Thay Pagoda, 11th c., Near Ha Noi, Vietnam

Thay Pagoda, 11th c., Near Ha Noi, Vietnam

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A definition of Mindfulness: (synonym=Awareness) To be aware of the present moment, to pay attention in a focused way to the breath, the thoughts, and the sensations in the body, as well as to whatever is happening externally.

You’ll find here the practices that have been and continue to be the most helpful on my path of transformation from a life of confusion and dissatisfaction to one of happiness and peace. They’re called Mindfulness “practices,” for, to be effective, they should be included regularly in one’s daily life. Just as one who wants to become an accomplished pianist knows she must play the piano, we know we must practice, so that we can become happy, peaceful people. It IS possible to transform the old patterns and negative “habit energies” of regretting the past and worrying about the future. The practice of Mindfulness grounds us in the Present Moment. When we offer our presence, we create happiness and joy in ourselves and in those around us. Our loved ones, especially, benefit directly from our efforts. Seeing this, we become even more determined to be a beacon of Light. 

We can notice immediate results from our efforts. For example, a few minutes of Conscious Breathing offers us instantaneous relief from muscle tension and mental stress. Mindful Walking can transform periods of anxiety into a completely different way of viewing our situation, and one brief period of Deep Relaxation can be deeply nourishing.

Early members of the Hanoi Community of Mindful Living, founded by Trish, Van Mieu Temple, Hanoi, 2006

Early members of the Hanoi Community of Mindful Living, founded by Trish, Van Mieu Temple, Hanoi, 2006

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CONSCIOUS BREATHING***************************************SIMPLE & ESSENTIAL

Most of us pay little or no attention to our breath. After all, it’s always there. We tend to forget about the breathing process. In our forgetfulness, many of us have developed the habit of breathing very softly, allowing the air to travel only as far as the upper chest. Some of us have the habit of “resting” between the completion of the in-breath and the beginning of the out-breath. We breathe in, there is a pause, then we exhale.

Ideally, we breathe in calmly, slowly, and deeply. In this way, the oxygen circulates throughout the body, feeding all the cells in the body with the nourishing oxygen they need for optimum health. Then, we breathe out, also calmly and slowly, facilitating the release of any residual stale air.The breath is the anchor that grounds us in the present moment. As we pay attention to our in-breath and our out-breath, we experience a letting go of stress. We can feel the release of tension in the body. Simultaneously, as we focus on the breath, we calm both body and mind, for the mind is in every cell of the body. Just a few minutes of conscious breathing is an effective tool for slowing the hundreds of thoughts that flow through our consciousness. Everyone has experienced feelings of being overwhelmed, however, those feelings are often brought on by the jumble of thoughts racing around in the mind.

When we practice mindful breathing, we are not attempting to control or change the breath. We simply bring our attention to it. As we do this, following the in-breath all the way in, following the out-breath all the way out, the quality of our breathing naturally changes.This practice so easily becomes a habit, a very good habit. Try it when waiting for the traffic light to change, or when standing in the check-out line. Take a few minutes break while sitting at your desk, sit back in your chair, and enjoy your breathing.

Anytime is an opportunity to be aware of our breath. After all, wherever we are, whatever we are doing, for as long as we live, our breath is there, too.

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PSYCHOTHERAPY           BODYWORK            THERAPEUTIC  MASSAGE                  YOGA

When I was jolted awake by the sudden death of my mother, I subsequently became depressed and sad. After a few months of inertia, a dear friend suggested that I might benefit from some therapy. Therapy had not occurred to me. I was used to “toughing it out,” never having had the thought that just maybe I didn’t have to stay stuck in a miserable state and that I could ask for help. I trusted my friend when she recommended a psychotherapist, a woman who practiced “Family of Origin” and “Healing the Inner Child” therapy.

This woman became my teacher. I was her client for seven years, seeing her privately once a month and participating in weekly group sessions. I have heard Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh), my teacher for the past 15 years, say that the person who births us spiritually is our “root guru.” This psychotherapist is definitely mine. I never fail to include her in my daily prayers and meditation. Under her guidance, my life changed dramatically.

At some point, early in therapy, she said, “Trish, you’re going to be alright. You just need to bring your body along on this trip.” She was, of course, right. I was seldom aware of my body. My addiction of choice was thinking / analyzing. Most of my living was done from the neck up! For example, she would occasionally invite everyone in the group to “close your eyes and look down inside your body and tell me the ONE word that best describes what you are feeling.” For months, I could only identify “confusion.” I could not distinguish between feelings of anger and feelings of fear. I was so out of touch with my body. She recommended that I have regular massage and bodywork, and so I did.

