How to Enjoy Your Practice

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Practising Together

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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 you and with what you are doing. We bring our body and mind into harmony while we wash the dishes, drive the car or take our morning shower.

Here in the retreat, we do very much the same things as when we are at home – walking, sitting, eating, etc. – except now we learn to do them with mindfulness, with the awareness that we are doing it. We practise mindfulness throughout every moment of the day and not just in the meditation hall, but also in the dining hall, the toilet, in our rooms and on the path leading from one place to another.

In practising together as a Sangha, as a community, our practice of mindfulness becomes more joyful, relaxed and steady. We are bells of mindfulness for each other, supporting and reminding each other along the path of practice.

Dear friends, let us try to be intelligent and skillful in our practice, approaching every aspect of the practice with curiosity and a sense of search. Let us practise with understanding and not just for the form and appearance. Enjoy your practice here with a relaxed and gentle attitude, with an open mind and receptive heart.

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Breathing

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Our breathing is a stable solid ground that we can take refuge in. Regardless of our internal weather – our thoughts, emotions and perceptions – our breathing is always with us like a faithful friend. Whenever we feel carried away, or sunken in a deep emotion, or scattered in worries and projects, we return to our breathing to collect and anchor our mind.

We feel the flow of air coming in and going out of our nose. We feel how light and natural, how calm and peaceful our breathing functions. At any time, while we are walking, gardening, or typing, we can return to this peaceful source of life.

We may like to recite:

“Breathing in I know that I am breathing in.
Breathing out I know that I am breathing out.”

We do not need to control our breath. Feel the breath as it actually is. It may be long or short, deep or shallow. With our awareness it will naturally become slower and deeper. Conscious breathing is the key to uniting body and mind and bringing the energy of mindfulness into each moment of our life.

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Bells of Mindfulness

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On your arrival you might hear a bell sound and suddenly people around you have stopped still, stopped talking, and stopped moving. It might be the clock chiming or the dining bell sounding. These are our bells of mindfulness. When we hear the sound of the bell we relax our body and become aware of our breathing. We do that naturally, with enjoyment, and without solemnity or being stiffed.

When we hear one of these mindfulness bells ring, we stop whatever we are doing and bring our awareness to our breathing. The ringing bell has called out to us:

Listen, listen,
this wonderful sound brings me back to
my true home.

By stopping to breathe and restore our calm and our peace, we become free, our work becomes more enjoyable and the friend in front of us becomes more real. Back home we can use the ringing of our telephone, the local church bells, the cry of a baby, or even the sound of fire engines and ambulances as our bells of mindfulness. You may also install the mindfulness clock in your computer to remind you to stop and breathe (www.mindfulnessdc.org/mindfulclock.html). With just three conscious breaths we can release the tensions in our body and mind and return to a cool and clear state of being.

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Noble Silence

Noble silence is observed during the retreat. This is very healing. We allow the silence and the calm to penetrate our flesh and bones. We allow the energy of the Sangha and its mindfulness to penetrate our body and mind. After the evening activities we go back to our dormitories slowly, aware of every step. We breathe deeply and enjoy the stillness and the freshness. We can stay alone outside with the trees and the stars for about ten minutes, then go inside to use the bathroom, to change and go to bed right away.

Lying on our back, we can practise Deep Relaxation until sleep comes. In the morning, we move mindfully and silently, taking time to breathe, to go to the bathroom and then proceeding right away to the meditation hall. We do not have to wait for anyone. When we see someone along the path, we just join our palms and bow, allowing him or her to enjoy the morning the way we do.

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Waking Up in the Morning

Waking up this morning, I smile
knowing there are 24 brand new hours before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment,
and look at beings with eyes of compassion.

As we wake up in the morning and open our eyes we may like to recite the above gatha. We can start our day with the happiness of a smile and the aspiration to dedicate ourselves to the path of love and understanding. We are aware that today is a fresh, new day, and we have 24 precious hours to live.

