It might be possible to live a mindful, spiritual life without rising early, but the odds are against it. Perhaps you do not need to rise at 3 a.m. as some Buddhist monks do. But it is essential to get up early enough to allow yourself a sense of time in the morning. If you hit the ground running from the time the alarm goes off, it is very difficult from there to recover your mindfulness. Even getting up just half an hour earlier may be enough time to allow you to have a sense of spaciousness in your morning, to be able to do things eithout rushing, to allow at least a little while to practice meditation. When you know what a joy this is, you will not confuse it with harsh discipline. Starting the day this way makes everything go better. For if you do not touch your mindfulness at the beginning of the day, how will mindfulness be possible?
Allow time in the morning to begin your day with a sense of peace and mindfulness. Even before you get out of bed, breathe in and out a few times. For the intention is to live each moment deeply, calmly, peacefully. Allow time to be present to your breakfast, to your coffee or tea. Allow time to get to work, so that you do not destroy your mindfulness by making your drive to work a battle. Allow some time to sit and breathe mindfully, and perhaps do a page or two of inspirational reading to help set the tone for the day.
A Buddhist teaching says you should practice as though your hair were on fire. This means that once you see the truth of your situation, how you are suffering when you live in forgetfulness, you will naturally want to do something about it. A person whose hair is on fire does not need a lot of urging to find water.
If you touch mindfulness in the morning, it will be much easier to keep it going during the day. The events of the day are just waves. Some waves are powerful and difficult. Some are gentle and easy. While you are learning to surf, you fall off many times. But if you are enjoying yourself, you will not let thiis stop you. You can laugh and get right back up, touching mindfulness, regaining your balance. The next time you ride a wave like that, you will do better.
Daily life throws many difficult waves at us. Perhaps you have done your best to leave enough time for the drive to work. You drive onto the busy freeway smiling, peaceful, with a sense of freedom, because you know you do not need to fight. You can breathe in and out and smile when the traffic stops. But some days you encounter unanticipated road work. Or you encounter a major accident, which slows you down and makes you late for work. Your blood pressure starts to rise. You start to upset yourself, thinking, "This is terrible? This can't be? I'll be late, and I can't be late!"
But if you come back to yourself enough so that you can smile and breathe and stop fighting even a little bit, you are cultivating mindfulness. And your capacity to be mindful increases. As you become mindful, you remember that the road work is difficult but necessary for all of us. You have compassion for the workers who must do this difficult work, made dangerous by the presence of so many cars with so many impatient drivers. You remember that the accident may be much more than an annoyance to the people involved in it, perhaps injuring them or killing them, maybe changing their lives forever.
Suddenly you can be glad that all you are facing is the prospect of being late for work. Each time you do your best to work mindfully with your feelings of frustration or pressure, you increase your capacity to meet other difficult moments with equanimity.