The First Moments Before Dawn
igils is the first hour of the monastic day, when the monks rise in darkness to break the long silence of night with the sound of chant. This is the night watch at the gate between darkness and light, night and day, silence and sound. As our day emerges from darkness and slumber, we acknowledge that our lives also emerge out of a vast universe, visible to us in the night sky above. We are humbled, even at times fear-struck, by the sheer power and magnitude of nature. Yet, we realize that we are not separate from it; that our bodies are composed of many of the same elements as that distant star or towering mountain peak.
In the darkness and silence of night, we encounter our doubts and fears. If we face them openly; if we look and listen more deeply, we find the darkness also holds their counterparts: trust and confidence. We learn in time to hold contradictions: we are utterly eclipsed by the power and magnitude of nature, and yet we are completely at home within it. This deeper sense of being and belonging unflinchingly within the larger cloth of the universe is our natural state. It is what we often lose sight of when we get caught up in the struggles of daily life. And so, Vigils is the hour of setting an intention – through even a few minutes’ pause, reflection, or meditation: May I not get lost down the rabbit hole of the practical demands of this day; may I hold this larger perspective when the going gets tough. Indeed, a practice of the hours is an invitation to weave points of intersection throughout our day, where our more limitless, larger sense of being and perspective can break through the ruffled surface of our busy lives.
Vigils for me is intertwined with the morning routines of preparing my mind and body for the day: the dark hallway walk to the bathroom to wash my face and shave; the soft light that glows above the bathroom mirror. The sounds and movements that break the silence and stillness of my night are not Gregorian chant, but they are every bit as sacred when graced with my intention: the percolating coffee pot, the knife spreading butter across a piece of toast, the textural dance of the toothbrush across my teeth. As I rise from a brief period of meditation and make my way out the door, I remember that just as my life arises out of this vast universe, out of the night arises this new day. I cannot know if it might be my last; and so, may I remember what matters; may my words and actions be worthy of my truest intentions; may I hold this larger perspective throughout whatever this day presents.
- Build a moment of pause into your morning, before the day begins. Find a way to just be, before words, concepts, plans, or daily demands enter the picture.
- Keep electronic devices off or in airplane mode overnight until you have completed your morning practices.
- Feel the texture of this early hour of the day. Go outside if you can: Stand, feel your feet on the earth, look up at the sky, feel the temperature of the air, notice the quality of the light.
- Awaken into your body as your home – tune into your breath and move your awareness into each part of your body for a moment, just to see what is there today, like switching on a light in each room of your house.
- Bring attention into the simple activities of morning routines – practice being fully with them. Enjoy them.
- Where and when have you experienced a sense of being “at home” in nature and the universe?
- What textures or qualities of this hour of the day do you notice and feel? How does this hour lend itself to feeling connected to a larger universe and sensing a larger perspective?
- What practices or routines are (or might become) your practice of Vigils? How might they help you to begin your day connecting with a larger perspective?
What to Remember When Waking (Excerpt) David Whyte In the first hardly noticed moment in which you wake, coming back to this life from the other more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world where everything began, there is a small opening into the day which closes the moment you begin your plans. What you can plan is too small for you to live. What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough for the vitality hidden in your sleep. To become human is to become visible while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others. To remember the other world in this world is to live in your true inheritance.
Capture the texture and quality of experience you find in the first moments of the early morning. Use whatever medium of expression resonates with you: drawing, watercolor, photography, poetry, music. If you would like, share your work with email@example.com, 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)
2 thoughts on “Vigils”
Although I have not been doing this routine at pre-dawn I love waking before my partner, putting on the kettle for a cuppa tea. I go outside and check the temperature as to what layers to put on. I pour my tea and put on my clothing layers and patter outside in my slippers and sit to smell the morning. No devices looked at, I just sit and listen to the birds and smell the morning for as long as I can sit comfortably(some mornings are in the minuses of course)!
Welcoming the day, honouring the wakening at this time feels so precious and privileged. It’s difficult to remember this subtle moment – and so to make the effort the night before so that I may be awake to live through it! Keeping ‘vigil’ in and to this moment feels so precious and honourable. Hopeful and joyful and tinged with poignancy and strength. To hear the windy leaves & the birds, to feel touch of air and strong earth – reminds me we are already home in this very moment. Thoughts melt away, they have no place or purchase here. Thank you for inviting us to notice and reflect on this precious moment of the day. This is my simple vigil.