Want to improve your health and wellbeing and squeeze as must juice from life as possible?
Mindfulness may be the answer.
This classic text, written by revered Buddhist and spiritual teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, shows us how to utilise insight-driven practices to give us a new perspective on the nature of reality.
Let’s dive in.
The present moment
Are you busy fantasising about an imaginary future or reliving an unalterable past?
Many of us have been conditioned in these mindsets, to the extent that we often overlook the present moment and fail to live fully.
Simple Buddhist practices, advocated by the author, bring us back to the present moment, where we can find respite from our wandering mind.
It allows us to appreciate the simple things in life – body, mind and immediate environment.
With the underpinning Buddhist philosophy and simple practice exercises, we can learn to enjoy the present moment for what it is, rather than living for the past or future.
Mind your task
The author, when he was a novice monk, often faced the unenviable task of dishwashing in the cold kitchen with ashes, rice husks and freezing water.
Since the kitchen has been fitted with modern appliances, allowing the monks to do the dishes in half the time and relax with a nice cup of tea.
The author, however, doesn’t regard this progress as an improvement.
He believes that doing the dishes because you want them to be clean is the wrong approach. Instead, he believes that we should engage in the activity for its own sake.
Just wanting the dishes to be clean means that we rush through the activity desperately to reach the end result, never actually enjoying the gifts of the present moment.
We’re already living in the future, giving away our attention to an illusory state, always moving onto the next thing.
This is how many people live their lives, never fully living.
In contrast, The Sutra of Mindfulness, an ancient Buddhist text, teaches us to be conscious of whatever we’re doing in a given moment.
Mindfulness = being conscious of the present moment, rather than allowing attention to slip away into the past or future.
Although many of us may try to be mindful, we’re constantly besieged by daily distractions, from family matters to work commitments. Our thoughts then often assail us from all angles.
In such times, we need a focus for restoring conscious attention. The breath can act as a bridge, connecting us again with the present moment and restoring our mind-body connection.
- When we feel our thoughts dragging us away from the present, take a deep breath in and then slowly exhale fully
- Throughout the exercise, stay conscious of the breath and how you feel
- Mindful breathing involves diaphragmatic breathing. When breathing in, your stomach should rise, and vice versa, developing with mindful practice.
- For beginners, it’s often helpful to lie down initially. Don’t overexert yourself and only try 10-20 breaths.
- This breathing technique may feel unnatural at first, after a lifetime of non-conscious breathing.
- After practice, you’ll notice your inhalations and exhalations will be of equal length.
We all have commitments and obligations.
And whereas ideally, we’d all be mindful every minute of every day, in reality, it may not be practical.
For this reason, it may be better to reserve one full day for mindfulness every week.
This may seem indulgent, but it’s what you deserve, an important antidote to stress and hedge against life slipping by unnoticed.
- Choose the same day each week to cement a mindfulness habit, using reminders if needed (such as a note to yourself)
- Use your morning routine wisely. Engage in deep breathing before you rise and attend in your morning tasks with full awareness and engagement
- Treat yourself to a 30 mindful bath
- Do your household chores and enter into the spirit of the activities, without frustration
- Silence throughout the day may be helpful
- After lunch enjoy a slow, mindful cup of tea, enjoying the simple pleasure
- Garden in the afternoon or simply observe the world go by
- In the evening read or write
- Don’t overeat at dinner
Buddhist monks often display fearlessness and compassion, due to their inherent understanding that everything is connected.
They understand that everything in the world is interdependent.
Whereas a table may be considered by many as a separate entity, they see the connections between the sun and rain nourishing a tree and the carpenter fashioning the wood.
This is as true for objects as people. We are one with the universe, forming an intricate web of life.
However, many of us fall into the ‘false view of self’, imagining we’re separate and alone, compartmentalising ourselves, causing anxiety and suffering.
Therefore, it’s important that we meditate regularly on the interdependency of existence.
Many people confuse the relaxation experienced through mindfulness with the zoning out caused by napping and resting.
Whereas with napping, our mind enters a dim cave, we a restful in mindfulness while remaining fully alert and awake in a state of focused attention.
- Napping encourages us to evade reality
- Mindfulness encourage us to face reality in a serene way
We must be as alert in our mindfulness practice as we are when driving a car or walking a tightrope to maintain focus and avoid scattered thoughts.
We can only experience complete awakening after acquiring this level of vigilance over our minds.
If you’re a beginner practitioner, the author recommends the method of ‘pure cognition’ – recognising any thoughts or emotions with welcome acceptance.
Treat all feelings, whether they be subjectively good or bad, as equal, as they are all part of you.
Approach anger or jealousy with gentleness and respect without resisting them, seeing them as part of the interdependent whole.
The pebble and the baby
While there are a plethora of meditation techniques, it’s important to master the basics before progressing to advanced techniques.
Take some mindful and imagine you’re a pebble floating serenely to the bottom of a river bed, unbothered by the currents.
This is a spot of complete rest and it may take 15 minutes to arrive.
Once you’re in this calm and restful place, maintain it for 30 minutes while observing your breathing.
Nothing will drag you into the past or future as you concentrate on the present.
Realise that you can only become a Buddha or save humankind after achieving complete serenity in the present moment.
Sit in the lotus and become mindful of your breathing as you envision the moment of your birth.
Understand that your birth also marked your death and one doesn’t exist without the other.
In this way, birth and death aren’t adversaries but simultaneous and interdependent.
Once we realise this, we can overcome our fear of death.
Meditation, through practices like the above, allows us to embrace the mindful life, as we observe our thoughts, feelings and emotions with tranquillity.
The Miracle of Mindfulness Summary
- So often we’re dragged into the past or future with our wandering minds
- As such, we experience great stress and anxiety, with much of our lives passing by unnoticed
- Peace lies in the present moment
- This can be accessed through meditation, mindfulness and breathing
- By focusing our attention with a half-smile (as depicted on the Buddha), we can meditate on the interdependence of all things, including ourselves.