Sanctuary for Humanity

What is the path of mindfulness?

Come, take my hand and walk with me along the path of mindfulness. Once you encounter the serenity of this path, it will call you back many times a day, for there is a quiet contentment to be found as you rest in the presence of each unfolding moment. On this path your life is your own, and the gift you give to yourself is remembering who you really are.

House Buda

Where are you right now? Where are your thoughts? Has your mind already drifted away from these words and lodged itself somewhere in the past, reliving old moments? Or has it skipped ahead to the future in anticipation as it creates scenarios that haven’t even happened? If you pay careful attention to the journey of your thoughts over the next 10 minutes, you may be surprised to discover that you reside in the present moment very little. How important is this? Well, the present moment is the only moment in which you are alive. The present can become the spacious acceptance you seek. But first you must find it and learn how to rest in it.

This task is not as easy as it may seem. Our busy lifestyle produces in us a mindless autopilot state where we rush from one task to another in a frenzy of doing with little or no time for being. Those who routinely live on autopilot where attention is always on something other than what they are doing in the present moment, often experience emptiness or numbness. Life seemingly has no purpose but to continue the race.

What are the benefits of cultivating mindfulness?

Two decades of studies from the University of Massachusetts Medical School show that mindfulness techniques provide

Perhaps the greatest benefit of mindfulness is the discovery that you are connected to something much deeper than the superficial rat race that has consumed your life. As clinical psychologist and meditation teacher, Jack Kornfield teaches, mindfulness allows for a shift of identity from the small sense of self to an awareness of who you really are at a deeper level.

As you try to make friends with your mindfulness practice, you will likely encounter resistances—resistances of the body, the mind, the heart—all the things that you’ve been holding inside and haven’t had time to tend to because you’ve been so busy. All the tensions and wounds of your life that are hidden in the body will begin to surface as resistance and frustration as you practice mindfulness. If you remain persistent, nonjudgmental, and compassionate, the layers of resistance begin to peel away. Beneath them you find a deep knowing. You realize that you are not the small sense of self, the myriad identities formed from birth. You are not your roles within the family, your role at work, your religious identity, your political identity, etc. A sense of spaciousness opens and you find that you are not just your body, your pain, your feelings, or your thoughts. You are pure awareness. Your life is connected with the stream of all life. The separate sense of self is the illusion.

Tibetan Lama, Kalu Rinpoche expresses our deepest essence, our true nature, most beautifully:
“We live in illusion and the appearance of things. There is a reality. We are that reality. When you understand this, you see that you are nothing, and being nothing, you are everything. That is all.”
Remembering our true divine nature—as well as embracing our roles, identities, and the mind-body—brings us back into wholeness. Suddenly we feel alive again, in our senses, in our bodies, in this wonderful human experience. From this place of wholeness, we heal our fragmented lives.

How can we cultivate mindfulness?

Most people think of meditation in reference to mindfulness, and while I believe this is an excellent method, it is certainly not the only one. In this article I will share three methods from which to choose: Mindful Living, Movement as Mindfulness, and Mindfulness Sitting Meditation.

Mindful Living. Mindfulness can be performed in conjunction with any activity. Almost every routine or mundane task we face on a daily basis can become an opportunity for transformation. In his book The Miracle of Mindfulness, Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh suggests washing dishes as a mindfulness activity. “There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.” The second way is the path to mindfulness. Rather than rushing through the act just to be done so you can sit and relax in front of the TV, try making this a mindfulness practice. Keep your thoughts on the present moment by engaging all your senses—the sound of the water as you fill the sink; the smell of the dish soap and the way it blossoms into rainbow hued bubble formations; the temperature of the water on your hands; the weight, shape, and texture of each item you wash.

Whasing Dishes

If your mind wanders, as minds tend to do, gently bring it back to the dishes. As Hahn says, “When you are washing the dishes, washing the dishes must be the most important thing in your life.” If you can keep your mind focused on the present—the washing of the dishes— rather than allowing your thoughts to ruminate through the past or escape to some future fantasy world, you may be capable of realizing the miracle of life right there at the sink.
From this explanation you can envision mindful jogging, mindful eating, mindful housework, mindful gardening, mindful cooking, mindful sex—any activity in which the mind rests fully in the action of the present rather than operating in autopilot mode. Start with a simple, short activity that lasts only a few minutes and work toward an entire day of mindfulness from beginning to end. Hahn believes this entire day of mindfulness is crucial and will begin to penetrate the other days of the week, enabling you to appreciate each precious moment of your life.

Movement as a Mindfulness Practice. There are numerous forms of moving meditation that allow beginners to find success when practicing mindfulness.These three forms have worked well for me personally: 1) Qigong, 2) Eight-Form Moving Meditation, and 3) Walking Meditation.

