Thursday, 3 September 2015

Mindfulness Practice

“Before enlightenment chop wood and carry water.
After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” – Wu Li

Mindfulness develops the skills of attention and concentration, with the focus of one's attention on emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment, to intentionally accept without judgment, which can be trained by meditational practices.

Mindfulness, which is an essential element of Buddhist practice, is also an attribute of consciousness long believed to promote well-being. Studies have indicated that the construct of mindfulness is strongly correlated with well-being and health; effectively reducing stress, anxiety and depression.

The essence of mindfulness is acting with undivided attention. Mindfulness is the discipline of doing one thing at a time with awareness — the opposite of how most people operate. Most of us think that if we do several things at once, we will accomplish more. However, those that do one thing at a time actually accomplish more than those who multi-task.

There are several advantages to doing one thing at a time besides increased productivity. When thoughts are racing, concentrating on one thing slows the mind. Doing one thing at a time decreases anxiety by focusing the mind on one thing, pushing from one’s mind preoccupations and worries.

You must guard your psychological space like a guard at the gate. The guard is alert to everything that happens. Like the guard, be alert to every thought, emotion, and distraction that crosses your psychological space. Such mind watching brings your attention back to the present moment. It is okay to take a zigzag path as you criss-cross psychological space to overcome distractions and return to the object of your attention.

Zen monks, are a great inspiration in the way they live their lives: the simplicity, concentration and mindfulness of every activity, the calm and peace they find in their days. For hundreds of years, Zen monks have devoted their lives to being present in everything they do, to being dedicated and to serving others. It serves as an example for our own lives.

Who among us couldn't use a little more concentration, tranquility, and mindfulness in our lives?

There are certain principles that can be applied to any life, no matter what your religious beliefs, spiritual beliefs, or your standard of living.

“Zen is not some kind of excitement, but
concentration on our usual everyday routine.” – Shunryu Suzuki
1. DO ONE THING AT A TIME: When you are eating, eat. When you are walking, walk. When you are bathing, bathe. When you are working, work. When you are in a group, or a conversation, focus your attention on the very moment you are with the other person. Do each thing with all of your attention.

If other actions, or other thoughts, or strong feelings distract you, let go of distractions and go back to what you are doing – again, and again, and again.

Concentrate your mind. If you find you are doing two things at once, stop and go back to one thing at a time.

When you are eating, eat

It is not unusual to mindlessly eat while watching TV, reading the paper, or walking around. Eating mindfully is very different experience than the way you normally eat. Mindfully eating concentrates on the eating experience. Only in the present moment do you experience the sensations of eating. When you are present you can taste, feel, and smell your food. The sensations are fleeting and there are many distractions. Mindful eating requires a commitment to do so. Eating a meal mindfully entails the effort to turn your mind away from distractions and return over and over to eating. You are more likely to notice when you are feeling full when eating this way. If you pay attention to the sensation of satiety, you will probably stop eating sooner. Eating can be an opportunity to learn self-control (directing your mind back to eating) and self-discipline (committing to restarting when you stray).

When you are walking, walk

Walking, too, can be a way to take hold of your mind. This is mentioned in the describe section, “… say in your mind … walking, step, step, step …” Describing walking this way slows your mind and focuses your mental energy on the “here” where you are, how you feel, what you are doing, and your breathing.

When you are bathing, bathe

Some people have a routine they go through every time they shower that allows them to concentrate on their actions mindfully. Focusing exclusively on this activity is peaceful and calming. Self-soothing with sensations of bathing copes with stress, relieves anxiety, and cultivates mindfulness.

Notice the feel, sound, and sight of water. Notice the smell of soap and shampoo. Notice the difference between wet and dry, hot and cold. Notice the transitions between turning on the water, getting in the water, wetting hair, shampooing, soaping, turning off the water, and drying. You will have the opportunity to repeat your observations daily.

When you are working, work

Work offers many opportunities for doing one thing at a time and overcome distractions. You may be surprised at how much you can be done if you set your mind to it. Such a commitment helps you learn mastery, doing one thing each day to make yourself feel competent and in control.

Think about what your work really is. Consider how your work expresses you and your place in the world. What attitude do you bring to the work you do? What part of your work is play and what part of play is work? What is your life’s work?

When you are in a group, or a conversation, focus your attention on the very moment you are in with the other person.

In conversation, your ability to be interpersonally effective increases by practicing mindfulness. No matter how nervous you are with another person, focusing your attention on the very moment liberates you from doubt, worry, stress, and fear. Part of mindfulness is letting go of what is interfering with complete involvement. Try mindfulness with a “boring” speaker. You might notice he or she becomes more interesting. People become more interesting when you show your interest in them.

2. DO IT SLOWLY AND DELIBERATELY: Do one task at a time, taking your time, and moving slowly. Make your actions deliberate, not rushed and random. It takes practice, but it helps you focus on the task.