Let us try to get up from bed right away after following three deep breaths to bring ourselves into mindfulness. Let us not delay our waking. We may like to sit up and gently massage our head, neck, shoulders, and arms to get your blood circulating. We might like to do a few stretches to loosen our joints and wake up our body. Drinking a cup of warm water is also good for our system first thing in the morning.

Let us wash up or do what we need to before heading towards the meditation hall. Allow ourselves enough time so we will not have to rush. Take deep breaths and enjoy the cool, fresh air. As we walk slowly towards the hall, let the morning fill our being, awakening our body and mind to the joy of a new day.

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Sitting Meditation

Sitting meditation is like returning home to give full attention to and care for our self. We sit upright with dignity, and return to our breathing. We bring our full attention to what is within and around us. We let our mind become spacious and our heart soft and kind. Like the peaceful image of the Buddha on the altar, we too can radiate peace and stability. The purpose of sitting meditation is to enjoy. Don’t try to attain anything!

Sitting meditation is very healing. We realize we can just be with whatever is within us – our pain, anger, and irritation, or our joy, love, and peace. We are with whatever is there without being carried away by it. Let it come, let it stay, then let it go. No need to push, to oppress, or to pretend our thoughts are not there. Observe the thoughts and images of our mind with an accepting and loving eye. We are free to be still and calm despite the storms that might arise in us.

If our legs or feet begin to hurt during the sitting, we are free to adjust our position quietly. We can maintain our concentration by following our breathing and slowly and attentively change our posture. At the end of the sitting meditation session, allow a few minutes to massage your legs and feet before standing up again.

We can find suggestions for guided meditations in Thay’s book “The Blooming of a Lotus”.

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Walking Meditation

Wherever we walk, we can practise meditation. This means that we know that we are walking. We walk just for walking. We walk with freedom and solidity, no longer in a hurry. We are present with each step.

Walking in this way should not be a privilege. We should be able to do it in every moment. Look around and see how vast life is, the trees, the white clouds, the limitless sky. Listen to the birds. Feel the fresh breeze. Life is all around and we are alive and healthy and capable of walking in peace.

Let us walk as a free person and feel our steps get lighter. Let us enjoy every step we make. Each step is nourishing and healing. As we walk, imprint our gratitude and our love on the earth.

We may like to use a gatha as we walk. Taking two or three steps for each in-breath and each out-breath,

Breathing in “I have arrived”; Breathing out “I am home”
Breathing in “In the here”; Breathing out “In the now”
Breathing in “I am solid”; Breathing out “I am free”
Breathing in “In the ultimate”; Breathing out “I dwell”

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Listening to a Dharma Talk

We have the opportunity to attend Dharma talks by our teacher. Please arrive early for the talk so that we may have enough time to find a seat and establish ourselves in a peaceful state of mind. Please listen to the talks with an open mind and a receptive heart. If we listen only with our intellect, comparing and judging what is said to what we already think we know or what we have heard others say, we may miss the chance to truly receive the message that is being transmitted.

The Dharma is like rain. Let it penetrate deeply into our consciousness, watering the seeds of wisdom and compassion that are already there. Absorb the talk openly, like the earth receiving a refreshing spring rain. The talk might be just the condition our tree needs to flower and bear the fruits of understanding and love.

Out of respect for the teachings and the teacher, we are asked to sit on a cushion or a chair during the teachings and not to lie down. If we feel tired during the talk, mindfully shift our position and practise deep breathing and gentle massage for one or two minutes to bring fresh oxygen to our brain and the areas of fatigue in our body. Please refrain from talking, or making disturbing noises in the hall during the Dharma talk. If it is absolutely necessary to leave the hall during the talk please do so with a minimum of disturbance to others.

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Eating Together

Eating a meal together is a meditative practice. We should try to offer our presence for every meal. As we serve our food we can already begin practising. Serving ourselves, we realize that many elements, such as the rain, sunshine, earth, air and love, have all come together to form this wonderful meal. In fact, through this food we see that the entire universe is supporting our existence.

Before eating, the bell will be invited for three sounds and we can enjoy breathing in and out while practising the Five Contemplations.

