Editor of The Zen Gateway website and practitioner of Zen Buddhism.
Getting Back Up to Speed
An Exercise in Mindfulness
Taking up a simple exercise in paying attention to one thing can help invigorate a daily mindfulness practice. Here are some ideas to try out.
It’s been a strange year, with lockdowns for most since Spring. Then entering a ‘holiday’ period (or non-holiday period), and now we find ourselves in Autumn, and perhaps the disorientation is all a bit too much to keep our daily life practice going.
This discombobulation can drag on, if left unattended, and become the new habit superseding our regular practice habit. There is no shame in this, but it is not skillful to allow it to remain unaddressed.
One way to get back into our practice in daily life - mindfulness as some call it - is to adopt a particular discipline which allows us to focus on one or two things that help us to de-clutch from those long thought streams, and to come back and rest in the here-and-now.
We all remember the story of the novice monk who goes to the training monastery and asks the abbot for some advice to keep with himself for the duration of his training there. The abbot replies with two suggestions: to say “Yes” to everything, and to always walk noiselessly.
For us, who are not in a training sodo, this saying “Yes” is to bow into our timetable and into the everyday situations and duties that make up our day, whether or not we feel like attending to them right now.
The walking noiselessly is also certainly something that we can apply ourselves to, and perhaps to take it as playing a game with ourselves. Just to see how well we can be aware of when we are noisy and then restraining the impulse, using the body. We might find that those moments of impatience that create a slapdash carelessness are realised, worked with and restrained, and finally transformed into a more open hearted and less rushed (and less stressed) attitude.
One Christian saint practiced the careful closing of all doors with full attention and with love.
Perhaps we can remember the words of Sokei-an when he said that it is dignified to always keep ‘good form , and that even though there are formal, semi-formal and informal circumstances even the informal has a certain form that retains dignity. What would that informal form look like? Perhaps this gives another area for exploration and experimentation.
Allowing the heart (focus of attention), to sink into the lower abdomen is a practice that was advocated by Master Hakuin. He famously wrote about imagining a nob of butter the size of an egg melting from the top of the head and running down through the body to collect in the lower abdomen or feet, the important point being that the heart gradually sinks from the thinking centre into the lower part of the body, which is immediate and ever-present.
Taking a couple of breaths into the lower abdomen we relax and open up awareness to take in the 360º surroundings. In this mode, the heart is spacious, and a container for all the sights and sounds and mental states that arise, which blow in and away like smoke without affecting that heart.. Just a few moments of this can reinvigorate and deliver us into a sense of presence of this very moment - the eternal moment.
Perhaps you might come up with some experiments for yourself.
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