Practicing Mindfulness






by Lama Surya Das

The Buddha was once asked, ” What do you and your disciples practice?” He answered, “We sit,we walk and we eat.”  The questioner was confused. “Doesn’t everyone sit, walk and eat?” he asked.  “Yes”, replied the Buddha, “but when we sit, we know we are sitting. When we walk, we know we are walking. When we eat, we know we are eating.”  This is the essence of mindful living.  If you were to visit Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh’s Zen Meditation Center in Escondido, you would notice that mindfulness bells ring throughout the day to remind everyone to slow down and be aware of the present moment.  Whenever the gong sounds, everyone stops what he or she is doing, takes three breaths and practices a moment of mindfulness.  You don’t need a gong, however, to experience life more deeply.  You can take ordinary moments in your day and, through simple rituals, turn them into moments of mindful awareness.

1. Mindful waking up                          Each day presents a new opportunity to awaken in a sacred manner.  You can intentionally begin your day in a more mindful fashion. The term “Buddha” in fact, means “the awakened one”.  Each morning as you wipe the sleep from your eyes, you can remind yourself of what it means to truly become and stay awake.  The inner light of awareness never sleeps.  The little Buddha within each of us is always bright-eyed and ready to go. So wake up, get settled in the moment and take three mindful breaths.

2. Mindful Toothbrushing                     Stand in front of the mirror. Take three breaths in and out, relax for a moment and look into the mirror with fresh eyes.  See who is there. Now brush your teeth mindfully. Be gentle, slow and careful. Pay attention. Give yourself a little smile to start the day.  It’s a good day! Enjoy yourself.

3. Mindful Bathing           As your approach your morning shower, reflect upon the many sacred rituals in which water plays an intrinsic part.  Water is used to both bless and anoint.  You can partake of its blessings through a tranformative moment of calm, mindful reflection as you wash.  Stop for a moment beneath the showerhead with the water running over your head and face.  Become aware of your feelings.  Drop your hands.  Just stand there.  Breathe in and out a few times.  Relax and feel the hot water running over your head, neck and shoulders. Listen to the water, let it wash away all your thoughts and dissolve into the present.

4. Mindful eating      Mindfulness while eating is an ancient spiritual practice.  In Asia, some Buddhists practice chewing each mouthful of brown rice a hundred times before taking the next bite.  Being mindful while eating can help you experience the taste, texture, and temperature of what you put in your mouth. It helps you become aware of how, when and why you nourish yourself.  When you sit down to eat, take three breaths to remind yourself to enjoy a moment of mindfulness.  Smile and appreciate this little moment of grace.  For the first bit or two, try chewing your food fifteen or twenty times.  How does it feel?  How does this food taste?  Are you getting nourshed?  Be grateful for this moment. By opening up to it,  you can fully experience it.

5. Mindful driving  When you first sit down in the car, take three easy breaths in and out through your nose.  Count the breaths to yourself.  Be mindful and aware of what you are feeling.  Fully inhabit your experience. Know where you are.  Look out the window.  Is the sun shining, is it raining?  Look around, pay attention to what you see. Don’t jump ahead and outside of yourself, trying to get where you’re going before you’ve even begun the journey. Stay right where you are. You are present and fully accounted for right now. Make the most of it.

6. Mindful coffee/tea break   Whether it’s a coffee or tea break, a visit to the restroom, or simply a short walk up and down the hall to stretch your legs, you need time during the day to reconnect to who you are.  So whenever you feel that things seem to be spinning out of control, just stop, be mindful and breathe in and out three times.  If there is a window, look out and practice your three breaths while you gaze at the view.  Use this time to regain your balance and sanity, collect youself and rearrive in the present moment.  Let the fresh air in and the stale out.  Regain your sense of humor by making a funny face at yourself.  Laughing, after all, is a way of loving.

7. Mindful homecoming    When you return home, rejoice.  Stand in front of your door and appreciate the moment of your arrival.  Breathe in and out three times. Mark the passage and completeness of the circle.   Just be there for a moment.  Now open the door and step inside.  Home is a temple, enter your sacred domain.  Come home to yourself.