Last summer I was reading a book of poetry by the 13th century Sufi mystic Rumi when I came across this verse:
“What nine months of attention does for an embryo
forty early mornings will do
for your gradually growing wholeness.”
As someone who is constantly seeking to grow emotionally and spiritually, I resonated with Rumi’s words. The rest of his poem talked about how we must proceed with growth slowly and have patience with “small details.”
In that moment I knew that I had received guidance for the next spiritual practice I was to pursue. I would spend “forty early mornings” watching the sun come up each day in order to nurture my own growth, like an embryo in the womb.
For the next forty days I rose before the sun and found a place to sit outside where I would be able to see the “ball of fire” as it appeared on the horizon. I meditated while I waited for the arrival of the sun and then wrote a few notes in my journal about the inspiration that filled me during the process.
I immediately became aware of the power of the sun, particularly in the early morning against the backdrop of the fading night. The contrast between dark and light was a reminder of the cycle of life and death on this planet and that new life always follows the darkness of death. In addition the intense heat of the sun’s rays was especially noticeable in the cool air of the morning. By the time my forty-day experiment was completed I felt like a new person in several key aspects of my being. Here are some of the lessons I learned:
Maintaining a spiritual practice is challenging but powerful
It takes discipline to awaken from deep sleep and get out of bed every morning but the rewards of the practice are great. As physical beings we function well with routines and daily rhythms and in fact the entire Universe flows in just such predictable patterns and waves. Once I established a routine my body and mind began to cooperate so that arising early and preparing for meditation became much easier.
Simple is best
At times in the past I have tried to follow rather elaborate daily rituals with exercise, yoga, meditation, prayer, tea, journaling, reading, and candle-lighting all included in the process. But it was too time-consuming to become a reliable daily routine and I was not able to be as consistent as I wanted. The early morning sunrise practice consisted of just that—watching the sun come up and then writing 1 or 2 sentences in my journal. The simplicity of it helped me be consistent and I eventually found it to be just as profound and inspirational as every other practice I have tried.
Sunlight has a powerful effect on the human body
I’ve read articles recently that show how sunlight activates the pineal gland, which is responsible for producing melatonin, the “sleep hormone,” at night. The sunlight helps set the body’s circadian rhythm, which coordinates endocrine and neural pathways. This exposure to natural sunlight early in the day seemed to help my body settle into its natural rhythm and I felt the benefits throughout the day, including improved sleep at night.
Embracing the darkness is essential
Starting each day in relative darkness showed me how much I tend to avoid “the shadowy” parts of life in my preference for “light and love.” But over the forty days I became very comfortable with the darkness and recognized the profound calmness that I experienced when shapes were soft around the edges and features were dim. There was comfort for me when light was lacking and I grew to love those quiet moments before the sun became visible. The darkness is rich with creativity and possibility—when we embrace it and make space for it in our daily lives we can deepen our growth and substance.
The light illuminates what we fear to see
The gradual rising of the sun brings with it excitement and anticipation but removes the ability to hide in the darkness. In the light of the morning sun I could suddenly see with honesty the painful truths I had been covering up and avoiding in my life. I wrote “The light reveals my own Shadow so I can finally embrace it with love.”
The sun’s light is “love made visible”
Each morning as I stood within the rays of light that were pouring down from the sun at the start of a brand new day, I felt love entering me and filling me completely. While the light showed me my Shadow issues, it also filled me with the love I needed in order to address them. Then for the rest of the day I continued to glow and shine with the “love energy” I had received in the morning.
Rumi was correct in his poem that the most profound growth can unfold in such a subtle way that we may not recognize it is taking place. At the beginning of my new practice I wasn’t sure it was making a difference. But in looking back now I can see that my forty early mornings brought me to deeper awareness of the love that constantly surrounds me and helped me show that love to others through my presence, rather than just tell them about it.
By starting my day with this powerful exercise of connecting with the sun’s early morning light and allowing it to illuminate every dark space, I could became a beacon of light for the rest of that day. I could shine for others and show them their own beauty and worthiness. Now that’s a spiritual practice I will continue to follow!
About the Author:
Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician who writes extensively on spirituality and medicine, especially at the end-of-life. She is the author of “The Tao of Death” and the award-winning book “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying” Sign up for her online interview series End-of-Life University or connect with her at karenwyattmd.com, on Facebook at fb.com/WhatReallyMattersWithKarenWyatt and on Twitter @spiritualmd