My morning prayer
This is my morning prayer. It’s crazy and idiosyncratic. It’s a bit lengthy to describe and it’s unique to me but I hope it serves as a model for developing your own.
My motivation for having a morning prayer is to remember. When I wake in the morning, I have dreams hanging over me like spiderwebs. I almost never remember what is most important unless I deliberately do so. It is only by focusing and repeating what I’ve learned to be true over time that I can hold onto it during the day. For example, when I wake up I don’t remember that there is such a thing as the universe or that I’m living in but a fraction of total geologic time. It’s not until I actually reflect on these facts during my morning prayer that I remember. The prayer grounds me in samsara.
I try to recite the prayer most mornings. I think it’s most similar to what I understand as the Indian puja but a much more Californian version.
The prayer is a bit Christian, very Buddhist, and has numerous odds and ends that are more practical reminders about how to get stuff done. It also ends with some memory palaces which are a pet obsession and useful in remembering such a long prayer. From beginning to end, it takes me five minutes to think through and I usually do it at at the end of a meditation session.
There’s a lot going on here but hopefully someone finds it useful. As always, take whatever you like and leave the rest.
I start my morning prayer with a “good beginning” — a small invocation to start the practice pulled from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.
“By the power and truth of this practice,
May all sentient beings find happiness and the causes of happiness;
May they all be free from suffering and the causes of suffering;
May they all find the great happiness devoid of suffering and
May they all dwell in equanimity without attachment or aversion.”
Service: The Prayer of Saint Francis
I then continue with a slightly altered version of the prayer of Saint Francis. I first saw this framed in the house of the Mexican architect, Luis Barragán, and it stayed with me —it’s a prayer of service to a higher power:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
Lord, grant me the strength that I may first seek to console rather than be consoled; to understand before being understood and to love before being loved;
For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned and it is in dying that we are born to everlasting life.
I then run through how large and how small everything is to remind myself that everything is an illusion. This triggers a chain of other thoughts and memories that are deeply grounding (reminiscent of Bill Bryson’s A short history of nearly everything and Buddhism)
“All things are made out of atoms, therefore everything is illusory and empty;
The Universe is infinite, therefore don’t take yourself so seriously and realize how little you are and yet how much power you really have
For these lines, I imagine something similar to the Powers of Ten video: think of yourself in this house, this city, this state, this country, this world, this solar system, this galaxy, this universe and then step back down all the way into atoms and quarks.
Time flows billions of years into the past and into the future; this is just one moment in time and remember that you can only be happy in the present
For this line I run through the geologic time periods and the large extinctions (e.g., end-Ordovician, end-Permian; pulling from the The Sixth Extinction) and remember that most of what I think of meaningful history is just a few thousand years among billions.
Remember that your senses are flawed and you should rely on reason
For this line I remember Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow which reminds me that most of our thinking is biased and it’s only through deliberate effort that we can avoid this.
Say yes but also be focused
For this line I remember the power of Improv and how alive it feels it be open to possibility.
Minimize alcohol, sugars, caffeine, dairy
Strive to exercise and meditate daily
Quick summary of the habits that make me happy and a reminder of the Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
I then move through a series of memory palaces which I have created for various books that I find helpful in structuring my days. This part is more pragmatic.
The first memory palace runs through the book Willpower by Roy Baumeister. I’ve encoded the main points for each chapter in a certain house with different reminder-images sprinkled in various rooms. While most of this is indecipherable if you haven’t read the book, below are the main points and rooms I use in the interest of showing you how you could do something similar.
- Thoughts, emotions, impulses and performance all require willpower; remember that food is the source and to eat regularly throughout the day
- Remember to not have too many goals but to mix long- and short-term
- Remember the Zeigarnik effect: there is power to having an achievable list of objectives and to want to complete things
- Remember to write everything down (GTD) to minimize mental load
- Remember that at night you will be cognitively drained (no willpower) — try to make large decisions in the mornings
- Remember to continuously make willpower decision daily — it’s a marathon, not a sprint (Trollope)
- Remember to sit up straight as this reinforces willpower (David Blaine)
- Remember God, your family, your friends and how lucky you are to have them in your life
- “Self-discipline and self-respect” as mottos
- Remember to be organized as this strengthens and extends willpower (KonMari is the tool)
Room 4: To achieve goals you need to:
- Have them clearly laid out
- Use stories
- Use peer pressure
- Beware of hyperbolic discounting
- Establish bright-line rules
Room 5: To stop procrastinating use the postponed-pleasure ploy and the nothingness tactic
Room 6: Satisficing (remembering the book Paradox of Choice) — relentless optimizing leads to unhappiness while satisficing does not.
Creativity: How to Fly a Horse
I then proceed through a palace I built for Kevin Ashton’s How to Fly a Horse which debunks creativity myths. This one is more straightforward since it’s one image per chapter with a main story for each (see this post for details).
The Major System
To help me through memorization exercises throughout the day, I then move to my final palaces which are for the “Major System” which is a way of encoding the numbers 00–99 for use in memory palaces. I’ve stored these in multiple locations so I run through the palaces quickly to keep them fresh.
Pranayama & Mantra
Finally, if I have time I will do 5 minutes of pranayama from “We’re all doing Time” and invoke this mantra:
OM AH HUM VAJRA GURU PADMA SIDDHI HUM
And that’s it. I recognize that it’s eccentric but I find it helps ground me each day as a reminder of the many things I’ve discovered to be valuable in my life. Each morning after I finish I’ve remembered my place in the universe, my home, my family and useful tools for being a better person and it only takes 5 minutes.
If this resonates with you, I’d encourage you to make your own.
Note 29/100 for my #100DayProject
Picture by @gascasf