Mindfulness is one of the fundamental spiritual practices taught by the Buddha. It allows us to bring appropriate attention to things occurring in our lives and to get to know and train our minds.
“Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present and at one with those around us and with what we are doing” (www.plumvillage.org). We bring our body and mind into harmony in our everyday activities.
In more secular communities, mindfulness is described as the practice of intentionally bringing our awareness to whatever we are experiencing in this present moment. We do this with kindness, curiosity and understanding and, to the best of our ability, without being drawn into our judging and evaluating mind.
Mindfulness is our basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, and not be overly reactive, critical or overwhelmed by what we are experiencing.
Essentially, meditation is a state of “thoughtless awareness”—alert and sensitive awareness. Meditation produces the energy of mindfulness. It helps us to light up the recesses of our mind and to develop clarity in order to see the true nature of things. We let our mind become spacious and our heart soft and kind. We learn the patterns and habits of our mind allowing us to cultivate different, more positive and skillful ways of being. With patience and practice we gain a new understanding of life.
There are many ways to nurture and nourish mindfulness. In our tradition, the two most common ways are sitting and walking meditation.
Sitting Meditation – In sitting meditation we use our breath as our anchor and as our focus in order to be in the present moment. We realize that we can simply be with whatever is within us—our pain, anger and irritation as well as joy, love and peace. By bringing attention to the breath, we become aware of our mind’s tendency to wander and to be drawn into our thoughts, emotions and sensations. When we notice that we have been distracted, we can reconnect with our breath and come back to the present moment. We observe the thoughts and images of our mind with an accepting and loving eye. Essentially, breathing and knowing that we are breathing is our basic practice.
In sitting meditation we make our self as comfortable as possible, either on our cushion or in our chair. Our posture is upright but not rigid or stiff. Usually, we gently close our eyes, thereby reducing distractions. We bring our attention inward and become aware of our breathing or some component of our breathing. For example, we may notice the cool in-breathe and warm out-breathe as air passes our nostrils. Or, we may notice the sensation of our chest and abdomen rising and falling. When are aware of our breathing, we are less apt to be drawn into experiences from the past or to expectations for the future. We become perfectly accepting of the present moment. We remain attentive to our breathing.
Walking Meditation – Walking meditation is a simple and universal practice for developing calm, connected and embodied awareness. As we walk, we learn to be aware of the natural movement of walking in order to cultivate mindfulness and presence. In walking meditation we are not attempting to get anywhere; our destination is the here and now.
In walking meditation, we take deliberate slow steady steps noticing each one as it connects with the ground, touching the earth. We deeply observe our walking. Each step brings us back to the present moment with body and mind united. Mindful walking is an opportunity to guide ourselves out of our often distracted autopilot and bring us into the present moment.