Nick Keomahavong, a Theravada Buddhist monk, speaks about seeking stillness within the mind to power one's day.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on April 4, 2022. It has since been updated.
A good start to the day can do wonders for a person. In these chaotic times, a little bit of calm can help you find the right rhythm to carry you through the day and achieve a healthy work-life balance. Setting a morning routine helps you take control of your day, but the goal shouldn't be to just increase productivity, as is the case with most people. The idea of starting your day on the right footing is to find inner peace and live an authentic life. In a video, Nick Keomahavong, a Theravada Buddhist monk in Thailand since 2018 and before that, a practicing psychotherapist, shares the morning routine of Buddhist monks within the monastery and explains how it can help improve our daily lives.
"For monks, we've been doing this for the last 2,600 years, and for us, it's not trendy, it really is just a lifestyle that we use to train ourselves and it's been going on for centuries," said Keomahavong. "Buddhist monks wake up early around 4-4.30 to get a head start and then before we even get out of bed, one thing we do is just keep the eyes closed. No rush. Take the time to breathe. Your mind is already still from the night's sleep, so take advantage of that, and lay in your bed. Close your eyes and breathe. We're not thinking about what we're gonna do today. We're not thinking of making plans."
Keomahavong believes these five key routines can help make your mornings better:
Keomahavong says making your bed says a lot about you and it definitely affects your life. "Don't make your bed just to make the bed but use it as training," he said. "For monks in the monastery, we only have three items—a blue mat, my robe as my blanket and then another set of robes as my pillow. When we wake up just having that three items. I still use it as training to purify my mind and get everything organized to do it in a mindful way."
Keomahavong says making your bed slowly and consciously prepares you for the day. "It seems very insignificant but again this insignificant thing, this very small thing is what allows the big things to happen. It gives you a win in the morning—you kept your space clean," he said.
Chanting and meditation are routines Buddhist monks do without fail every single day. Keomahavong believes it's a very important morning routine and it helps take full advantage of a space where our mind has not interacted with the outside world yet. It's more calm and still. "Slowly when you start chanting and then you get into the rhythm, it slows your mind down even more and then after that, then we go into meditation, and meditation for us is so key because all the dirt, all the emotions, all the heaviness, all the thoughts and the stories we just allow it to settle down and this is the grounding process," he said.
"This meditation cultivates this new energy. This is pure energy. When you're starting, you may be tired because it's early but by the time you're finished, it's like the gas in the car. Now, you're not on empty, you have this new energy," he said. Keomahavong believes stillness is the key to success and there's no better way to do that than by grounding yourself. "Slow down, get as clear as possible," he said.
"We practice generosity by giving an opportunity for the lay people to do alms offering," he said. Keomahavong said it doesn't matter if it's hot, rainy, cloudy, or wet, monks are out there every single day. "I know it may be strange from the Westerners' point of view. The idea behind that is for us is going out is to give the laypeople an opportunity to train themselves. They prepare the food and offer the best that they have and by doing this act of giving to the monks, they actually release themselves of greed and this is one way they get to purify their minds," he said. Keomahavong added that it also reflects the beautiful symbiotic relationship of the monastery with the community.
In the monastery, the daily chores are called "Rabbun." There are two types of chores—individual chores and group chores. "So we clean our rooms, we clean living areas next to our room, we set up for breakfast but different things that we can take care of ourselves," he said. "The second type of chore that we do is the group chore and that's typically in the afternoon." Keomahavong says it's important to do chores in the morning because it helps the person stay present at the moment. "We just pay attention to the tasks at hand. It connects our hands back to the earth. This chore, in addition to the other morning routines, helps us to cultivate mindfulness practice," he said.
The best way to prepare for the morning is to start the day before. "Do not have such a heavy dinner because many people will have dinner as the biggest meal and when we're sleeping, we don't get that quality rest because the body is digesting and it's working overtime," he said. "When the body is supposed to be resting and recharging, it's actually spending that energy to digest the food that you just ate." Keomahavong stresses that routines shouldn't be practiced just to increase productivity. In order to cultivate wisdom, your mind needs to be bright, stable, clear and neutral. "The purpose of a morning routine is to utilize the time to get your mind to be very still," said Keomahavong.
You can watch his full video here: