April 9 Mindful Rituals, Mindful Practice


This Monday Bea will facilitate.  She shares:


For the past few months, I have been sitting every morning at 7am for twenty minutes with at least one other mindfulness practitioner. We use a free conference call line to dial in and sit together. I wake up, walk to the kitchen, put a pot of water on the stove, wait for it to boil, pour the water on the ground coffee beans and allow a few minutes for it to settle. I watch the ground coffee dance around the pot for a while: at first a bit agitated, then slowly surrendering itself to gravity. I take a deep breath and anticipate the delicious taste of freshly brewed coffee. When it is ready, I pour it in the hand-made clay mug that we bought last summer in Ithaca, New York. I feel the warmth of the coffee coming through the clay mug as I hold it tightly in between my hands and remember the summer day we strolled through the Ithaca farmer's market and met the potter who sold us this elegant yet unpretentious mug. I sip the coffee slowly and enjoy the silence of the house while my daughter is still sleeping. Then I unfold my yoga mat, place my meditation cushion on it and look out of the living room window. There are three enormous pine trees outside my window. One of them has a branch that looks like a hand mudra, with the index finger touching the thumb. I set my intention to start the day peacefully and then I dial in and open the conference call line. We started this ritual being two and now we are four. Last week, a neighbor asked me if she too could join our morning meditation every now and then.


Rituals are powerful if we are present to the moment. If we are not, they become habits fueled by what Thay refers to as "habit energy." In the book, "Beyond the Self: Teachings on the Middle Way" Thay says:


"Our habit energy is what causes us to repeat the same behavior thousands of times. Habit energy pushes us to run, to always be doing something, to be lost in thoughts of the past or the future and to blame others for our suffering. And that energy does not allow us to be peaceful and happy in the present moment."

"The practice of mindfulness helps us to recognize that habitual energy. Every time we can recognize the habitual energy in us, we are able to stop and to enjoy the present moment. The energy of mindfulness is the best energy to help us embrace our habit energy and transform it."


There are plenty of things I do every day that have now become routine. Every day, I brush my teeth, I get dressed, I cook, I eat meals, I clean the dishes, I take the metro, I check emails, I say good morning to the neighbor and to my colleagues, I listen to the news and I do my work. Unfortunately, I am not always present. I realize that I am often driven by "habit energy." I would hate for my morning meditation to just become another thing I do to feel good about myself or to check off the list!


In the book Peace is Every Step of the Way, Thay writes about "Eating Mindfully."


A few years ago, I asked some children, "What is the purpose of eating breakfast?" One boy replied, "To get energy for the day." Another said, "The purpose of eating breakfast, is to eat breakfast." I think the second child is correct. The purpose of eating is to eat.


Eating a meal in mindfulness is an important practice. We turn off the TV, put down our newspaper, and work together for five or ten minutes, setting the table and finishing whatever needs to be done. During these few minutes, we can be very happy. When the food is on the table, and everyone is seated, we practice breathing: "Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile," three times. We can recover ourselves completely after three breaths like this.


Then we look at each person as we breathe in and out in order to be in touch with ourselves and everyone at the table. We don't need two hours to see another person. If we are really settled within ourselves, we only need to look for one or two seconds, and that is enough to see. I think that if a family has five members, only about five or ten seconds are needed to practice this "looking and seeing."


After breathing, we smile. Sitting at the table with other people, we have a chance to offer and authentic smile of friendship and understanding. It is very easy, but not many people do it. To me, this is the most important practice. We look at each person, and smile at him or her. Breathing and smiling together, is a very important practice. If the people in the household cannot smile at each other, the situation is very dangerous.


After breathing and smiling, we look down at the food in a way that allows the food to become real. This food reveals our connection to the earth. Each bite contains the life of the sun and the earth. The extent to which our food reveals itself depends on us. We can see and taste the whole universe in a piece of bread! Contemplating our food for a few seconds before eating, and eating in mindfulness, can bring us much happiness.


Having an opportunity to sit with our family and friends and enjoy wonderful food is something precious, something not everyone has. Many people in the world are hungry. When I hold a bowl of rice or a piece of bread, I know that I am fortunate, and I feel compassion for all those who have no food to eat and are without friends or family. This is a very deep practice. We do not need to go to a temple or a church in order to practice this. We can practice it right at our dinner table. Mindful eating can cultivate seeds of compassion and understanding that will strengthen us to do something to help hungry and lonely people be nourished.


In order to aid mindfulness during the meals, you may like to eat silently from time to time. Your first silent meal, may cause you to feel a little uncomfortable, but once you become used to it, you will realize that meals in silence bring much peace and happiness. Just as we turn off the TV before eating, we can "turn off" the talking in order to enjoy the food and the presence of one another.


So, my questions for you are these: are your rituals driven by habit energy or are they a mindful practice? What do you do to strengthen your mindful practice every day? What happens when you slow down and are truly present? Is it possible to slow down in Washington D.C. or when we have a "busy" lifestyle? Think about rituals, any ritual, that enables you to truly be in the moment? How do you feel in that moment? And how does that moment nourish the rest of your day?


With gratitude, for taking a moment to sit together and to practice mindfully.