Every morning when I wake up, I say the same thing, a verse from the Plum Village practices of Thich Nhat Hanh. The original verse goes like this:
Waking up this morning I smile, 24 brand new hours before me. I vow to live fully in each moment, and look at beings with eyes of compassion.
But I’ve adapted it a bit over time, so what I say is this:
Waking up this morning I know I have a brand new 24 hours ahead of me and I smile. I smile to life, I smile with every cell in my body.
I promise to life every moment deeply and mindfully, and look at others with eyes of compassion and love.
And saying this helps my day immensely! When I say the words ‘I smile’, I really smile. When I smile to life, I smile to life, and when I smile with every cell in my body, I really feel that I do.
Not many years ago I would wake up every day in a terrible state. Sometimes with a stabbing pain in my stomach, sometimes with terrible hypochondria. Nowadays, thanks to everything I write about here, those have gone, but I still wake up sometimes feeling all over the place after crazy wild dreams that I can’t for the life of me decipher.
And saying this verse helps a lot. It readjusts the start of the day with a whole-body smile. A recognition that there’s another day ahead, and that’s a wonderful thing. A Plum Village monk told me once that he had chagned this verse after the Japanese Tsunami disaster a few years ago, and that he had begun to say, ‘…24 brand new hours ahead of me, perhaps’… in recognition of the fragility of existence, that anything can happen at any time, that it’s worth enjoying and really living every moment.
The second part of my version of the verse is an aspiration. ‘I promise to life every moment deeply and mindfully, and look at others with eyes of compassion and love.’
I really do aspire to live every moment deeply and mindfully, in the here and now. Noticing all the wonderful details of life. Of course it’s impossible. My mind spends most of the day wandering, planning, looping around in circles, but increasingly I do stop and look. Focus on my son’s face, on what he or my wife are saying, on nature, people, life. I think staring out the day with this intention helps.
And looking at others ‘with eyes of compassion and love’… For me this is about seeing that we are all essentially the same. That we all come from the same starting block. I like the analogy of the seeds. That every single person contains good seeds, like love, kindess, generosity, and difficult seeds, like anger, hatred, jealousy, unkindness.
We all start with the same bunch of seeds, but some of them are watered more than others, depending on our upbringing, our families, our ancestors. If someone is cross with me, then I can’t really blame them for being a cross person, I can’t even hate dictators or terrible politicians or pickpockets… if I’d been born in the same cicumstances as them, and certain seeds had been watered more intensely in me, then that would be me.
And the very first person I have to be compassionate and loving towards is myself. I have all the same seeds of anger, jealousy, self-destruction, as anyone else. And slowly I have to make time to understand where they come from, and how not to water them, but to water the good seeds instead.
Thinking about these things every morning by reciting this verse, and really smiling with my whole body as I start the day, helps a lot. Sometimes it isn’t enough and I still put my foot in it before we’ve even sat down to breakfast. But in general, it makes a tremendous difference. It’s a really wonderful way to start the day.
Highly Recommended Further Reading:
Twenty Four Brand New Hours – from the book Peace is Every Step.
Please Call Me By My New Names – The text that really helped me understand compassion more deeply.