Mindfulness Exercises Especially for Today’s Busy, Hurried Person
By: J. Marlando
If you happen to be one amidst the many who are racing through life, feeling the pressure, combating the stress and feeling more lost than found in the noise and chaos of it all, this article might make your world more happy and content than you ever thought possible.
A great many years ago when I taught an actor’s workshop on love and charisma, part of the course was for students to learn to be mindful. Mindfulness is by and large something that most Westerners are not familiar with especially in terms of practice. For one thing, mindfulness is typically thought of as being a Buddhist practice, which it generally is, so most Westerners regard it as some kind of Eastern spiritual practice which it can be. However, I did not learn about mindfulness from some mystical, old sage or wise guru—I did not even begin reading Eastern thought until I was in my late 20s. I learned mindfulness from my grandmother who was an old, back hills lady who practically raised me.
My grandmother Nellie (I called her Nanny) had never heard of mindfulness but intuitively taught it as part of her own perception of life and living it. When I was a small boy we had a beautiful, old apple tree in our yard. I would often pick an apple to snack on and eat it without much awareness. After all, when you have a tree filled with apples you don’t really think they are very special—you just pick what you want.
One day when I was in the yard my grandmother noticed that I had just picked an apple to eat. She watched me for a few moments and then she asked me what I was doing. "I’m eating an apple," I said.
She told me that I was not eating the apple that I was eating whatever was on my mind…like playing or going to a movie. She told me to think about the apple and the eating it too; to put my mind to what I was doing. My grandmother was always saying stuff that I thought was weird at the time and yet I always tried to do what she told me to do. For another quick example, bath time for me as a kid was every Saturday night. I hated taking a bath and always got in and out of the tub as fast as I could. My grandmother changed that, however. One Saturday night when I was in the tub, she told me that I could become water if I wanted to and that perked my attention. What kid wouldn’t like to be water for a change? Anyway she told me not to think about anything but to just sit in the tub with nothing on my mind but being in the water and see what happened. Well, after that, I was always anxious for bath night and I had the greatest time just sitting in the tub for the longest time…being water!
To some readers this might sound like nonsense but while my grandmother didn’t comprehend the aspects of being mindful in terms of meditative Buddhism, she was intuitively in touch with it and taught it in her own way. Indeed, had she been aware of ancient thought, she would have probably suggested that I become one with the bath water as opposed to becoming the water which was her way of saying the same thing. We’ll talk more about this later.
In this article I am going to attempt to open a gateway for seekers of a more content life and point the way to a path of peace and love through the practices of awareness. Awareness after all is the foundation of all mindfulness and can be experienced in the middle of Friday night traffic to the bank of a trickling stream; wherever a person is at inner-harmony can be maintained.
Mindfulness Finding Peace in a Frantic World
A gigantic problem people have in especially industrial societies is that their life stays pretty much in a state of stress between the empty past and the unknowable future: while in one meeting, for example, a person may be anxiously thinking about the next meeting or what he or she needs to accomplish before the day is out or something in their yesterdays that they once did right or wrong. This example describes how most people live at least much of the time in most circumstances. And, indeed, when these people go to bed at night they are typically still thinking about what happened earlier that day and what will happen on the following day so as a result, restlessness and/or tossing and turning occurs.
A wonderful way to relax and becoming mindful in this situation is by lying on your back and counting your breaths. Counting breaths is an extremely ancient way of entering deep relaxation and a lot of people even use it all the way through their meditation sessions. It’s easy—all you do is become aware of your breathing and then count each breath in and each breath out. You will naturally create a comfortable rhythm for relaxed counting.
Think only of your breathing and if your mind drifts or desires to rekindle your stressful or unhappy thoughts simply return you mind to concentrating on counting your breaths. The more you practice this, the easier and more relaxed you’ll become.
You can also do this in many situations over the course of your busy days, even walking: When you walk, just walk slower and more mindfully than you otherwise would and begin counting your breaths. This is a far better way to prepare for a meeting or some task than with a nervous, anxious or hurried mental attitude.
The idea behind mindfulness begins with being aware of experiencing our experiences so counting breaths is an excellent practice for this. After all, it is bringing an unconscious activity into conscious experience.
When my grandmother told me to put my mind to what I was doing when eating an apple, she wanted me to be aware of the entire experience of doing and tasting. I didn’t know it then but she was taking me out of the state of non-being (which most of us live in) and returning me to the present and being. She wanted me to experience my experience.
Most people exist in turmoil at least a lot of the time because they actually live outside a great many of their experiences. For example, they eat in order to have eaten, they go to the supermarket in order to have gotten their shopping over with; they go to work with getting off work in mind. So much of what they do is to avoid or affect something else. Indeed, one of the most common Western sayings is, “I can’t wait to get home to relax.”
