For the past few years I’ve been replacing the idea of New Year’s resolutions, which I’ve never cared for, with the development of new mindfulness exercises. I’m currently working with a number of new mindfulness practices to incorporate into my daily and weekly routine, which started at the beginning of the year. It’s worth mentioning, however, that typically I wouldn’t encourage the cultivation of so many new practices all at once, unless a practitioner has invested time in building a strong, diligent foundation in mindfulness, as trying to take on too much too fast is an easy undertaking, and an easy undoing of our stability.
My new practices include:
– Saying a short verse to myself upon waking up each morning
– Uni-tasking while brushing my teeth (verses multi-tasking)
– Saying a personalized closing verse to myself after breakfast each morning
– Jotting down observations I make in a small notebook when I’m in my car at red lights, or in other such instances where I’m stopped and waiting (at the bank, for instance)
– Mindful Morning Saturdays, where I devote the hours of 5:00-8:00am as a concentrated time to practice mindfulness (I read passages in our chanting book, do sitting meditation and three touchings of the earth, practice the 16 Qi Gong stick exercise routine, practice mindful eating of my breakfast, and watch a portion of a Dharma talk video online)
– Paying special attention to my preferences: what they are, how they show up in my life, looking deeply into whether they are helpful or harmful
Traveling without some form of mindful awareness often leads to a not-so-great time – without mindfulness, that is, an ability to remain grounded in the present moment, it becomes super easy to get swept up in feelings of impatience, frustration, and separation. And it becomes commonplace to consider every unplanned thing that happens as an obstruction factor to our contentment. Traveling can be described many ways but unpredictable is perhaps the most apt adjective.
I’ve found the practice of mindfulness to be a great travel companion, as it helps me to stay in touch with both the small and larger picture embodied in whatever present moment I find myself in, whether it’s standing in a security line at the airport or weathering a delayed flight or experiencing an especially kick-happy dude sitting behind me on the plane.
As I’m currently visiting family in southern Arizona, along with my husband and stepson, I’m also tuning into how the practice of mindfulness supports and nourishes me when I’m away from home and my regular schedule and routine. A couple of the things I’m finding to be particularly important for me while we’re visiting family are: maintaining my early wake-up time and doing sitting meditation before everyone gets up in the morning and continuing my gratitude practice at every meal.
Waking up at my regular 5:00am enables me to enjoy some personal time and stillness before a full day of activity and human interaction begins, which offers me a strong foundation of ease and spaciousness. Here in AZ, much like at home, I enjoy slow cups of tea, read, write, and, as an added bonus here, sit outside and enjoy watching as the morning sky alights over the mountains. We’re off nestled in the hills not far from the Mexican border, with no neighbors close-by, and the only sounds I hear right now, as I sit outside and type, are my clacking keys and the twittering of birds. Having time to myself in the morning is a vital component to my daily spiritual health and wellness, whether at home or off and about.
I don’t have the luxury of not sitting in meditation everyday – that’s how crucial it is to my state of wellness. Daily sitting meditation practice gives me the energy I need to greet a fresh new day – and thank goodness for that :)
In our local meditation center, we have a large calligraphy done by Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) that reminds us to: Go as a river, which is a common teaching in our tradition. These few simple words have a depth of wisdom instilled within them, and can be translated in a few different ways. To me, Go as a river speaks to two main key components of our practice tradition: impermanence and brotherhood/sisterhood.
In regards to impermanence, Go as a river speaks to the ever-changing flow of life. Suffering, in large part, develops when we’re fighting against what is unfolding in the present moment, as though we’re trying to walk upstream amid a fast-moving river. To Go as a river means to go with the flow of life, to learn how to accept its non-permanent state and not get stuck in our own preferences and thoughts about how things should be. Despite our best laid plans and ideas, life can oftentimes twist and turn in unexpected ways. To Go as a river means to cultivate resiliency, inclusiveness, solidity, and ease, with the deepening understanding that things/people/situations are of the nature to change.
In regards to brotherhood & sisterhood, Go as a river means to recognize the importance and cultivation of community and interconnection. On a more intimate level, it means: to root ourselves in a loving, supportive, healthy sangha. On a larger level, it means: to see all the ways in which we depend on one another as a global family. Brotherhood and sisterhood are about discovering ways to actively connect and engage with our friends, family, local community, and the world in such a way that compassion and understanding are generated. Continue reading
Yep. This is me sharing about brushing my teeth. Riveting topic eh?! Actually, it is! This is precisely what engaged Buddhism is all about: Finding ways in which to bring the art of mindfulness into every aspect of our daily life.
One of the new mindfulness practices I’ve taken up recently centers around brushing my teeth. When I got back from Deer Park Monastery at the end of January, after a 3-week retreat stay, I came to see just how dispersed my energy was while brushing my teeth. As soon as I hastily squeezed a dollop of toothpaste onto my brush in the mornings I would quickly take to leaving the bathroom, and set to doing a myriad of things that really had no business in trying to be accomplished while in the midst of brushing. I might go outside and start my car to warm it up or prepare a fresh cup of tea or ready my lunch to take with me to work. I would do all sorts of things around the house with my toothbrush protruding from my mouth. I would actively brush for a bit and then proceed back to whatever multi-tasking “urgent” matter needed tending to. It was comical!