Do each thing with all of your attention. The hard work of doing each thing with all your attention is a choice. Although the idea is simple the result of doing one thing with all your attention is powerful.

If other actions, or other thoughts, or strong feelings distract you, let go of distractions and go back to what you are doing – again, and again, and again.

Step back and be aware of what you are doing. If a thought enters the psychological space between you and the object of your attention, let the thought pass and go back to what you are doing. Distractions will enter your psychological space – let them go and turn your mind. A deceptively simple strategy when you find your thoughts wandering astray is to say to yourself, “Be here now” and turn your mind toward what you are doing.

3. DO IT COMPLETELY: Put your mind completely on the task. Don’t move on to the next task until you are finished. If, for some reason, you have no choice but to move on to something else, try to at least put away the unfinished task and clean up after yourself. If you prepare a sandwich, don’t start eating it until you have put away the stuff you used to prepare it, wiped down the counter, and washed the dishes used for preparation. Then you’re done with that task, and can focus more completely on the next task.

4. DO LESS: A Zen monk doesn’t lead a lazy life — he wakes early and has a day filled with work. However, he doesn’t have an unending task list either — there are certain things he’s going to do today, and no more. If you do less, you can do those things more slowly, more completely and with more concentration. If you fill your day with tasks, you will be rushing from one thing to the next without stopping to think about what you do.

5. PUT SPACE BETWEEN THINGS: Related to the “Do less” rule, but it’s a way of managing your schedule so that you always have time to complete each task. Don’t schedule things close together — instead, leave room between things on your schedule. That gives you a more relaxed schedule, and leaves space in case one task takes longer than you planned.

6. DEVELOP RITUALS: Zen monks have rituals for many things they do, from eating to cleaning to meditation. Ritual gives something a sense of importance — if it’s important enough to have a ritual, it’s important enough to be given your entire attention, and to be done slowly and correctly. You don’t have to learn the Zen monk rituals — you can create your own, for the preparation of food, for eating, for cleaning, for what you do before you start your work, for what you do when you wake up and before you go to bed, for what you do just before exercise. Anything you want, really.

“Smile, breathe and go slowly.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

7. DESIGNATE TIME FOR CERTAIN THINGS: There are certain times in the day a Zen monk designates for certain activities. A time for bathing, a time for work, a time for cleaning, a time for eating. This ensures that those things get done regularly. You can designate time for your own activities, whether that be work or cleaning or exercise or quiet contemplation. If it’s important enough to do regularly, consider designating a time for it.

8. DEVOTE TIME TO SITTING: In the life of a Zen monk, sitting meditation (zazen) is one of the most important parts of his day. Each day, there is time designated just for sitting. This meditation is really practice for learning to be present. You can devote time for sitting meditation, or do what you do to practice being in the moment. You could use any activity in the same way, as long as you do it regularly and practice being present.

9. SMILE AND SERVE OTHERS: Zen monks spend part of their day in service to others, whether that be other monks in the monastery or people on the outside world. It teaches them humility, and ensures that their lives are not just selfish, but devoted to others. If you’re a parent, it’s likely you already spend at least some time in service to others in your household, and non-parents may already do this too. Similarly, smiling and being kind to others can be a great way to improve the lives of those around you. Also consider volunteering for charity work.

10. MAKE CLEANING AND COOKING BECOME MEDITATION: Aside from the zazen mentioned above, cooking and cleaning are two of the most exalted parts of a Zen monk’s day. They are both great ways to practice mindfulness, and can be great rituals performed each day. If cooking and cleaning seem like boring chores to you, try doing them as a form of meditation. Put your entire mind into those tasks, concentrate, and do them slowly and completely. It could change your entire day (as well as leave you with a cleaner house).

11. THINK ABOUT WHAT IS NECESSARY: There is little in a Zen monk’s life that isn’t necessary. He doesn’t have a closet full of shoes, or the latest in trendy clothes. He doesn’t have a refrigerator and cabinets full of junk food. He doesn’t have the latest gadgets, cars, televisions, or iPod. He has basic clothing, basic shelter, basic utensils, basic tools, and the most basic food (they eat simple, vegetarian meals consisting usually of rice, miso soup, vegetables, and pickled vegetables). Now, I’m not saying you should live exactly like a Zen monk — I certainly don’t. But it does serve as a reminder that there is much in our lives that aren’t necessary, and it can be useful to give some thought about what we really need, and whether it is important to have all the stuff we have that’s not necessary.

12. LIVE SIMPLY: The corollary of Rule 11 is that if something isn’t necessary, you can probably live without it. And so to live simply is to rid your life of as many of the unnecessary and unessential things as you can, to make room for the essential. Now, what is essential will be different to each person. To some, yoga and spending time with close friends might be essential. For others it will be nursing and volunteering and going to church and collecting comic books. There is no law saying what should be essential for you — but you should consider what is most important to your life, and make room for that by eliminating the other less essential things in your life.

“We have more possibilities available in each moment
than we realize.” – Thich Nhat Hanh


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