Qigong, pronounced "chee" (life force) + "gung" (skill), is an important part of Traditional Chinese Medicine and has been scientifically documented to aid in stress reduction and overall wellness. Because Qigong includes both sitting and standing versions, it can be performed by almost anyone. In addition to stress reduction, Qigong is an excellent method for practicing mindfulness as it consists of slow, fluid movements that are easy to learn and easy to perform. Qigong is the perfect way to bring mindfulness to the workplace.

Hands Try this five-minute sitting Qigong activity on You Tube right now while sitting at your computer: http://youtu.be/dWvlCLbjVJo.
Learn more about Qigong from the links on our Resources page (Health and Wellness section).

Eight-Form Moving Meditation was created by Master Sheng Yen of Dharma Drum Mountain as a means of healthful meditation through motion. This easy-to-learn series of eight movements provides an excellent opportunity for mindfulness practice through physical exercise. The video at the link below offers a three-minute introduction to the benefits of the moving meditation followed by a 35-minute guided session. The video can also be downloaded to your own computer for offline viewing. A separate printable copy of the instructions is available on the website.
http://chancenter.org/cmc/chan-practice/moving-meditation/

Walking

Walking Meditation instructions vary somewhat depending upon the teacher; however, the focus of the activity is the same. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that in walking meditation “there is no destination, so there is no reason to hurry. Walking is not a means but an end itself. When you step on the earth, bring no trace of anxiety and sorrow, only peaceful happy steps.”

Walking for mindfulness is done differently than walking for exercise. Here are the basics:

  • Select a straight path (15 to 30 paces in length) free of obstacles. The path can be outdoors or indoors.
  • Clasp your hands together, either in front of or behind your body.
  • Stand at one end of the walking path, and take a few mindful breaths before you begin. Feel the sensation of your feet upon the ground or the floor, and sense the environment around you.
  • As you start to walk, feel the sensation and balance of your body as you lift your foot, extend it forward, and place it on the ground. Focus your attention on each step in this way. You can say silently to yourself, “Stepping. Stepping.”
  • If your mind wanders, stop walking and say silently to yourself, “Thinking. Thinking.”  Gently draw your thoughts back to the feel of your body and your feet upon the Earth. Begin walking again. Repeat this step as many times as your mind wanders.
  • When you get to the end of the walking path, stop, turn mindfully, and begin the process again.
  • Walk in this way for 15 minutes. It is often helpful to do walking meditation  before sitting meditation as it enhances your concentration.

Here are a couple of helpful videos to get you started with walking meditation:
http://youtu.be/UVvBI0s2Cww  (by Howcast 2:49 minutes)
http://youtu.be/QdO1vZJgUu0 (Walking Meditation with Thich Nhat Hahn by SoundsTrue.com 5:44 minutes)

Sitting Meditation (Vipassana) as a Mindfulness Practice

One of the most powerful practices for mindfulness is sitting meditation, or Vipassana, to be more exact. It doesn’t take any special CDs, DVDs, specialized training, or special equipment to get started with meditation. It does, however, take acceptance and forgiveness for yourself when you discover that your mind produces thoughts without your permission—and it will think almost anything. Once the mind calms and the heart opens through meditation, you will find that daily meditation becomes a safe haven, a trusted friend, a journey of relief and release. Just 15 to 20 minutes of meditation each day can completely change the way you see yourself and your life.

House Buda I recall grumbling and whining when I learned that my educational program required me to meditate each day for a period of time as a selected spiritual practice. I wondered how I would ever find this luxury of time in my already busy schedule. After only a few weeks, I was completely hooked on the serenity and sense of calm that followed me throughout the day and wouldn’t have given up the practice for anything—not even to regain the time, which is a precious commodity. What I have since realized is that I’m not short on time unless I’m living in the past or future. When I practice mindfulness, living in the unfolding of the present moment, time is there for me.
Here are some basic instructions to get you started with Vipassana sitting meditation:

Plan to do your meditation at the same time each day, if possible, so that you can form a daily routine. Even on the days when the routine seems to have fallen apart, try to do at least a few minutes to honor the importance of your practice.

The following 9-minute guided body meditation by Jack Kornfield is an excellent way in which to use mindfulness to live a more aware and embodied experience.
tp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=COBSzdqDvAk&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Excited to learn more about the benefits of sitting meditation and mindfulness? I recommend downloading the following free Zencasts by Jack Kornfield:

For those who prefer secularized meditation instruction, the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center is an amazing resource. There are 12 downloadable audio files containing meditation instruction and varying meditations as well as numerous research articles and a bibliography of mindfulness readings. http://marc.ucla.edu