In my experience, the benefits of Yoga, Therapeutic Massage, and Bodywork, such as Rolfing, Shiatsu, Reflexology, and Feldenkrais, cannot be overstated. (Google for explanations of these healing modalities.) Healing touch when given to us in a focused way by someone whose intention is to “love us into wholeness” is of tremendous benefit, as is the transmission of loving, healing thought energy. This energy when intentionally transmitted can be understood as Prayer. Do not underestimate the Power of Prayer. Our thoughts have power which is a reason to pay attention to them, catching and transforming negative ones into thoughts of Love and Compassion. We can use our “thought power” to heal ourself and to aid the healing of others.

This powerful mind is in every cell of the body, and each cell holds memory. To quote the Buddha, “The mind is deeper than the deepest ocean.” Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork aid in the unlocking of long-held, and often painful, memories. Once we shine the Light of Awareness on the memories of those negative past experiences, we are already on the way to healing the wounds associated with them.

In my experience, painful memories ONLY come into my consciousness when  I am in a safe and supportive environment. I never have to fear that the memory of some past negative experience will suddenly overwhelm me. In fact, the psyche has this marvelous tool called “denial,” that protects us from knowing something we’re not prepared to recall or to know. In Christian language, the saying is, “The Lord never gives us more than we can bear.”

When doing intense, concentrated work of claiming the truth of our past, we might begin to experience vivid dreams. We begin to be more aware of feelings and sensations in the body. Thoughts and images from the past begin to surface in our consciousness. In this process, we can work with these memories by talking them through with a good, spiritual friend or with our trusted therapist (psychotherapist, massage therapist, counsellor), or with a spiritual teacher or guide. We learn that the body is our friend, telling us what we need to know. Our job is to listen.

If your life seems to be filled with uncertainty, if you have a history of troubled relationships, if you “run away” from intimacy, if you feel you are “stuck,” if you feel “different,” as though you don’t “fit in,” if you suffer from chronic sadness or anger ……….If any one or all of these resonate with you, I recommend psychotherapy. This is, after all, the 21st century  All the conditions exists for you to  explore and discover all that you can about this person you call “me.” This detective work is high adventure!

Healing the past is essential for living peacefully and happily in the present. I encourage you to not waste a moment. Life is brief and uncertain, therefore, if not now, when?

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7806446-filteredMindfully eating while observing a period of silence, contrary to what one might assume, actually deepens our  awareness of the presence of our companions. In our society, sharing a meal with others has become a social event, during which we enjoy conversation, some of which can be quite lively. This can be a really fun time, however, the food no longer has our full attention. For that matter, no one and nothing has our full attention. When eating, talking, picking up food, pushing food around on a plate, listening to what someone is saying or what we will say next, the mind is diffused. Not one of those elements is receiving our optimum attention.

As we eat, we’re invited to really “see” the food on our plate. When we look deeply, we see the farmer in the food. We see the sunshine, the rain, the grocer. We see that many have worked to bring this food to us.

We can train ourselves to eat more slowly, enjoying each bite. We can choose to practice slowing down by chewing each bite 20 or even 30 times. We can actually transform the food into liquid, thereby facilitating the digestive process. When eating like this, we might notice that the food taste so good! The carrots are sweeter than we remember. We enjoy the scent of the rice and the crispness of the salad.

If you are one who is reluctant to let go of the pleasant opportunity to engage with others, why not compromise? Perhaps you and your family, you and your partner, can agree to eat in silence for the first 10 minutes. You might be surprised at how intimate those moments of silence can be. Sometimes, words actually get in the way of intimacy, like when we are looking at the full moon. What words can improve on that experience.

The meal-time blessing I prefer to all others is called “The Five Contemplations:”

This food is the gift of the whole Universe,

The Earth, the Sky, numerous Living Beings, and much hard and loving work.

May we transform our unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed, and learn to eat in moderation.

May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering of living beings, preserve our planet, and reverse the process of global warming.

We accept this food in order to nurture our sisterhood and brotherhood, strengthen our community, and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.

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1057765-filteredThere was a time in my life, before I began my conscious journey, when the energy of Rushing was strong in me. My habit was based on the belief that I needed to always be doing something, and there never seemed to be enough time to do it all. I needed to rush because I was so busy. I often arrived at my destination huffing and puffing. This energy dominated my way of being. I seldom lived in the present moment. I rushed from one thing to another. I just had “so much to do!”

The practice of Mindful Walking has helped me to slow down. Surprisingly, this slowing has allowed me to actually be more productive. Even more important, I no longer have that dissatisfied feeling of  being too busy. The quality of my minutes, hours, and days is greatly enhanced, as is the quality of my breathing.