Introducing the Five Contemplations:

[WAKE-UP SOUND]
[BELL, BELL, BELL]
[WAKE-UP SOUND]
The Buddha, the Awakened One, invites us to enjoy our meal in mindfulness, establishing ourselves in the present moment so that we can be aware of the food in front of us and of the community surrounding us. We eat in such a way that makes peace, joy, brotherhood and sisterhood possible during the whole time of eating. Dear friends, at the sound of the bell, please practise the Five Contemplations. [BELL]
The Five Contemplations
This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard and loving work.
May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive this food.
May we recognize and transform unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed and learn to eat with moderation.
May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that reduces the suffering of living beings, stops contributing to climate change, and heals and preserves our precious planet.
We accept this food so that we may nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, build our Sangha, and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.
[BELL]

We should take our time as we eat, chewing each mouthful at least 30 times, until the food becomes liquefied. This aids the digestive process. Let us enjoy every morsel of our food and the presence of the dharma brothers and sisters around us. Let us establish ourselves in the present moment, eating in such a way that solidity, joy and peace be possible during the time of eating.

Upon finishing our meal, we take a few moments to notice that we have finished, our bowl is now empty and our hunger is satisfied. Gratitude fills us as we realize how fortunate we are to have had this nourishing food to eat, supporting us on the path of love and understanding.

We may also like to say the following gatha:

The meal is finished.
My hunger is satisfied.
I vow to live for the benefit of all beings.

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Sharing Circle

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Sharing Circle is an opportunity to benefit from each other’s insights and experience of the practice. It is a special time for us to share our experiences, our joys, our difficulties and our questions relating to the practice of mindfulness. By practising deep listening while others are speaking, we help create a calm and receptive environment. By learning to speak out about our happiness and our difficulties in the practice, we contribute to the collective insight and understanding of the Sangha.

Please base our sharing on our own experience of the practice rather than about abstract ideas and theoretical topics. We may realize that many of us share similar difficulties and aspirations. Sitting, listening and sharing together, we recognize our true connections to one another.

Please remember that whatever is shared during the Sharing Circle time is confidential. If a friend shares about a difficulty he or she is facing, respect that he or she may or may not wish to talk about this individually outside of the Sharing Circle time.

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Tea Meditation

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Tea meditation is a time to be with the Sangha in a joyful and serene atmosphere. Just to enjoy our tea together is enough. It is like a “good news” occasion, when we share our joy and happiness in being together.

At times, when we are drinking tea with a friend, we are not aware of the tea or even of our friend sitting there. Practising tea meditation is to be truly present with our tea and our friends. We recognize that we can dwell happily in the present moment despite all of our sorrows and worries. We sit there relaxed without having to say anything. If we like, we may also share a song, a story or a dance. It is an opportunity for us to water the seeds of happiness and joy, of understanding and love in each one of us.

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Practising with Gathas

Gathas are short verses that help us practise mindfulness in our daily activities. A gatha can open and deepen our experience of simple acts which we often take for granted. When we focus our mind on a gatha, we return to ourselves and become more aware of each action. When the gatha ends, we continue our activity with heightened awareness.

As we turn on the water faucet we can look deeply and see how precious the water is. We remember not to waste a single drop because there are so many people in the world who don’t even have enough to drink. While brushing our teeth we can make a vow to use loving speech. We can recite the following gatha for using the telephone:

Words can travel thousands of miles
May my words create mutual understanding and love.
May they be as beautiful as gems,
as lovely as flowers.

When the telephone rings, the bell creates in us a kind of vibration, maybe some anxiety: “Who is calling? Is it good news or bad news?” There is a force that pulls us to the phone. When we hear the phone ring, Thay recommends that we stay exactly where we are and become aware of our breathing: “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile.” Practise breathing three times. When we pick up the telephone, we know that we are smiling, not only for our own sake, but also for the sake of the other person.

Before we make a phone call, Thay suggests that we breathe in and out twice, and recite this verse. Becoming fully aware of our body, speech and mind, then we pick up the phone and dial. This is very beautiful. We should not underestimate the effect our words which can build up understanding and love.

