A simple yet powerful meditation

I learned this meditation in a book by Thich Nhat Hanh; I’m not sure which one–they are all so wonderful–so I can’t give specific credit, but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t mind. I love his writing; you can feel him smiling through the pages at you.

Breathing in, I relax my body.

Breathing out, I smile.
Breathing in, I know that I am in the present moment.
Breathing out, I know that this is a wonderful moment.

While breathing, you can shorten it to the very simple,

(on in-breath) Relax my body
(on out-breath) Smile
(on in-breath) Present moment
(on out-breath) Wonderful moment

There have been so many times lately when I have felt over-run by life, and then have stopped, breathed, relaxed and smiled, when I have been able to re-claim what would otherwise be a moment lost to stress. When I’ve been able to use it to completely turn the page on a bad, stuck head-space, it’s like a secret passage into another reality.

So often I begin wanting things when I’m feeling yucky, or bored, or frustrated with the slowness of life. This meditation has brought me back from that general state of wantiness, into a gentle satisfaction with my present reality.

One reason to practice meditation: a quiet mind is a frugal mind.

Advertisements

Monday mindfulness: Breathe

This is a guest post by Brie at Capital Mom. It was posted on her blog on January 17th, 2011, but I wanted to re-post it here as it captures so perfectly the challenge and process of parenting, and living, mindfully.

Breathe.

Find the sensations and breathe into them says the teacher at the front of the room.

I do. With my left leg stretched out behind me and my right leg bent under my chest I lean forward as far as I can until my forehead is inches from the floor. The muscles in my right hip stretch and pull. I can feel the sensations. I breathe.

*

Move away from pain. If it hurts, stop doing it. But if it’s a sensation, then stay there and keep breathing.

I used to confuse pain and sensations. I would stay in pain, refusing to stop in case it made me seem like a failure. I would let the hurt I felt grow until I hurt even more. I would avoid sensations, convinced that I wasn’t strong enough to endure them and so I wouldn’t even bother. Not understanding that sensations, the good ones and the bad ones, always end on their own.

Pain will hurt you and keep on hurting you. The only relief is to stop. To move out of the pose. Away form the person. Leave the situation.

Sensations will challenge you. They will make you question what you are capable of. They will show you how strong you really are.

*

Sensations are feelings. Your thoughts are sensations. Let yourslef feel them and then let them go.

As I lie flat on the floor in savasana I allow my body to relax. My bones sink heavily to the ground and my muscles soften onto my mat. But the sensations are still there. Whirling and twirling through my mind. Just like they do when I watch the kids fight over a stuffed animal. Just like when the girl won’t listen to me when I ask her to pick up the book she threw to the floor. Just like when the boy crosses his arms in response to my request that he come eat lunch.

And so I breathe. Into all the sensations.

*

Brie is the mom of a 4 year old daughter “the girl” and 2 old son “the boy”. You can read her blog at Capital Mom.

Thanks to Brie! Now go over there and give her some props!

Mindfulness Monday: early rising

I was talking with my sister about my New Year’s resolutions, and it turned out she had many similar goals. Her theme for the year, which summarizes her goals, is MINDFULNESS.

It got me thinking about how I can be more mindful in my own life. Mindful of how I spend my time, whom I spend it with, what objects I bring into my life, what substances I take into my body, and perhaps most of all, being mindful of my thoughts and emotions.

One new routine I’m trying out is going to bed and getting up early. I’ve realized how important it is for me to get time all by myself, and 6 am is about the only time I can get this. I often feel guilty for taking “me” time, but when I’m the only one up early, I don’t feel like I’m taking that time and attention away from anyone else.

The first thing I do when I get up is meditate for 15 minutes. This seems to focus my mind for the day, giving me a peaceful and energized attitude from the start.

This morning I got up at 6:30, exercised, showered, meditated, ate breakfast, put on the chicken stock, and am now drinking my coffee and blogging. I also nursed the kids around 7:30, which is probably why they’re still in bed.

Instead of watching TV in the evening, I’m doing things that feed my soul. Instead of going to bed late, and being dragged out of bed by the kids when they wake up (or sleeping in and feeling like I’ve wasted the day), I’m able to get enough sleep, getting up when my body is ready, and being a step ahead of the kids.

I will not hold myself to this regime in any strict way, but the benefits are clear. Getting up early is a positive step along my path to mindfulness.

