Until December I was naturally getting up around five, sometimes as early as four. Each morning the routine I already have consists of feeding the cats, having a cup of coffee, then chanting a series of mantras, before doing anything else. When I started working on this experiment by turning off the electronics at a fixed time, and the then lights, sure enough I started sleeping through the nights, even with the noise of the winter wind and the racket of the furnace vent cover. I also noted I was waking up with more energy and more alert, something the cats appreciated, as breakfast was served sooner. At first I must certainly have been making up for a sleep deficit as I was waking later than my former four to five, although not badly oversleeping. That started when I got sick. Gradually my waking time came back into line both with with my old routine and that of the schedule of the monks.
As might be expected the monk first task on rising was to attend more prayer. During Cadfael’s time, the high Middle Ages, Matins began about first light, about an hour before dawn. The office of Lauds, also known as the Office of Aurora, can be traced back to the early church writers such as St. Cyprian in the first centuries of the church. In the 5th and 6th century the Lauds were called Matutinum. Originally Matins and Lauds formed a single office, and the the monks prayed Matins during the night and said Lauds in the early dawn. The psalms were collected in books called psalters and Lauds derived its name from the three last psalms, Laudate psalms, in all of which the word laudate is repeated frequently. At first, “Lauds” designated only these three psalms. Little by little the title Lauds was applied to the whole office, and replaced the name of Matins which in turn was reserved to the night office and replaced the name Vigils. The Office of Lauds was meant to remind people the first act of the day should be prayer, and that the day is best faced by starting with thoughts should be of God. The laud means to praise and it was considered wise to begin with joyous thoughts, setting a good tone for the rest of the day.
Dawn begins with indication of light and continues until the sun breaks the horizon. This morning twilight is before actual sunrise and is divided into three categories depending on the amount of sunlight present in the sky. The categories are astronomical, nautical, and civil dawn. Astronomical dawn is often indistinguishable from night, especially in areas with light pollution. Astronomical dawn marks the beginning of astronomical twilight, which lasts until nautical dawn. Nautical dawn begins the period when there is enough illumination for sailors to distinguish the horizon at sea but the sky is too dark to perform work. Civil twilight begins when there is enough light for most objects to be distinguishable, so that some outdoor activities can commence. Formally, civil dawn occurs when the Sun is 6 degrees below the horizon in the morning.
The tranquil hours just before and at sunrise are considered favorable to contemplation and prayer and just just among monks or Christians. Islam is know for the requirement of prayer at five times each day and one of those times is early morning. The Fajr (dawn) prayer should be recited from the beginning of dawn and should be completed ten to fifteen minutes before sunrise. In Islam, it is astronomical dawn which is the time of the first prayer of the day, and the also the beginning of the daily fast during Ramadan. Among many Hindus the morning begins with a prayer of praise known as the Gayatri Mantra. Mantras are sacred sounds, words or phrases in Sanskrit. Mantra recitation is considered both a form of prayer and a help in meditation to induce an altered state of consciousness. Mantras often do not have a literal meaning but are subject to interpretation. Swami Vivekananda gives the Gayatri Mantra as “We meditate on the glory of that Being who has produced this universe; may He enlighten our minds.” Buddhists, both monks and nuns and lay people often rise early to begin the day with meditation and sutra recitation. Sutras in Buddhism are scriptures, many of which are regarded as records of the oral teachings of the Buddha.
The cats are early risers and are very useful in helping me rise before sunrise. In return, my first act of the day is to feed them. After that, however, is my time for reciting the five mantras I use each morning. This has been the case for many years now, it began long before my new experiment. It is usual very quiet, with very little traffic noise. I recite my mantras to the gentle sounds of cats crunching kibble and early rising birds calling in the darkness. Then I have some quiet time with the cats after they finish eating and plan my day with a calm mind. It makes things so much easier. I hope to add more to my morning routine but even at this time I am ahead of a lot of people who rise late, gulp down a coffee and start the day at a run.