Gathas are nourishment for our mind, giving us peace, calm and joy which we can share with others. They help us to bring the uninterrupted practice into every part of our day. There are many gathas available in our chanting book “Chanting from the Heart” (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2007) and Thay’s book “Present Moment Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living”, Revised Edition (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2006).

Gathas

Turning on the Light

Forgetfulness is the darkness,
Mindfulness is the light.
I bring awareness
to shine upon all life.

Turning on the Water
Water flows from high in the mountains.
Water runs deep in the Earth.
Miraculously, water comes to us,
and sustains all life.

Brushing Your Teeth
Brushing my teeth and rinsing my mouth,
I vow to speak purely and lovingly.
When my mouth is fragrant with right speech,
a flower blooms in the garden of my heart.

Bathing
Rinsing my body,
my heart is cleansed.
The universe is perfumed with flowers.
Actions of body, speech, and mind are calmed.

Getting dressed
Putting on these clothes,
I am grateful to those who made them
and to the materials from which they were made.
I wish everyone could have enough to wear.

Entering the Meditation Hall
Entering the meditation hall,
I see my true self.
As I sit down,
I vow to cut off all disturbances.

Sitting Down
Sitting here
is like sitting under the Bodhi tree.
My body is mindfulness itself,
free from all distraction.

Calming the Breath
Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.

Adjusting Posture
Feelings come and go
like clouds in a windy sky.
Conscious breathing
is my anchor.

Breathing
Going back to the island of self,
I see Buddha is my mindfulness
shining near, shining far.
Dharma is my breathing
guarding body and mind.
Sangha is my Five Skandhas
working in harmony.
Breathing in, breathing out.
Flower, fresh.
Mountain, solid.
Water, reflecting.
Space, free.

Cleaning the Bathroom
How wonderful it is
to scrub and clean.
Day by day,
the heart and mind grow clearer.

Sweeping
As I carefully sweep
the ground of enlightenment
a tree of understanding
springs up from the Earth.

Drinking Tea
This cup of tea in my two hands,
mindfulness held perfectly.
My mind and body dwell
in the very here and now.

Washing the Dishes
Washing the dishes
is like bathing a baby Buddha.
The profane is sacred.
Everyday mind is Buddha’s mind.

Using the Telephone
Words can travel thousands of miles.
May my words create mutual understanding and love.
May they be as beautiful as gems,
as lovely as flowers.

Turning on the Television
The mind is a television
with thousands of channels.
I choose a world that is tranquil and calm
so that my joy will always be fresh.

Turning on the Computer
Turning on the computer,
my mind gets in touch with the store.
I vow to transform habit energies
to help love and understanding grow.

Watering the Garden
The sunshine and the water
have brought about this luxurious vegetation.
The rain of compassion and understanding
can transform the dry desert into a vast fertile plain.

Recycling
In the garbage I see a rose.
In the rose, I see the garbage.
Everything is in transformation.
Even permanence is impermanent.

Smiling at Your Anger
Breathing in, I know that anger makes me not beautiful.
Breathing out, I smile.
I stay with my breathing
so I won’t lose myself.

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The Five Mindfulness Trainings

The Five Mindfulness Trainings represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethic. They are a concrete expression of the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the path of right understanding and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world. To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate the insight of interbeing, or Right View, which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair. If we live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we are already on the path of a bodhisattva. Knowing we are on that path, we are not lost in confusion about our life in the present or in fears about the future.

Reverence For Life

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

True Happiness

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

True Love

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

Loving Speech and Deep Listening

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

Nourishment and Healing

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.

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The Body as Practice

Taking care of our body is an important practice. We need our body to be healthy in order for us to practise. Practising Mindful Movements and Deep Relaxation can support our health and happiness in the practice, and keep us in touch with our body.