Waldorf Week

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Waldorf education and way of life. Unfortunately I didn’t bookmark the specific article that really inspired me, but a few of the sites I was browsing were www.naturalfamilycrafts.com, and www.waldorfinthehome.org. (Update: Found it! The really inspiring article was here.) If I wasn’t such a staunch supporter of public school, I would totally send my kids to Waldorf school. (Ahh, also if I won the lottery.) I still don’t know or understand everything about it, but here are some Waldorf-y things I’m incorporating into our life this week:

The Natural World

Waldorf education stresses a connection with the natural world, as well as emphasizing natural materials, to foster a connection with nature and natural systems. Since we live in Downtown Ottawa and don’t have a car, it’s a bit hard to get out in The Nature. But we’re trying. Actually, the River is within walking distance and it offers a very natural setting in the middle of the city. We took a walk there today for an afternoon play date and had a really nice time. We saw ducks and heard red-wing blackbirds and watched the river flow . . .

Less TV

When our little guy was born in October, Daddy would get up with our older girl, and watch morning cartoons. Mostly this was a coping mechanism because we were all too tired to think in the morning, especially while I was still night nursing both of them (crazy!). However, this quickly became the routine and has been the way the morning goes for the last six months. Today I did things differently. We got up together and instead of turning on the TV, my girl and I played. I had forgotten that she is often at her best in the morning, very focused and calm, and she really enjoyed the time together. Of course, it helped that the little guy was still sleeping, but I’m going to try to keep this going. Of course this isn’t specifically a Waldorf thing, but it certainly fits the theme.

Work as Play

When I read about this, it seemed so simple, I thought it wouldn’t really work, but it did. The idea is, instead of, say, putting the kids in front of the TV so you can cram in a load of laundry and quickly chop some veggies for soup, you involve your kids in the housework and make it a part of your activities for the day. This teaches the kids that they are not nuisances to be silenced while you frantically do the real but unpleasant work, but rather that housework can be fun, and a shared activity that involves satisfaction and learning, but also that the kids can be a part of making their home a nicer, cleaner, more orderly place. My girl is three, and she can now do things that actually help me and save me time. It was really pleasant doing housework with her today. Again, maybe today was special, but I’ll be trying this again for sure.

Reverence

We are not a religious family, so we don’t have many spiritual practices in our household. However, the more I read, the more I see the value of rituals and valuing the spiritual side of life. It’s funny–even though I’m not religious and never have been, I do consider myself to be spiritual, mostly in connection with the natural world (this is probably why Waldorf appeals to me so much). So this idea of reverence really struck me. The article I read (which I cannot find, gosh darnit!) spoke about using gratitude as a path to reverence. That is, thinking about where things came from and thanking the creatures and forces and beings that brought these things to you. Our girl got right into this. For our broccoli soup at lunch, we thanked the Sunshine, and the farmer for the broccoli, and Daddy for buying the broccoli, and Mommy for making it. This idea of stopping to think about where things come from, and then thanking those who brought or created it is common to Buddhism as well.

A simplified play space

Okay, I’m working on this. But our girl’s room has become messy to the point of being dangerous. She just has too many toys, all out and accessible all the time. Quite often, she flits from one thing to another. Other times, she works in “creative destruction” of her toys, painting them, cutting their hair, etc., it makes me wonder if she really values them. So my plan is to take away all but a few of her toys to play with at one time. The other things are going into her closet, so she isn’t worried about missing them. It will only make a visit to the closet extra exciting, but once this is all in order, I will make sure she’s only playing with a few toys at a time.

Today just felt so wonderful and so right. I know not every day can be like today, but I’m going to continue the experiment. I figure it can only bring good things!

And here is our Waldorf Week Meal Plan:

Tuesday: tabouli and hummus

Wednesday: chicken stir fry with peanut sauce

Thursday: leftovers

Friday: black bean soup and cheese quesadillas

Saturday: fish of some sort

Sunday: spaghetti (I’ll try to make it to the Organic Farmer’s Market on Saturday for some local beef–wish me luck!)

Taking Refuge in the Moment

buddhistI just finished reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Art of Power“, a wonderful book with a deliberately and cleverly misleading title, since the “power” he talks about is not the power that people are generally seeking, but rather the power to be calm and spread peace wherever you go and with whomever you meet.

Two of the practices he describes in this book (besides sitting meditation which most are familiar with) are a) general mindfulness, and b) walking meditation. I think he focuses on these practices in this book because they are very easy to incorporate into even the busiest of lives, but they help to centre you very effectively and quickly.

Mindfulness is the skill of bringing your mind into the present moment and not being taken away by thoughts, memories, worries, etc. Most buddhists do this through the breath. When you follow the breath you are drawn into your body, into the present moment, and you allow your thoughts and worries and regrets, etc. (as well as your plans, and desires, and nostalgic remembrances), to drop away, leaving you considerably less stressed and more focused.

