally, the mind may still not be fully awake to gain physical momentum to get out of bed. During these trying moments, we must rely on our sheer willpower to pull away the covers:
Change the posture to sit up. Plant both feets to the ground. Stand. Head for the lights. Then, step out of the door.
The struggle is worth it. A day of opportunity awaits.
What is the Reward?
The still silence of the morning permeates our hearts as we go about our routine. For many practitioners, they allow themselves to soak up the joy and peace arising from the morning chanting and meditation (more on chanting in another article).
To rise early with a clear mind demands the discipline to sleep early. Hence, we cannot be greedy with screen time on our electronic devices.
To borrow the following wisdom from our Christian friends:
“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens” – Ecclesiastes 3
There is a time for us to rest; a time to wake.
With wisdom, we wake up to achieve our human potential. With mindfulness and metta, we rest our minds. Wishing all beings wakeful and restful moments, always.
- Start your morning with feelings of metta, or goodwill, to all beings around you!
- Know what can move you out of laziness in bed? Contemplating hell? Or contemplating Death?
- Instead of simply battling to rise out of bed, explore what also encourages you to sleep early! (E.g. Locking your electronics away at 1130pm to reduce blue light exposure)