These exercises allow us to listen deeply to our bodies. We learn to be gentle with ourselves and to give ourselves space to understand and to grow. Practising in this way, our body becomes our friend. Compassion towards ourselves will penetrate into our interactions with others. How we walk, move, sit, stand, and hold our body are reflections of our states of mind, when we move with ease others around us will also feel light and relaxed in our presence.

The Ten Mindful Movements are a wonderful way of connecting your mind and body in mindfulness. They are a way to touch the sky, to smile at your own body, and to touch your heart. When you do them, please enjoy each part of each movement. Do what you can. They are not like aerobics, where you have to move as quickly as possible. There is no need to rush. It will bring you joy.

Practising Deep Relaxation creates a wonderful energy of peace and harmony. It is a practice of totally letting go and returning our anchor. A lot of healing happens just by letting go and sinking into this state of total relaxation.

Ten Mindful Movements

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Deep Relaxation

This is an example of how to guide yourself or others in Deep Relaxation. Allowing your body to rest is very important. When your body is at ease and relaxed, your mind will also be at peace. The practice of Deep Relaxation is essential for your body and mind to heal. Please take the time to practise it often. Although the following guided relaxation may take you thirty minutes, feel free to modify it to fit your situation. You can make it shorter—just five to ten minutes when you wake up in the morning, before going to bed in the evening, or during a short break in the middle of a busy day. You can also make it longer and more in-depth. The most important thing is to enjoy it.

Lie down comfortably on your back on the floor or on a bed. Close your eyes. Allow your arms to rest gently on either side of your body and let your legs relax, turning outwards.

As you breathe in and out, become aware of your whole body lying down. Feel all the areas of your body that are touching the floor or the bed you are lying on; your heels, the backs of your legs, your buttocks, your back, the back of your hands and arms, the back of your head. With each out-breath, feel yourself sink deeper and deeper into the floor, letting go of tension, letting go of worries, not holding on to anything.

As you breathe in, feel your abdomen rising, and as your breathe out, feel your abdomen falling. For several breaths, just notice the rise and fall of your abdomen.

Now, as you breathe in, become aware of your two feet. As you breathe out, allow your two feel to relax. Breathing in, send your love to your feet, and breathing out, smile to your feet. As you breathe in and out, know how wonderful it is to have two feet that allow you to walk, to run, to play sports, to dance, to drive, to do so many activities throughout the day. Send your gratitude to your two feet for always being there for you wherever you need them.

Breathing in, become aware of your right and left legs. Breathing out, allow all the cells in your legs to relax. Breathing in, smile to your legs, and breathing out, send them your love. Appreciate whatever degree of strength and health is there in your legs. As you breathe in and out, send them your tenderness and care. Allow them to rest, sinking gently into the floor. Release any tension you may be holding in your legs.

Breathing in, become aware of your two hands lying on the floor. Breathing out, completely relax all the muscles in your two hands, releasing any tension you may be holding in them. As you breathe in, appreciate how wonderful it is to have two hands. As you breathe out, send a smile of love to your two hands. Breathe in and out, be in touch with all the things your two hands allow you to do: to cook, to write, to drive, to hold the hand of someone else, to hold a baby, to wash your own body, to draw, to play a musical instrument, to type, to build and fix things, to pet an animal, to hold a cup of tea. So many things are available to you because of your two hands. Just enjoy the fact that you have two hands and allow all the cells in your hands to really rest.

Breathing in, become aware of your two arms. Breathing out, allow your arms, to fully relax. As you breathe in, send your love to your arms, and as you breathe out, smile to them. Take the time to appreciate your arms and whatever strength and health are there in your arms. Send them your gratitude for allowing you to hug someone else, to swing, to help and serve others, to work hard—cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, to do so many things throughout the day. Breathing in and out, allow your two arms to let go and rest completely on the floor. With each out-breath, feel the tension leaving your arms. As you embrace your arms with your mindfulness, feel joy and ease in every part of your two arms.

