Several years ago, some young people in our community were given the opportunity to interview legendary leaders in the field of nonviolence. One young man asked these accomplished leaders an intriguing question. He asked: What is the first thing you did this morning? Not what have you done in the world, or what do you know about nonviolence, but how did you start your day today? One of the leaders responded by sharing his affirmative prayer practice. He said that every day, including that one, he begins by setting a positive intention for the day ahead. He explained that the first thing he did that day was experience peace within. Then he consciously intended to radiate that peace to everyone he would encounter that day. Just like that—prayer sets possibility in motion. What is the first thing you did this morning?
Starting the day with prayer and meditation is one of the best habits we can adopt for a healthy, happy, more spiritually conscious life. Think of it as setting a divine direction for your thoughts, speech, and actions in the day ahead. Establishing a routine makes easy to do it every day. If we don’t waste time or energy trying to decide whether or not we will begin our day with prayer—musing about when, where, or how we will do it—we can use that energy more constructively to simply do it. Like anything else we do for self-care, repetition has a positive, cumulative effect. Morning prayer stabilizes and clarifies the mind and body by bringing our attention and awareness into the present moment. Instead of allowing our mind to race ahead into the day by thinking about what we have to do, or checking the television or computer to see what is going on in the outer world, we start the day by drawing upon our inner, divine resources. We bless the day ahead by making this conscious beginning—clearing our minds and attuning our consciousness to the higher true Self. We start the day in God, aware of our larger true life.
I like to include my body as well as my heart and mind in my morning prayer. The physical dimension of prayer can be accomplished in many simple ways such as lighting a candle, ringing a bell, bowing, or bringing both the hands to the heart center in the prayer mudra known as anjali. Attuning our consciousness to Spirit, focusing our attention in the present moment, opening our heart with devotion, and aligning the body with a prayerful action is a powerful way to begin each day.
If you meditate in the morning, then your time of meditation can naturally follow this prayer for beginning the day. If you meditate later in the day, you will have the benefit of having begun your day with prayer even though your more formal practice occurs later.
A small altar in the living room is my morning destination upon arising. I light a votive candle, chant my morning prayers aloud, and offer a lighted stick of incense. Offering my morning prayers and tending this altar in its central place in our home gives me the sense of blessing the day ahead, everyone I will meet and everything I will encounter, and it also uplifts our living space. Our home shares that blessing every day and whenever I pass that altar, I am gently reminded of the prayer.
While there are many different types of prayers, a prayer of attunement is useful for starting the day—one that lifts our awareness into the spiritual reality of our being and supports our direct experience of it. The following is an English version of an exquisite morning prayer written by the sage Adi Shankara:
At dawn, I remember and meditate on that which shines in the heart as the Self—the Truth of my being which is eternal existence, pure consciousness, and bliss. I contemplate that which is the goal of life, the transcendent reality. I remember my own nature as one with the One that makes all the states of consciousness—dreaming, waking, and sleeping—possible. I transcend them all.
At dawn, I bow to that divine light, the eternal being, the God divine, the light of the world that dispels the darkness of ignorance and fear and shows the serpent is only a rope.
One who offers this auspicious prayer at dawn becomes fit for liberation of consciousness, the ultimate freedom.
This is a beautiful prayer to contemplate. There are many prayers of attunement that can be used, even the simple prayers that arise from your own heart and mind in the moment. The best prayer to offer is the one that is most inspiring to you, the one that has you start your day with prayer.