The first moments of consciousness on waking follow a particular pattern. First of all, there’s a kind of innocent, open quality – this can be experienced when you’re staying away from home, and for a second or two you can’t think where you are. This is actually a great moment to tune in to our naturally ‘unformatted’ consciousness (but that’s advanced practice better suited to a retreat environment).
The second thing that happens, is that we remember who we are and all our problems. They can come flooding back in and we may pick up on internal conversations and fantasies from the night before.
The third thing that arises, within a second or less, is the emotional response to all that mental confusion. It can be overwhelming. So we need a powerful practice to counteract the negativity and stress that can result; and we need to deploy it really quickly.
So here is my formula:
1) Gratitude. Think of 3 things you are thankful for. It can be as simple as waking up safe and warm, with food in the fridge. Recognise how much we take for granted. For example, your body’s systems have kept you breathing without any conscious effort all night, and your blood’s pH level has been maintained to within one decimal point, all by itself – our bodies are miraculous.
2) Get perspective.Ask yourself this question: ‘Am I happy to be alive?’ So even if you have problems, or are suffering anxiety or depression, are you nevertheless happy to be alive to experience this as a conscious human being? The answer will probably be ‘yes’. I find that the question helps me realise that whatever difficulties are present, they are temporary and in a state of constant change, and that it’s all just ‘stuff’. The bigger picture is that I’m ok, I just have stuff to deal with. However, if your answer is ‘no’, get help – you’re probably suffering acute anxiety or depression and you may not have the resources to get out of it by yourself, and that’s ok too.
3) Get up and move. If you feel stuck mentally, the body feels it too. You can, however, reverse the whole thing by moving your body. Yoga, exercise, a brisk walk or a run, can be hugely effective, partly due to the well-documented dopamine release. If indoors open the window, but ideally get into nature or just the local park. Take in your environment with all your senses and make this sensory experience the focus of you attention.