Breathing in, become aware of your shoulders. Breathing out, allow any tension in your shoulders to flow out into the floor. As you breathe in, send your love to your shoulders, and as you breathe out, smile with gratitude to them. Breathing in and out, be aware that you may have allowed a lot of tension and stress to accumulate in your shoulders. With each exhalation, allow the tension to leave your shoulders, feeling them relax more and more deeply. Send them your tenderness and care, knowing that you do not want to put too much strain on them, but that you want to live in a way that will allow them to be relaxed and at ease.

Breathing in, become aware of your heart. Breathing out, allow your heart to rest. With your in-breath, send your love to your heart. With your out-breath, smile to your heart. As you breathe in and out, get in touch with how wonderful it is to have a heart still beating in your chest. Your heart allows your life to be possible, and it is always there for you, every minute, every day. It never takes a break. Your heart has been beating since you were a four-week-old fetus in your mother’s womb. It is a marvelous organ that allows you to do everything you do throughout the day. Breathe in and know that your heart also loves you. Breathe out and commit to live in a way that will help your heart to function well. With each exhalation, feel your heart relaxing more and more. Allow each cell in your heart to smile with ease and joy.

Breathing in, become aware of your stomach and intestines. Breathing out, allow your stomach and intestines to relax. As you breathe in, send them your love and gratitude. As you breathe out, smile tenderly to them. Breathing in and out, know how essential these organs are to your health. Give them the chance to rest deeply. Each day they digest and assimilate the food you eat, giving you energy and strength. They need you to take the time to recognize and appreciate them. As you breathe in, feel your stomach and intestines relaxing and releasing all tension. As you breathe out, enjoy the fact that you have a stomach and intestines.

Breathing in, become aware of your eyes. Breathing out, allow your eyes and the muscles around your eyes to relax. Breathing in, smile to your eyes, and breathing out, send them your love. Allow your eyes to rest and roll back into your head. As you breathe in and out, know how precious your two eyes are. They allow you to look into the eyes of someone you love, to see a beautiful sunset, to read and write, to move around with ease, to see a bird flying in the sky, to watch a movie—so many things are possible because of your two eyes. Take the time to appreciate the gift of sight and allow your eyes to rest deeply. You can gently raise your eyebrows to help release any tension you may be holding around your eyes.

Here you can continue to relax other areas of your body, using the same pattern as above.

Now, if there is a place in your body that is sick or in pain, take this time to become aware of it and send it your love. Breathing in, allow this area to rest, and breathing out, smile to it with great tenderness and affection. Be aware that there are other parts of your body that are still strong and healthy. Allow these strong parts of your body to send their strength and energy to the weak or sick area. Feel the support, energy, and love of the rest of your body penetrating the weak area, soothing and healing it. Breathe in and affirm your own capacity to heal, breathe out and let go of the worry or fear you may be holding in your body. Breathing in and out, smile with love and confidence to the area of your body that is not well.

Finally, breathing in, become aware of the whole of your body lying down. Breathing out, enjoy the sensation of your whole body lying down, very relaxed and calm. Smile to your whole body as you breathe in, and send your love and compassion to your whole body as you breathe out. Feel all the cells in your whole body smiling joyfully with you. Feel gratitude for all the cells in your whole body. Return to the gentle rise and fall of your abdomen.

If you are guiding other people, and if you are comfortable doing so, you can now sing a few relaxing songs or lullabies.

To end, slowly stretch and open your eyes. Take your time to get up, calmly and lightly. Practise to carry the calm and mindful energy you have generated into your next activity and throughout the day.

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Beginning Anew

To begin anew is to look deeply and honestly at ourselves, our past actions, speech and thoughts and to create a fresh beginning within ourselves and in our relationships with others. At the practice center we practise Beginning Anew as a community every two weeks andindividually as often as we like.

ENG-Listen-Deeply-diamond-200x200We practise Beginning Anew to clear our mind and keep our practice fresh. When a difficulty arises in our relationships with fellow practitioners and one of us feels resentment or hurt, we know it is time to Begin Anew. The following is a description of the four-part process of Beginning Anew as used in a formal setting. One person speaks at a time and is not interrupted during his or her turn. The other practitioners practise deep listening and following their breath.