Well certainly we can all kick back at home in ways that we can’t “relax” in outside social or work situations but we should maintain a relaxed state no matter where we are at—it is simply healthier for our minds and bodies to keep spiritually at peace with oneself and one’s world.
In order to maintain the relaxed, aware state of relaxation that I am referring to one must practice “now-ness.” That is, the art of being fully and wholly in the present.
The Awareness of Being
In fast-paced and demanding modernism it is easy to get caught up in what is called the “rat race.” While this means different things to different people the condition is very similar for everyone. In the “rat race” people are forever wishing they were somewhere else and doing something different. Eckhart Tolle in fact tells us that stress is caused by being “here” but wanting to be “there.”
My grandmother used to say, no matter what you do, “Put everything you have into it.” This applied to everything from eating an apple to chopping wood and was her old-hill’s way of saying the same thing as the ancient teachers taught about being fully committed to the moment; of being mindful in all our activities.
A most wonderful way of practicing being totally in the present and thus being mindful is to, now and then give your mind to something in nature like a planttree
You can do this with anything of course from a teacup to an old tire but I prefer living things because with enough commitment of mindfulness a merging of consciousness can arrive or, in other words, oneness can occur much like becoming one with your bath water.
Let’s stay with a flower with its manifold intricacies:
As a quick aside, if you do this do not be surprised if you find yourself saying to the tree, or plant or flower, I love you because love seems to permeate all living things. In fact, I remember asking the physicist Fred Alan Wolf what love is. His answer was very simple but, at the same time, profound. He said, love is the glue of the universe.
The awareness of being includes the art of loving but this is a topic that will wait until later.
“The awareness of being” begins with being in awareness of where we are at all times. At first this might sound absurd because, under ordinary circumstances, we always know where we are. But knowing where we are is often a mere fact without substance of (true) experience. You might be at work, for example, and know that you are at work but your mind may be on last night’s party or what you’re going to do that evening; on last week’s football game or what your mother said to you ten years ago. If this is so, you are in a realm of non-being like the boy eating an apple with his mind on playing or a movie.
(Incidentally, there is nothing wrong with daydreamingas long as you are fully aware that you are exiting the present for a journey into a mindscape of your own making. In other words, do not be carried away by your imagination without consciously choosing to be. Remember, Mindfulness beyond all else is awareness).
Anyway, we who exist in modern cultures are far most apt to lose ourselves in non-being than being. We might in fact fall into the trappings of chasing our dreams and ambitions much like a dog chases his own tail. How many human beings have virtually given up the joys of living their daily lives in the quest of success in their tomorrows to come? Indeed, Western culture even supports sacrificing today for payloads in some unknown future. As a result it is not at all farfetched to say that such individuals are forever waiting to be happy and content. They simply remain in the mindlessness of non-being.
In Western Jargon, they simply never wake up and smell the roses.
Awareness of being then calls for conscious awareness of ourselves in the present; we need to sit, stand, walk, play, do chores, relax and exercise all in awareness of sitting, standing, walking, working, playing, relaxing exercising.. We need to do all that we do in attentiveness of doing.
We will of course not be able to stay focused on self-awareness all the time. There are just too many demands and intrusions in modernization to permit such leisure. We can, however, wake up to practice mindfulness before we leave the house to face our day of chaos and challenge. And, during each day, we can take a few minutes out to count our breaths and therefor become wholly self-aware amidst the confusion and demands of our daily life.
Mindfulness and Meditation
There are two ways of practicing mindfulness. The first is contemplative as we have been talking about all along. The second is meditative which we will talk about now.
Contemplative awareness is when we give our devoted attention to ourselves, others or other things. That is, when we target our concentration to grasp the wholeness of something be it a leaf, a star or another human being. Our desire then is to be in conscious awareness of the object; to be mindful of it.
Meditative awareness is quite different in that it empties the mind when focused on something. It is important to be able to empty the mind of thought first, to be in charge of your mind as opposed to the other way around and secondly, to open to what I call the state of simply being.
I want the reader at this juncture to stop reading again and return to the plant, flower or tree that he or she contemplated earlier and now sit before it and empty your mind becoming in passive existence with it. (Some people prefer a blank wall for this practice).
If thoughts enter your mind chase them off by intent or by counting a few breaths.
Going into a state of non-thought has always been easy for me, accept in times of intense stress, but I know for some people it is a real challenge to keep an empty mind at least for very long. Also, because of your habit of being hurried you may be able to only meditate for around ten or fifteen minutes but if you make meditation your habit, you will slowly keep adding to the duration of your practicing sessions.
