Zen and mindfulness
A friend of mine talked to me about the concept of mindfulness and I thought it was interesting so I thought I would explore the idea. Here is some of what I found out.
Life exists only in the present moment, to lose the presence is to lose a life," says Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.
One of his followers, Jerry Braza, the author of "The Seeds of Love", explains that we are each a gardener in the garden of consciousness.
Braza believes that it is our duty to go back to our gardens and to choose, plant and tend the best seeds. Each of us should know exactly what's going on in our own gardens and try to put everything in order, restoring the beauty and harmony.
Then, we need to grow the seeds of compassion, love, joy and loving kindness.
Braza discusses two kinds of consciousness: store and consciousness (the soil and the seeds, or things below the soil) and mind consciousness (the visible garden, or things above the soil). Whether or not our meditation can develop fast depends on the quality of the seeds that lie deep in our consciousness. Too many weeds, or stress and it's difficult to get focused.
City dwellers would almost certainly see a distinction between the inner world and outer world. But the two worlds are one and the same and affect each other, according to the Zen master. You cannot understand the outer world without thoroughly discovering the inner.
That's when mindfulness comes in useful. And Braza simply makes it more practical for those of us stuck in the rat race. Mindfulness defined in Psychology Today is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience
Braza recommends a slow walk, a visit to a park, or sitting on the porch or balcony as a way to discover "noble silence", or a unifying of body, speech and mind. There are other tips for reaching mindfulness such as:
- Use a reminder of the string-around-your-finger variety. Wear your watch upside-down, put a quarter in your shoe, or put a smudge on one of the lenses of your glasses. When you notice it, let that serve as a reminder for you to notice your surroundings, become aware of your senses and your bodily sensations, and bring your focus into the present.
- Practice slowing down time by attending to the subtleties of experience in the here and now. Take a minute and go get a handful of grapes. Now eat one—but don't just pop it in your mouth. Instead, imagine you've never seen a grape before. Look it over carefully. Consider its shape, weight, colour, and texture. Rub the grape gently across your lips, noticing how it feels. Before you eat it, peel it, as you listen to this song by Nancy Wilson. Now put the grape in your mouth, and roll it around slowly with your tongue. Notice how it feels in your mouth. Take a small bite, noting the flavour. Next, chew the grape slowly, focusing on its taste and texture. Then swallow, and follow its path down your throat as far as you can. You can have a few more—but remember to focus on what each one looks, tastes, and feels like on your lips, in your mouth, and down your throat
- Focus on the soles of your feet. Here's a good trick to return to mindfulness if you feel angry or aggressive. Shift all your attention to the soles of your feet. Move your toes slowly, feel the weave of your socks and the curve of your arch. Breathe naturally and focus on the soles of your feet until you feel calm.
But whatever you do, be mindful every step of the way. That's the goal of mindfulness or mindful awareness. "Mindfulness is bringing our whole being to everything we do," he explains. This means you don't need to be in a retreat at a Buddhist temple in order to practise or maintain mindful awareness of the reality. It's very important to stop, rest and renew in order to be in tune with the present moment.
But how does meditation practice benefit us?
In this slowing of the mind, thoughts are present, but his mind is not as "reactive" to them in solitude and the natural environment.
Buddhism holds, but to rigorously train oneself to relinquish bad mental habits. Rather than being an end in itself, meditation becomes a tool to investigate your mind and change your worldview. You're not tuning out so much as tuning up your brain, improving your self-monitoring skills. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that he shall also reap." "Who harms not self, naught can harm," says The Bible. Daily habits are an outgrowth of our beliefs. Educate yourself and revolutionize your thoughts to help you change your living habits. Enthusiasm is what generates change.
"You stop being always projected outside. You start looking in and seeing how your mind works, and you change your mind, thought by thought," explains Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk, scientist and French interpreter for the Dalai Lama.
Then there's "interbeing", or oneness with all. You'd be successful once you see flowers blooming in your garden. In Buddhism, we believe mindfulness leads to concentration and concentration leads to insight.
Readers will find much to reflect on, especially on the subject of the inner garden. After all, this seems the only place to find understanding and compassion. While we'd all like to do a walking meditation in the woods, pick wildflowers along the way as well as bamboo branches for flower arrangements, the majority of us cannot afford the time to enjoy that environment.
So it is incumbent on each of us to find our own gardens, and appreciate the peace and miracle of where we are.
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