Much is made of the power of sitting meditation where you watch the breath for extended periods, but Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that you can get some benefit by bringing mindfulness into your daily life in short snatches. For example, when the telephone rings, you can use that as a recall to the moment, and take one or two deep breaths to centre you before you answer. Or stopping at a red light, this can also be an opportunity to watch the breath.

He has a lovely poem that helps with this simple meditation. The word pairs are said silently with the in and out breath:

in, out
deep, slow
calm, ease
smile, release
present moment, wonderful moment

I’ve been watching my breath and reciting this poem regularly over the last few weeks and it has given me access to many moments of calm and peace, helping me cope with some of the stresses of being heavily pregnant and parenting a toddler in the heat of late summer!

Walking meditation is an expansion of this mindfulness practice, but instead of focusing on the breath, you focus on your feet as you walk. Whenever you walk, the author explains, you should make your steps gentle on the earth. You are free, you do not need to hurry: walk calmly and slowly as if the purpose of walking is simply to walk.

As you walk, you can say the poem in pace with your breath, which will be in pace with your footsteps, maybe one in-breath for every two steps, or more.

Walking to work every day is so often a blur for me. It’s a short walk, but I usually spend the time thinking about work–sometimes bringing back some conflict from the day before, or worrying about what will be in my email inbox today. But since I’ve been practicing walking meditation, this time is so calm, such an island in my day, that I really feel that I can start taking refuge in the moment.

Now what does this have to do with a frugal or green mindset? I think plenty.

In terms of frugality, many of us turn to shopping and spending money when we are stressed. I am so guilty of this. And most of my stress-fuelled purchases have been big ones, undoing months of savings from baking my own bread and using baking soda for deodorant. The more tools I have to reduce stress and encourage a peaceful frame of mind, the less likely I am to go out shopping.

What’s more, the more value I place on being mindful and present, the less likely I am to seek distractions like magazines or shiny electronics. Think about it: if everyone started practicing mindful breathing on the bus, Blackberries would cease to exist!

The more unmindful consumerism in our world, the more energy and resource waste, the more landfill produced, the more waterways polluted. When we make our footsteps gentle on the earth, we also tend to reduce our ecological footprint by reducing consumption, waste and pollution.

Try these mindfulness techniques and see where you can fit them into your day. And please refer to any book by Thich Nhat Hanh to get a deeper, richer explanation of these practices. Check out his 1996 book The Long Road Turns to Joy on Google Books–a Limited Preview release specifically about walking meditation.

Mindfulness Monday

In the past month, two books on this subject have come to me randomly.  One was a free “after hours yard sale” find, and another was put in the “giveaway” area of the garbage collection zone in our building’s basement (something I am grateful to our superintendant for!  It’s our own internal “freecycle”).  One book was A New Earth by Ekhart Tolle, and another was Peace is Every Step by Thich Naht Hanh.  

Talk about synchronicity!  Sure, it took me taking notice of these books to pick them up, bring them home and read them, but they both came to me for free from different sources within a week or so.  The basic message of both books is the same: be mindful of the present moment.  It is all we have.  If we experience it with peace, enjoyment or enthusiasm, these energies will spread through our lives and to everyone we encounter.

So, why are you reading about mindfulness, a Buddhist practice, on a blog about frugality?  I think mindfulness can help to cure the ills of society, one of which is overconsumption and dissatisfaction with what we have.

These books teach that the present moment, right now, is all we have.  When we are carried away with our memories, good or bad, or when we engage in thinking or worrying about the future, we forget that we are alive right now, not in the past or the future.  Right now is the only moment we have to be happy, to feel the fullness and richness of life, to experience joy.

A lot of spending comes from dissatisfaction with where we’re at.  If we consciously decide that “now” is all we have, and thus to experience the richness of each moment, the fullness of life right now, it reduces some of our desires for new toys, new clothes, a new “look”, a new life.  

Some ideas summarized from these two books:

– Use your breath to bring your attention to the present moment.  Feel it go in and go out, and the pauses between.  Focus on the breath and quiet your mind.  Feel peaceful wherever you are.

– Your thoughts are not “you”.  Your thoughts lead you away from the present moment and are quite likely to make you feel worried and anxious.  Realize that you have a consciousness that is deeper than your thoughts, and you can separate yourself somewhat from the constant stream of thoughts that flood your mind.  Your problems will seem less urgent when you create this kind of space.

– Smile.  A smile relaxes your face, sends endorphins through your body, and melts your worries away.  A smile sends positive, peaceful energy into the world.  A smile connects you to the present moment because the only time we can feel happy is right now, today, this moment.

Being frugal isn’t just about denying yourself expensive pleasures.  It is just as much about cultivating satisfaction with what you have, and joy in the present moment.