We can practice mindfulness whenever we have a little time, for example, just before a game or a test, before going to bed, while riding in a car as a passenger, but… not while we are driving!
As for eyes, we can keep them half-opened or gently closed. You should choose whichever is more comfortable. If our eyes are open, our gaze can be cast downward a bit, perhaps about 45 degrees. We then agree naturally through our nose, not our mouth. Breathing should also be very natural and not force.
As for our thoughts, some people incorrectly think, “we should not think of anything” or “we need to empty our minds.” For beginners, it is impossible to stop our thoughts and feelings from arising. We will not be able to repress them. Instead, we are invited to notice thoughts and feelings and then simply let them go in order to go back to awareness of our reading. In other words, we pay full attention to our breathing. This can be done in a number of ways.
One way is to silently say “in” when we read in, and “out” when we breathe out. Another method is to direct our attention to the spot under our nostrils to pay attention to the fact that it feels cool when we breathe in, and it is warm when we breathe out. Or we can pay attention to the slight rise and fall of our abdomen; as we breathe in, our abdomen rises, at which time we can say silently to ourselves, “rising”; and as we breathed out, our abdomen falls, at which time we can say “falling.”
Especially in the beginning, our mind will wander; various feelings and thoughts will crop up, making it awfully difficult to concentrate on our breathing. Actually, we cannot prevent thoughts and feelings from arising, because the seeds have been planted as a result of our past actions, and these thoughts and feelings are the inevitable fruit of such seeds. So, our objective is not to prevent them or to try to think of nothing.
What we must do is to allow those feelings and thoughts to arise and then let them go. Let them come and go, but don’t cling to them and get entangled with them. As we let our thoughts come and go, we returned to paying attention to our breathing, just as a spider eventually returns to the center of its web. Breathing is the center of the web.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a well-known Buddhist monk and teacher, says that many people hate their bodies, but reading helps them to become more acquainted and familiar with their bodies.
He knows a meditation teacher who begins her practice session by telling her students, “let us be aware of our bodies. Breathing in, I know I am standing here in my body. Breathing out, I smiled to my body.” She encouraged us to make peace with our body.
You can do this for several minutes or for however long you wish. Many people have found that even a few minutes of mindfulness practice will leave them feeling a little more settled and physically refreshed.
Bodily movement. The second category of mindfulness of the body is on our bodily movement. This calls for us to pay full attention to our bodily activities, such as putting on our clothes, listening to others, and eating our meals. Let’s take the example of listening to someone else talk. As we all know, listening with undivided attention is not an easy task. However, with mindfulness practice, which can be trained to listen more fully and deeply to others when they are talking.
The same goes for eating. Often we are not even aware of what we are eating, or while eating we may be watching television, looking at the smart phone or me too absorbed in conversation. We are, thus encouraged to be mindful and aware of the food that is on our plates. If we are not aware of what we are eating, then we certainly cannot be savoring the food; this frequently leaves us feeling emotionally unsatisfied.
However, this mindfulness helps to ease this unsatisfactory feeling, while leading you to experience greater contentment. This sense of satisfaction or postponement cannot be explained logically. We simply need to practice and experience it!
Elements that make our body. Thirdly, with regard to the mindfulness of the elements of our body, the Buddha taught that our body is comprised of the elements of the earth, water, fire and wind.
First, we come mindful of the earth element in us, which refers to the matters that are solid. So, there are earth elements inside us as well as outside of us. When we realize that we are comprised of the same elements as things outside of us, then we see that there is no real boundary between the rest of the universe and us.
Next, we pay attention to the water element within us, which makes up over 75% of our body. When we do, we realize that we are, again, deeply connected to the water that is outside of us, whether it’s in the form of rain or water in the rivers and the oceans.
The same is true for the heat element that is within us. He is found in the various processes of our body that manifest in the warmth of our body. And this is intimately connected to the heat outside of us, which ultimately is based on the sun, which is some 91 million miles or 150 million km away.
Fourth is the wind element. This exists as air within us and as wind outside of us, as previously discussed in connection with mindfulness of breathing.
So, and meditating on the four elements, we become more aware of the components that make up our body as well as our bodies essential connection to the outside world. This form of meditation helps us to realize that we are, indeed, “one with the universe.”
To be continued from Chapter 6 – The Eightfold Noble Path, 8