So my new practice is to “stay put”. To not leave the bathroom and to stay there in front of the sink while brushing my teeth. What I’m experiencing as a natural by-product is that by simply staying put I am also slowing down. It reminds me of how when I practice a day of silence, slowing down happens in tandem, seemingly on its own accord. By staying put I am automatically able to slow down, which affords me the opportunity to connect more readily with what I am doing. No longer am I hurriedly scrubbing my teeth as a sort of task to get out of the way. I’m practicing awareness of my teeth, of how fortunate I am to have them, and to care for them by slowing down and paying attention to the act of brushing. I’m practicing awareness of my breathing and of my gratitude for having running water. I’m practicing to feel my feet on the ground beneath me as I stand in front of the sink.
A couple of weeks ago a sangha member shared about how they’ve been practicing to slow down their personal teeth brushing regiment as a way to strengthen the development of patience, a particular quality they felt very weak on. Having not spoken of my own practice around this same subject, I was delighted to hear her timely sharing. The power and importance of having a community of support, a sangha, never ceases to inspire and astound me.
It’s still a new practice for me. It’s not uncommon for me to catch myself just as I’m about to leave the bathroom with my toothbrush in tow. But I do catch it. As my foot prepares to cross the threshold of the bathroom door, I remember. Then I smile to my strong habit energy, before returning back to my “staying put” spot in front of the sink.
17 Years & Still Soaking
(in the spirit of Dr. Seuss)
We were wed at 20 and 21 years old,
thank goodness we didn’t do what we were told,
otherwise we might never have stuck,
which would’ve been terrible, lousy, no good, rotten luck.
But, alas, instead we followed our hearts,
and had a rockin’ young and awesome start.
For 17 married years, and 18 with dating,
we’ve been living, laughing, growing, and contemplating
all that it means to be husband and wife,
to ride the high highs and weather the strife.
And I’ll tell ya, in all honesty, I’m pretty sure I’ve won,
cause marrying my sweet husband is the best thing I’ve ever done.
– In honor of our 17th wedding anniversary: March 9th, 2017
The above pic was the first thing I read early this morning, to kick off my new practice of Mindful Morning Saturdays. I ordered a few new books for our library at the Open Way Mindfulness Center and a few of them arrived yesterday. One of which is Thay’s new book: At Home in the World, Stories and Essential Teachings from a Monk’s Life. The above pic was taken from inside the book jacket.
As a recap from my post last Saturday, I’ve just started a new practice of dedicating Saturday mornings, from 5:00-8:00am, to the intentional cultivation of mindfulness, on a deeper level than I tend towards on other days. No matter how mindful and present I think I am in my everyday life, there is always more work and practice I can do to deepen my connection to the here and now. Mindful Morning Saturdays are an opportunity to devote my full attention to coming back home to myself and tending to the garden of life that is available in the present moment. Today was Saturday #2 in my new endeavor, and I am feeling wonderfully energized and refreshed with Dharmic inspiration.
I respond and work well with having a schedule to follow, as it helps to keep me focused, so today my morning looked like this:
5:00am Wake up
Reading: Thay’s new book and then some things from our chanting book
6:00am Sitting Meditation, followed by Three Earth Touchings
6:30am Stick exercises
7:00am Silent, non-multitasking breakfast
7:30am Watched an interview online with Sister Peace & the Huff Po
The interview I watched was very good (on peaceful activism and social justice) and I would highly recommend it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LakovFKhtXw
Here are some of the responses I jotted down from Sister Peace:
As a point of clarity: a vegetarian is someone who doesn’t eat meat or seafood and a vegan is someone who doesn’t eat meat, seafood, or animal byproducts of any kind: dairy, eggs, honey. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 12 years old. It was a decision I made one day, after finding out that my cousin had decided to be a vegetarian. It was something I thought sounded cool, so I did it and it stuck – pretty fancy reason, eh?!
I’ve never been personally drawn to going the one step further into vegan territory, but over the past few months it’s been a percolating thought. The sole motivating factor has to do with my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay), encouraging his ordained students to take up a vegan diet. His teachings and suggestions hold a great deal of sway for me, given my love, respect, and confidence in his practice and what he has to say.
I don’t consume very much dairy naturally. I haven’t been a cow’s milk drinker since I was young and my food tastes ere on the side of quite simple and basic, and what many would consider bland, so cheeses, butter and cream toppings have never been a big draw for me in general. A few years ago I gave up dessert sugars, so ice cream, pastries, cakes, cookies, and other similar foods are out for me as well. But I do really enjoy pizza, which we typically have for dinner once a week in our household. And on occasion I make lasagna or stuffed shells. My biggest form of non-vegan consumption is eggs, which I eat every morning for breakfast, and up until recently came from my own backyard chickens.
In an effort to hear a little more from Thay on the subject of veganism, I found a youtube video of him addressing this very matter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gwOzzGibsg&t=252s