Unlike contemplative mindfulness, meditative mindfulnesstakes you inside yourself Your ultimate desire is to reach what is called chi, a Chinese term that describes the life force that permeates all things; it is you at your very source and your connectedness to the rest of the Universe.
I remember as a boy my grandmother always talked to her plants and she told me that if I sat quietly with an open mind that soon enough the plant, tree, bush or flower would teach me many things. I of course believed her wholeheartedly and so, by any other name, I learned to meditate. After many tries, however, I went to her with my feelings hurt because whatever plant or tree I had sat before never spoke to me. She told me that plants cannot speak as people do but, when we open to them, they talk to our hearts just like God does.
In this regard, the Confucian sage, Wang Shihuai, taught that, “The universe is all mind and all phenomena, while some of today’s most revered quantum physicists support the idea that consciousness is both inside and outside of us and that we are in a web of relationships with everything else in the world. In regard to this, many indigenous people, including the Native American recognized animals, trees and plants as their brothers and sisters. My grandmother had little or no book learning but she understood these things innately so I feel very fortunate to have had her as a teacher.
Practicing mindfulness is not limited to either contemplative and/or meditative activities, however. If the result only creates a greater self-awareness then the practice is only egocentric-nuance costumed in spirituality.
Being mindful must reveal itself in human action since thought alone, like words, are ever as meaningless as faith without action.
Mindfulness and Manifestation
The Lama Surya Das was young and seeking profound truths. After all he had read the great philosophers and, for a young man, was on an intellectual journey seeking a spiritual path. He eventually met the Dalai Lama and was able to ask him what he deemed the most important question of all. What is the meaning of life?
Surya Das did not have to wait long. The Dalai Lama answered immediately: “To be happy and to make other’s happy.”
At a later date the Dali Lama told us that if we want to make other people happy, be compassionate and if we want to make ourselves happy, be compassionate.
In these two teachings are the secrets to creating a happier, more secure, kinder and loving world. Each of us has the potential to do this through the actions of our mindfulness. Both contemplative and meditative practices should evolve into human action. The first major epiphany to occur from the mindfulness is that you are everyone else and the only differences are apparent: You are the dancer and the person in the wheelchair, the person driving by in the limousine and the homeless person eating out of the garbage can; the infant just born and the person taking his or her last breath. They are ALL you only in different circumstances.
When you only know this much, compassion, the activity of empathy, arrives naturally to you. After all, all those people are living in the same uncertainty as you are; they bleed the same, feel pain the same, experience success and failure in the same way; their tears are as salty as yours and the lump in their throats as thick. In other words, the only real differences between human beings are the physical aspects of our uniqueness and our cultural indoctrinations. Deep below the surfaces, however, is the chi of us which is shared by everyone else.
When our conscious awareness can truly grasp that one is all and all is one our world perspective quickly changes. As a result we lose our suspicion of others and begin permitting ourselves to actually love our neighbors as ourselves and to truly treat others as we would be treated. Beyond all else we stop judging others by ourselves and ourselves by others and instead we simply greet the world and all that’s in it with love. Love makes us happy and strives to make other’s a happy. This is one of the greatest joys of mindfulness. It gives us a conscious belonging to the entire universe and a connectedness of what some call the Buddha/Christ nature. This includes the qualities of tolerance, forgiveness and understanding; of kindness, love and generosity.
There is a person I know that has been doing meditative practices for well over twenty years and still he has not obtained mindfulness as he lacks the qualities just mentioned. The wall in his mindscape that keeps him from obtaining the spirituality he seeks is ego. Ego stops a great many individuals from obtaining real mindfulness. For one thing mindfulness means absolutely letting loose of the self in order to merge with the other. After all, you cannot be “mindful” of a thing unless you have opened to it without motive.
Mindfulness is the compassionate way for making the self and others…happy.
This has been, most basically a how-to-get-started in mindfulness article but I will suggest further reading at the end of this summary and books any sincere person should have in their library for further study.
As I said throughout the above my mindfulness began when I was a youngster living with my grandmother, I did not know about Zen or any Buddha type meditation for many years into adulthood. Since then I have studied formally and non-formally for many years and I have found it a healthy, joyful way of reducing stress and anxiety that comes with the clinks and clanks of living in a fast-lane culture. It is also a wonderful way to become in connectedness with others and finally with the entire universe.
References and further reading:
Hanh, Nhat, Thich * The Miracle of Mindfulness *Beacon Press
Das, Surya Lama * Awakening to the Sacred * Broadway Books
Tolle, Eckhart * The Power of Now * New World Library
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