I had set aside last Sunday as a personal day of mindfulness but I wound up feeling under the weather so I rescheduled for today. All week I kept this day free of plans and to-do lists. It felt strange to set up a day of mindfulness on a Thursday instead of a weekend day, when allowing myself the space to slow down feels more natural and acceptable. Although I don’t have a full time job I still consider Monday through Friday to be work days and I use them as such. It was a good opportunity to step into those feelings of discomfort and claim this big Thursday work day as a day of practice.
To me, a personal day of mindfulness means slowing down, practicing to offer my full attention to everything that I’m doing while I’m doing it, and quieting down – for a whole day. It’s a day of gratitude and intention. A day of turning off the external chatter of my music and computer – not checking email or making phone calls. A day to practice enjoying each step and each breath. A day of coming back home to myself in the present moment, over and over again, with love and gentleness.
I began my day by watching a dharma talk given by Thay during the recent Deer Park retreat in CA (to check out his talks go to: http://tnhaudio.org/). Here are some of the notes I took while listening (the words in bold are what stood out to me personally during the talk):
The Buddha encouraged his monks to practice solitude, but this didn’t mean to drop out of society and disengage. One monk misunderstood the teaching and did everything by himself. He went on alms rounds by himself, sat by himself, ate by himself, and walked by himself. When the other monks told the Buddha of this the Buddha then gave the teaching of The Better Way to Live Alone. To live alone means to not have a second person in you. Maybe that second person is the object of your craving or desire. To live alone is to be completely satisfied with the here and now – you are not looking for anything else. You understand that happiness and joy are present in the here and now. Even if you go to the mountain alone but you are still searching or longing for something you are not alone.
I Have Arrived (meaning in the here and now) is the most beautiful dharma talk to give. You need only to wake up to touch the happiness and peace of the here and now. We all have the habit of running which is born from the belief that happiness is not possible in the present moment – that you have to go into the future to search for more conditions of happiness. Every time the habit energy of running manifests we must recognize it. The practice of mindfulness is to recognize habit energy. It is not that just because you want to stop a habit energy that you are able to stop it right away, you need training.
Elements of Mindful breathing: 1. Become aware of your breathing in and breathing out. 2. Follow the in breath and out breath all the way through. 3. Become aware of your body. 4. Practice calming the body. 5. Generate joy. 6. Generate happiness. 7. Become aware of painful feelings. 8. Practice calming painful feelings.
A good practitioner of mindfulness can always generate a feeling of joy and of happiness whenever they want to. They understand how to come home and see the conditions for happiness that are always available. A good practitioner never runs away from pain but tries to always be there for their pain and sorrow. They are not afraid of becoming overwhelmed by it because they are capable of generating mindfulness.
The Buddha said that when we have pain we should not exaggerate it with our imagination, anger, or fear – we should not amplify it or make it stronger. The Buddha suffered – he was human, he had a body – but because he knew how to suffer he suffered much less. When you know the art of suffering you suffer much less and then you can make good use of it to create understanding, compassion, and happiness – like making good use of the mud to make lotus flowers.
After the dharma talk I did some Qui Gong stick exercises from a book purchased at Deer Park monastery. I practiced some mindful eating and then washed the dishes. I decided to do some rearranging of my two living room shelves and set to work mindfully clearing and cleaning the shelves to start anew. It should be mentioned that I don’t redecorate often. I enjoy creating a peaceful and nurturing home environment, one that supports simplicity and brings in natural elements. But I don’t move things around a lot. I find a nice way to display items and then tend to leave them just that way for a long while. It is a good practice for me to undo my shelves and reinvent them in new ways – and that’s just what I did. I took my time, enjoyed myself, and was completely present with each object that I handled. It was an art. The art of mindful rearranging.
Following the shelves I did some sitting meditation and more mindful eating. After I was done I sat in a chair in my living room and basked in the glow of my small dwelling. I connected with my gratitude for the ability to see, to hear, to smell, to taste, to feel. I was aware that in that moment sitting in my living room looking outside to the mountain ash berry tree naked of leaves that I had everything I needed. I had a belly full of food, clean water to drink, a warm, safe home. When I am basking in the present moment it reveals everything I already have and it becomes all I need.
Breathing in I have arrived
Breathing out I am home
In the very here and now