When I wake up in the morning, my mind is usually very groggy and dull and this makes it a good challenge to think of the Dharma. I try to say to myself “How lucky you are to be alive and you didn’t die during the night. Better use this day well!,” Usually I have a hard time taking it for real. However, I know for a fact that it is actually true because a few years ago one of my best friends died of a stroke in the middle of the night. When his wife got up in the morning she thought he was still sleeping. She didn’t discover he had died until later in the morning when she came back to check up on him. He was only about 50 years old when he died so unexpectedly. It shows it can really happen to any of us!
It is said in the teachings that there is nothing better than the thought of death and impermanence, to wake our mind up. For example, in The Words of my Perfect Teacher, one of my favorite books, Patrul Rinpoche quotes this saying by the Buddha:
“Of all the footprints, the elephant’s are outstanding; just so, of all subjects of meditation for a follower of a Buddha, the idea of impermanence is unsurpassed (p. 56)
One of my teachers once explained that just as the elephant leaves the biggest footprint in the forest, reflection on death and impermanence has the most powerful impact on the mind in the sense that has the power to change and transform my mind. I often feel I need this kind of impact. When I get too entangled in the preoccupations of this life, it helps me to remind myself that when I die I will need to leave everything behind when I die and that only thing that will effect my future existence is my karma: all the habits, conditioning, and past action that are latent in my mind.
There is more advice in The Words of my Perfect Teacher that I find helpful for reflection when I wake up in the morning:
“When you rise ask yourself whether you might die sometime during the day, and reflect that there is no certainty at all that you are going to bed in the evening.” (p.54-55)
“When you wake up in the morning, do not suddenly jump out of bed like a cow or sheep from its pen. While you are still in bed, relax your mind; turn within and examine it carefully. If you have done anything negative during the night in your dreams, regret it and confess. On the other hand if you have done something positive, be glad and dedicate the merit to the benefit of all beings. Arouse Bodhicitta, thinking, ‘Today I will do whatever positive, good actions I can and do my best to avoid doing anything negative or evil, so that all infinite beings may attain perfect Buddhahood.’ ” (p. 130)
By the way, if you are like me and often remember a saying but have a hard time finding it in the book when you want to go back to the exact quote, the google book search can be a great help. There is only a limited preview of The Words of my Perfect Teacher in google but it will even show page numbers for search results on restricted pages so you can look these up in your own copy.