This practice has also helped me to transform negative feelings – anger, sadness, despair. When I am caught in some negative energy, I take a walk, a mindful one, focusing my mind on the breath and my steps. Soon, my mind is calm again, and I can think clearly.

Try this. Ask a friend or family member to take a walk with you, a special kind of walk, a “mindful” walk. Before you begin, inform your friend of your wish to walk in silence.  (If you want to hold hands, you must walk in sync)

1) Begin by stepping forward on the left foot.

2) Adjust your body movement to be in rhythm with your breath. Inhaling, take two steps forward. Exhaling, take two steps forward.You might feel tense for a few minutes, as you adjust your gait to match your breath, but soon you will relax. Please don’t try to control your breath. Let it be natural. Adjust your steps, not your breath.

3) Occasionally stop, breathe with awareness, and give your full attention to being present for what is around you. Really hear the sound of the leaf falling, of the birds singing, the insects buzzing. Really BE where you are in that moment.

4) You might want to invite a loved one who is no longer present in your life to take a mindful walk with you. Sometimes, I enjoy remembering my parents by having them walk with me.

Enjoy your breathing, Enjoy the feel of the warm sun on your face, Enjoy the feeling of your feet making contact with this precious Earth, Enjoy the scent of the trees or flowers or the fragrance of cooking food from your neighbor’s kitchen. Notice the smallest flower. Enjoy being Alive!

(A helpful technique to develop the habit of living in the present moment is to choose a particular space where you walk regularly and decide that you will be aware of every step you take when walking there. This could be the walk between your house and your car, or the stairs in your office building.)

To quote my teacher, “The real miracle is not to walk on water, but to walk on the Earth.”

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2909881-filteredThis practice is a precious gift to give yourself, a healing practice for the mind/body. You can also consider this to be a time for honoring your body by paying close attention to each part of it.

Allow about 20 minutes for practice, or longer if you want.

Choose a quiet space, with dim lighting. Lie on your back on a mat on the floor or some firm surface. (If you suffer from insomnia and are wanting to go to sleep, then of course, practice while lying in your bed) Place a pillow or cushion under your knees and another under your head. Cover your eyes with a scarf or mask of some sort, to shut out any visual distractions. Let your arms and hands rest beside your body.

You might want to turn on some soft, soothing music.

Take three deep, slow in-breaths, exhaling slowly. Now, beginning at your feet, bring your full attention to each part of your body, slowly “seeing” and feeling any sensation you encounter. As you connect your awareness with various areas of your body, you might find yourself feeling compassion and gratitude for your body, for your heart which has been beating constantly since you were a 4-month old fetus in your mother’s womb, for your hands that allow you to do so many wonderful things, for your feet that have carried you through each day.

Give yourself plenty of time for this period of intimacy with your body. Many, particularly women, admit to hating various parts of themselves. Practicing this exercise regularly is a wonderful way to recognize that your body is really your friend. And, of course, we always treat our friends with kindness!

(As shown in the above photo, the practice can be a period of refreshing rest.)

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4230026-filteredThe practice of Sitting Meditation is central to the development of a calm mind and an open heart. This practice of stopping allows us to develop concentration and insight leading to a more accurate view of reality.

I’ve heard it said that when we pray, we’re talking to God, and when we meditate, we’re creating space for God to talk to us. This affirms that we are sitting with an intention. The intention is to be present for whatever arises in the body and the mind.

In the tradition of my Zen community, we train the mind by focusing on the breath. Of course, the moment we become still and begin to watch the breath, we also become aware of thoughts. As beginners, we might think we are insane, for now that we have no distractions, we realize that the thoughts come and the thoughts go. Not only that, but they are often totally unrelated to each other. One moment, the thought, “wonder what time it is” arises, immediately followed by “our house really needs a new coat of paint, ” followed by “I wish I had gotten my degree in psychology,” and on and on. The practice is to notice the thoughts, and then gently bring the attention back to the breath. Again and again, our minds will wander, then we remember, “Oh, I’m meditating,” and we come back to the breath.

Posture is very important, as is the length of time. If you’re new to meditation, sit for 10 minutes. Set the egg timer or your alarm clock. You can work up to 25 or 30 minutes or longer, as you wish. Just remember that Sitting Meditation should be enjoyable. If a body-part hurts, adjust your posture, doing it quietly, deliberately, mindfully.

I like to sit in the early morning before I become involved in the day’s activities. Five or ten minutes of sitting just before bedtime is effective for calming body and mind, and for enjoying refreshing sleep.

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Meditation Room, Dharma Gaia Mindfulness Center, Coromandel, New Zealand

Meditation Room, Dharma Gaia Mindfulness Center, Coromandel, New Zealand

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Live Oaks at Tomotly Plantation, Yemasee, South Carolina, USA