Even though he had no job to go to, no children to feed and get off to school, no external reasons to get up early, it was Thoreau's custom, for the time he lived at Walden, to wake early in the morning and bathe in the pond at dawn. He did it for inner reasons, as a spiritual discipline in itself: "It was a religious exercise, and one of the best things I did."
Benjamin Franklin also extolled the virtues of health, wealth and wisdom obtained from waking up early in his well-known adage on the subject. But he didn't mouth it; he practiced too.
The virtues of getting up early have nothing to do with cramming more hours of busyness and industry into one's day. Just the opposite. They stem from the stillness and solitude of the hour, and the potential to use that time to expand consciousness, to contemplate, to make time for being, for purposefully not doing any thing. The peacefulness, the darkness, the dawn, the stillness - all contribute to making early morning a special time for mindfulness practice.
Waking early has the added value of giving you a very real head start on the day. If you can begin your day with a firm foundation in mindfulness and inner peacefulness, then when you do have to get going and start doing, it is much more likely that the doing will flow out of your being. You are more likely to carry a robust mindfulness, an inner calmness and balance of mind with you throughout the day, than had you just jumped out of bed and started it on the call of demands and responsibilities, however pressing and important.
The power of waking up early in the morning is so great that it can have a profound effect on a person's life, even without formal mindfulness practice. Just witnessing the dawn each day is a wake-up call in itself.
But I find early morning a wondrous time for formal meditation. No one else is up. The worldï¿½s rush hasn't launched itself yet. I get out of bed and usually devote about an hour to being without doing anything. After twenty-eight years, it hasn't lost its allure. On occasion it is difficult to wake up and either my mind or my body resists. But part of the value is in doing it anyway, even if I don't feel like it.
One of the principal virtues of a daily discipline is an acquired transparency toward the appeals of transitory mood states. A commitment to getting up early to meditate becomes independent of wanting or not wanting to do so on any particular morning. The practice calls us to a higher standard - that of remembering the importance of wakefulness and the ease with which we can slip into a pattern of automatic living which lacks awareness and sensitivity. Just waking up early to practice non-doing is itself a tempering process. It generates enough heat to rearrange our atoms, gives us a new and stronger crystal lattice of mind and body, a lattice that keeps us honest and reminds us that there is far more to life than getting things done.
Discipline provides constancy, which is independent of what kind of a day you had yesterday and what kind of a day you anticipate today. I especially try to make time for formal practice, if just for a few minutes, on days when momentous events happen, happy or distressing, when my mind and the circumstances are in turmoil, when there is lots to be done and feelings are running strong. In this way, I am less likely to miss the inner meaning of such moments, and I might even navigate through a bit better.