Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last!
What a task
of anything, or anyone,
yet it is ours,
and not by the century or the year, but by the hours.
– MARY OLIVER
auds is the hour when the first light comes to waken the day and the senses.
It is the hour of freshness – of dew on the grass, of the sun illuminating the hundred deep hues of freshly-opened flowers, the surprise of a dusting of white snow that came hidden in the night. There is an air of possibility – the very surface of possibility, out of which anything could happen, and we know not what. That unknowing can feel at times unsettling, yet it is cradled in the hands of morning, which, at its essence, is calm and quietly settled. Lauds is an invitation to steep ourselves in the calm serenity of daybreak, to bathe our senses in it, and to become the cradling hands that can hold whatever arises in our day. David Steindl-Rast speaks to this when he says, “Joy is that kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.”
The senses are our windows on the world. They are the gateways through which everything we experience is brought into our being. Just as we might take time to stretch and wake our body when we climb out of bed, waking our senses prepares us to see and experience the world with greater clarity and appreciation. It’s like washing our windows on the world. When a window is clouded by smudges and residue, it acts like a mirror – we end up seeing our own self reflected back; we are cut off from what is on the other side. By letting go of our own story line; our own wish for how we want things to be, we can open our eyes and truly see what is before us. Then we can act with greater clarity, care, and precision, from a larger perspective.
In my morning commute to the school in Vienna where I teach, I ride to the end of a tram line and transfer to a bus. Between the tram and the bus is a short walking path through a wooded area at the edge of the city. It might take only one minute to walk the path at a normal pace, but each day I take a full ten minutes to walk this path on my way to the bus. This has become my daily practice of Lauds. With each step, I place my feet upon the Earth with the intention of stepping into this day with awareness of the world that is unfolding around me. I open my senses with the intention to receive whatever comes into their awareness, and experience it with the freshness and crystal clarity of the dawn.
I have made this walk hundreds of times now, and it is never the same. There are familiar patterns that appear – the young brother and sister making their way to school with their father grudgingly following behind, the frantic pace of the woman in heels who smokes her cigarette, the rain-washed chalk menu board that hangs outside the shuttered wine tavern, announcing last weekend’s specials. But there is always something fresh and new that calls my attention: the pastel hues of sunrise behind the treetops, the call of a raven darting between the tree branches. It is not always beautiful: the cold wind and rain lashing at my skin on a winter’s day when I nearly gave in and darted for the refuge of the warm bus; a group of bright orange-suited workers clearing dead leaves from the path with a flurry of noise and commotion at the end of autumn.
As Steindl-Rast concludes: “Do we have eyes to open to the morning light? Do we have ears to listen to the sounds, and feet to walk, and lungs to breath? What gifts! Should we not be thankful and delight in them?” As I reach the end of the walking path and make my way to the bus, I see it as a threshold. I have awakened and bathed my senses and reconnected with the Earth. I am now ready to begin my day’s work.
- Build a mindful walk into your morning. Set aside a portion of your daily commute, when you can be connected with the Earth and your senses. Walk slowly, placing half of your attention on the movement in your feet with each step, and the other half in your senses – opening to whatever comes into your awareness.
- Keep electronic devices off or in airplane mode overnight until you have completed your morning practices.
- Awaken into your senses as your windows onto the world. Take a few moments to tune into each of your senses, one at a time – like moving from one window to the next – tuning into sounds; the feeling and temperature of air on the skin; any subtle taste on the palette; or scent in the air; the visual field of shapes, forms, and colors. Allow these sensory stimuli to wash over you, without getting caught up in them; notice their natural flow – experience them fully and then let them go… Use this 15-minute guided meditation if you like:
- 15-Minute Guided Practice: Awakening into our Senses
- Appreciate – Hold the experience of one thing in your awareness for an extended moment – a flower, a dew drop, a tree, the colors in the sky, an animal you encounter. Appreciate its sensory qualities. Appreciate its own place in time and in the world. Appreciate that your path has converged with it in this moment, and that your paths will diverge in the next. Appreciate the ripeness of that momentary convergence.
- Find a threshold– Establish a threshold in your daily commute, a place where you can mark a passage from these first hours of contemplative awakening to the start of your work or activity in the world.
- Which of your senses are you most sensitive to? Which is your predominant connection to others?
- What is your experience of your senses like when you are feeling “cut off”? What is your experience of them when you are feeling connected?
- Where and when do you feel most attuned to your senses?
- What practice or morning ritual might you incorporate into your day to awaken your senses, your “windows on the world”?
Snow Geese by Mary Oliver Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last! What a task to ask of anything, or anyone, yet it is ours, and not by the century or the year, but by the hours. One fall day I heard above me, and above the sting of the wind, a sound I did not know, and my look shot upward; it was a flock of snow geese, winging it faster than the ones we usually see, and, being the color of snow, catching the sun so they were, in part at least, golden. I held my breath as we do sometimes to stop time when something wonderful has touched us as with a match which is lit, and bright, but does not hurt in the common way, but delightfully, as if delight were the most serious thing you ever felt. The geese flew on. I have never seen them again. Maybe I will, someday, somewhere. Maybe I won't. It doesn't matter. What matters is that, when I saw them, I saw them as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.
Capture the texture and quality of experience you find as you awaken your senses in the first light of dawn. Use whatever medium of expression resonates with you: drawing, watercolor, photography, poetry, music.
- Select a natural object you encounter during your mindful walk or practice of awakening the senses, investigate it with all of the senses. Get to know its details, shapes, forms, and patterns by drawing it. Or work abstractly to capture its essential qualities and way of being.
- Record in photographs or words, images that arose in scanning the field of your awareness this morning.
If you would like, share your work with firstname.lastname@example.org, to be compiled on this page at a later date.
Share your own experiences, observations, or insights in the comment section below. Remember to follow these two guidelines:
- Speak from your own lived experience.
- Situate any outside references (religious, spiritual, literary, etc.) within your lived experience (i.e. what experience of your own made those ideas or words of others ring true in your life)