There are many ways we try to set ourselves up for success. We try to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep and avoid stressful situations. When we get up in the morning we’re often taking a mental inventory of what we have to work with. We ask ourselves, “How do we feel?”, and then prepare for the day based on that.
The thing is, how we feel is not a good metric for deciding how our day is going to go. It’s something we have no control over. We try our best, after all, to provide all the right conditions for a good and energetic start to the day. But that’s all we’re doing in the end. The right food, sleep, exercise, clothing, morning routine – these are just supportive conditions. They are comforts that help support our state of mind, but they do not determine it.
Have you ever had a really hard night but received good news and the kindness of friends and ended up having a great day? Or vice versa – have you started the day with all the advantages you could ask for but one annoying interaction derailed your course entirely?
Our happiness is not determined by our past comforts, or our current comforts, or even the expectation of future comforts. It’s about perspective and the choices we make. So we can be set up to have an awful day but have the right outlook and make the right decisions, and the day can be a source of joy and inspiration.
It’s incredibly worthwhile to set up a morning practice routine, and to keep to it no matter how we feel. Just as important is knowing what it is for. Getting half an hour on a cushion before the start of a hectic day can be a supportive condition – it does tend to chill us out. Or it can be practice. What are we practicing? We’re practicing perspective and skillful choices.
When we don’t want to sit or want to check our phone, we remind ourselves of craving and the value of mindfulness. When we lament that we feel tired or crummy or anxious, we remind ourselves that these don’t have to prevent us from using our words and actions skillfully. When we listen to our mental talk we’re observing for the common themes, analyzing the source of aversive thoughts and questioning assumptions. When we think of our family and friends and colleagues, we generate kind thoughts that prepare us to interact with them skillfully. And all the while, we are mindful that we are sitting. We are not just preparing for today; we are practicing a path that will determine a more wholesome course for our entire lives.
This is what we are practicing because this is what goes beyond conditions. These are the responses we want to have not just in the morning but throughout the day. With practice comes skill, and with skill comes mastery. When we’ve mastered this practice and understood its basis, there is no set of conditions that can prevent us from having a good day. And if our happiness is no longer conditioned by external factors – would we ever choose to be miserable?