I go to bed early and get up early. At home, my boys wake at 6:30. I get up at 4:30 to have a couple of hours for meditation, spiritual reading, journaling, and then looking at the NY Times and email. So, if there’s no evening event for me, I usually am in bed at around 8:30 or 9:00. This is great for the spiritual life, less great for the social life. But we have to make choices!
The first night here, when I got into bed, it was clear that 8:30 is not bedtime in India. But as I lay, drifting in and out of consciousness, the breeze from the ceiling fan soft and cooling my body, I loved hearing the sounds coming in the open windows. As dusk deepened, someone was splashing water on the pavement. A young girl was talking with great enthusiasm.
Wonderful smells from outdoor cooking. You’d think I could not fall asleep with all the commotion, but it is all somehow comforting, soothing.
I’m wakened by an early bird in the pre-dawn dark. I make tea and return to my room for meditation. Before long I hear the distant voice of a man singing a mantra or spiritual chant. I cannot quite make out, but mostly likely it’s the Gayatri Mantra, or Hymn to the Sun, from the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of Indian.
I love the mornings. I love the darkness before dawn, the quiet, when the world is sill asleep and the promise of a new day is beginning. Early enough that the pressures and demands and anxieties of daily life have not yet intruded upon an open, peaceful consciousness. If only I could make this feeling last throughout the day!
Here’s what my first spiritual teacher, Henry David Thoreau, said about morning in one of the best paragraphs in his book Walden. It’s a bit long, but worth reading every word. Note that he, too, quotes the Vedas:
“Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself. I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks. I got up early and bathed in the pond; that was a religious exercise, and one of the best things which I did. They say that characters were engraven on the bathing tub of King Tching Thang to this effect: “Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again.” I can understand that. Morning brings back the heroic ages. I was as much affected by the faint hum of a mosquito making its invisible and unimaginable tour through my apartment at earliest dawn, when I was sitting with door and windows open, as I could be by any trumpet that ever sang of fame. It was Homer’s requiem; itself an Iliad and Odyssey in the air, singing its own wrath and wanderings. There was something cosmical about it; a standing advertisement, till forbidden, of the everlasting vigor and fertility of the world. The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour.
Then there is least somnolence in us; and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night. Little is to be expected of that day, if it can be called a day, to which we are not awakened by our Genius, but by the mechanical nudgings of some servitor, are not awakened by our own newly acquired force and aspirations from within, accompanied by the undulations of celestial music, instead of factory bells, and a fragrance filling the air — to a higher life than we fell asleep from; and thus the darkness bear its fruit, and prove itself to be good, no less than the light. That man who does not believe that each day contains an earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour than he has yet profaned, has despaired of life, and is pursuing a descending and darkening way. After a partial cessation of his sensuous life, the soul of man, or its organs rather, are reinvigorated each day, and his Genius tries again what noble life it can make. All memorable events, I should say, transpire in morning time and in a morning atmosphere.The Vedas say, “All intelligences awake with the morning.” Poetry and art, and the fairest and most memorable of the actions of men, date from such an hour. All poets and heroes, like Memnon,are the children of Aurora, and emit their music at sunrise. To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning. It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep. Why is it that men give so poor an account of their day if they have not been slumbering? They are not such poor calculators. If they had not been overcome with drowsiness, they would have performed something. The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?”