OK so perhaps now you have a taste of seated meditation. This is a vital practice to gain some measure of concentration and mental centeredness. However, as stated in the last post, meditation should not end when we leave the seat. Perhaps the greatest challenge in obtaining a more illuminated life is to carry the “attitude” of meditation into everyday life. The Buddha once stated that if one can maintain everyday mindfulness for one month, they would realize enlightenment. Boy, do I have a long way to go. Maintaining mindful attention for even brief periods is not easy.
So, what does it mean to carry mindfulness into everyday life? When I was in a Zen monastery for a training weekend, I noticed that they had statues of Bodhisattvas in the bathrooms. When I asked about this I was informed that it is to remind the monks and lay practitioners that even when in the course of the most mundane routines of everyday life, they are urged to stay “awake”, that is to say…fully present.
A famous and now deceased Theravada Buddhist master in Thailand, Anjhan Cha, was renowned for telling the practitioners at his forest Wats (monasteries), that the most important thing in monastic training, even more than meditation, is adhering to the rules of the monastery. The rules guide even the most mundane aspects of daily life. Everything is to be done in a very deliberate manner. The rules are designed to help foster mindful awareness. Nothing is left to chance. The idea is that discipline is the cornerstone of liberation and freedom.
In Japan, a variety of things are taught to provide a vehicle to establish mindfulness. So for example the tea ceremony, flower arranging, calligraphy, fighting arts and so on are taught towards this end. Literally anything we do can be a vehicle to facilitate mindfulness.
Some things we can do to practice mindfulness in everyday life:
1) “When eating eat” – Try closing your eyes for a couple of minutes when eating food. The tastes and textures will be much richer and chances are you will eat slower. I do this with my kids from time to time and they get a big kick out of it. They notice a huge difference. Plus it tends to make them more quiet for a moment which is always a benefit. Unfortunately we live in a culture of “fast food’ which can easily be translated into “unmindful eating”.
2) Place little Buddha or other symbolic effects at various parts of your home to serve as prompts to engage in mindfulness. So for example I used to have a little Buddha statue above my kitchen sink to remind me to make washing dishes a meditative act. My kids love making fun of me and my Buddha statues. I do not use them as objects of veneration but rather more as cues to remind me to try to be a little more present and awake.
3) Practice Kinkhin or walking meditation. After meditation or at any time, practice walking with mindful attention. Learning to carry mindfulness into physical action is very important, albeit not easy.
4) Try to make little ceremonies for executing certain tasks. However, don’t become obsessionally rigid with these tasks. the idea here is to help create mindfulness by paying close attention to the manner or order with which something gets done. We can make a little ceremony or ritual around how we make our bed, rake leaves, fold clothes, or make coffee or whatever else. However, it is also a good practice to try doing things in a different manner than we ordinarily do to help break our compulsive attachments. So for example, one can practice getting dressed in a different order, or eating foods in a different order. While seemingly contradictory, these two practices can help forge mindfulness.
5) Now of course we are all constantly engaged in mental conversations and gobs of inner drama. It is a good practice to try to become alert to all the inner cognitive currents and storms by calling them out for periods of time. So if you are able to catch yourself indulging these inner dialogues, simply repeat inwardly, “thinking” or “drama” or whatever else you find useful. Never get into a control war with your thoughts or feelings. Just watch with detached interest and let them pass if their own accord. Point the flashlight of your attention on the thoughts and like roaches, they will scamper. However, like roaches they will return once the light is turned off or redirected.
When commencing such practices, it can be a little disconcerting to recognize how seldom we are fully present in the moments of our lives. But even this recognition is already an important step into the process of waking up. While for the most part I would have to say that I am still pretty much “asleep at the switch”, however, the recognition that even brief moments of relative wakefulness and clarity are possible, is enough to add immeasurable dimensions of meaning to life. Even when facing emotional pain. More on mindfulness and the “dark emotions”…..
As always, you are invited to leave questions, comments, personal experiences!