 

1) Flower watering – This is a chance to share our appreciation for the other person. We may mention specific instances when the other person said or did something that we had admired. This is an opportunity to shine light on the other’s strengths and contributions to the sangha and to encourage the growth of his or her positive qualities.

2) Sharing regrets – We may mention any unskillfulness in our actions, speech or thoughts that we have not yet had an opportunity to apologize for.

3) Expressing a hurt – We may share how we felt hurt by an interaction with another practitioner, due to his or her actions, speech or thoughts. (To express a hurt we should first water the other person’s flower by sharing two positive qualities that we have truly observed in him or her. Expressing a hurt is often performed one on one with another practitioner rather than in the group setting. You may ask for a third party that you both trust and respect to be present, if desired.)

4) Sharing a long-term difficulty & asking for support – At times we each have difficulties and pain arise from our past that surface in the present. When we share an issue that we are dealing with we can let the people around us understand us better and offer the support that we really need.

ENG-Look-Deeply-diamond-200x200

The practice of Beginning Anew helps us develop our kind speech and compassionate listening. Beginning Anew is a practice of recognition and appreciation of the positive elements within our Sangha. For instance, we may notice that our roommate is generous in sharing her insights, and another friend is caring towards plants. Recognizing others positive traits allows us to see our own good qualities as well.

Along with these good traits, we each have areas of weakness, such as talking out of our anger or being caught in our misperceptions. When we practise “flower watering” we support the development of good qualities in each other and at the same time we help to ease the difficulties in the other person. As in a garden, when we “water the flowers” of loving kindness and compassion in each other, we also take energy away from the weeds of anger, jealousy and misperception.

We can practise Beginning Anew every day by expressing our appreciation for our fellow practitioners and apologizing right away when we do or say something that hurts them. We can politely let others know when we have been hurt as well. The health and happiness of the whole community depends on the harmony, peace and joy that exist between every member in the sangha.

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Hugging Meditation

When we hug, our hearts connect and we know that we are not separate beings. Hugging with mindfulness and concentration can bring reconciliation, healing, understanding, and much happiness. The practice of mindful hugging has helped so many to reconcile with each other- fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, friends and friends, and so many others.

We may practise hugging meditation with a friend, our daughter, our father, our partner or even with a tree. To practise, we first bow and recognize the presence of each other. Then we can enjoy three deep conscious breaths to bring ourselves fully there. We then may open your arms and begin hugging. Holding each other for three in-and-out breaths. With the first breath, we are aware that we are present in this very moment and we are happy. With the second breath, we are aware that the other is present in this moment and we are happy as well. With the third breath, we are aware that we are here together, right now on this earth, and we feel deep gratitude and happiness for our togetherness. We then may release the other person and bow to each other to show our thanks.

When we hug in such a way, the other person becomes real and alive. We do not need to wait until one of us is ready to depart for a trip, we may hug right now and receive the warmth and stability of our friend in the present moment. Hugging can be a deep practice of reconciliation. During the silent hugging, the message can come out very clear: “Darling, you are precious to me. I am sorry I have not been mindful and considerate. I have made mistakes. Allow me to begin anew. I Promise.”

Breathing in, I am so happy to hug my beloved.
Breathing out, I know you are real and alive in my arms.

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Going Home

There is no coming and no going, for we are always with you and you, with us. When we go home and we remember to return to our breathing, we will know that the friends at Plum Village and our Sangha Body all over the world are breathing too. Any time we like, we can take refuge in the practices of conscious breathing, mindful eating, loving speech, and many other wonderful practices. When we do, we will feel very connected and not alone. We become as large as the Sangha Body.

Let us continue our practice as we return to our homes, our families and society. As we have learned to live in harmony with the Sangha in Plum Village, we can also cultivate harmony in our families and in society. As we have learned to understand and appreciate our friends in the practice, we can also learn to understand and appreciate our co-workers and our neighbors. We can practise loving speech with strangers on the city bus, just as we do with the sisters and brothers at Plum Village. Mindfulness practice is everywhere we go.

A lotus for you
A Buddha to be

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