Present Moment Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living by Thich Nhat Hanh

Present Moment Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living
Present Moment Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living by Thích Nhất Hạnh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Last month I attended a women’s retreat. At the retreat center, they had these little cards up all over the building with these great little meditations on daily living. All day, the meditations prompted me to pause and reflect as I washed my hands or looked in the mirror or took a step outside the front door. I loved the feeling of calm they facilitated.

My friend and I asked the women in charge of the retreat center where the cards were from, and they said they were Thich Nhat Hanh meditations, but the cards were out of print. Through the magic of the internet, I found out the meditations were from Present Moment Wonderful Moment and managed to find two sets of the cards and a copy of the book. I gifted one set of the cards to my friend and kept the other set intending to put them up around my house. But when my eight-year-old daughter saw the book, she independently suggested that we make pretty, hand-written cards to put up around the house. So we did.

One afternoon, we used a paper cutter and some pretty card stock my daughter got as a gift a couple of years ago and made eight cards, four for her and four for me, to put up around the house. We each have the Waking Up meditation by our beds, and I have the Ending Your Day one by my bed, as well. She has the Opening the Window on her bedroom window, the blinds of which she opens every morning first thing so she can look outside and read her meditation. We also have the Washing Your Hands, Looking in the Mirror, and Brushing Your Teeth meditations on our bathroom mirrors. We are enjoying them so much, we plan to make more.

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It’s apparent that we need to investigate other gluing options for the silver paper, but even with their imperfections, I like our little cards.

This is a gem of a book, and I love how it’s brought these moments of mindfulness to our days. I don’t know if it’s directly attributable to the book, but since we put up the meditations, my daughter has been joining me for a short sitting meditation every morning. It’s such a lovely way to start our day! (And our cat Owen must think so, too. Every morning he climbs into my daughter’s lap and offers her a purring meditation.)

The only thing missing from this book is a meditation for when my kids are squabbling over something that seems incredibly tiny to me.

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Just Deserts

Do I deserve this?

I’ve not been following the not-crazy diet very well the past couple of weeks. When presented with a cupcake or a martini, I think, “I’ve worked hard. I’m stressed out. I deserve this,” and scarf it down.

Others in my life seem also to have internalized this idea that we either deserve or don’t deserve certain things. The day I started the not-crazy diet was the day my husband was laid off. Friends suggested that I postpone the diet a day, that because of our situation, I deserved a cupcake or a cocktail.

Thing is, I feel like crap when I eat sugar or drink alcohol. I enjoy myself (a lot) while I’m consuming the treats, but then I feel surly and bloated. I get a headache and cold sweats and end up feeling worse emotionally than I did before.

So if I say I deserve a cupcake or a cocktail, I’m kind of saying that I deserve to feel like crap. That’s rather an unpleasant thought, although the possibility that I make choices based on self-loathing has crossed my mind. And who knows? Maybe I do deserve to feel like crap. If it’s possible I deserve a treat, it’s just as possible that I deserve to feel awful.

Who decides what we deserve and what we don’t? When I was a kid, they had that “You deserve a break today at McDonald’s!” ad campaign. Where does this idea come from, that if we work hard or are feeling stressed we deserve some kind of treat that won’t actually help our basic stressful or overworked situation at all and will just add more stress when we see our food bill or the reading on the scale or our cholesterol level?

Doesn’t this imply that if we’re feeling good and happy with our lives, we don’t deserve a treat?

And then you have programs like Extreme Makeover Home Edition, in which people who are down-and-out send in videos about themselves (or friends and family send in videos about them) telling their sad tale and why it is they deserve to have a house built for them. What does one do to deserve an enormous brand-new home that’s built for and revealed on national television? Does this mean that someone who’s down and out but rents their home doesn’t deserve a new house?

It all comes back to the idea of punishments and rewards. If we do the right thing, we deserve a reward. If we do the wrong thing, we deserve to be punished. My parents made a concerted effort to not attach rewards or punishments to food, but they certainly used that model (as most parents do) with the rest of us kids’ lives. I think what that translates to for me as an adult is that if good things happen to me, I must have been good, and if bad things happen to me, I must have been bad. To avoid the feeling that I’m a bad person, I tell myself that I deserve the cupcake or the cocktail or the new pair of shoes.

In reality, “deserve” doesn’t even enter into it. Do I want a cupcake? How will I feel when I eat the cupcake? If I’ll feel bad, is it still worth it to eat the cupcake? I don’t get a cupcake because I’m good, and don’t not get a cupcake because I’m bad. I get one or not because I’ve made the choice to eat one or not. I don’t have a headache because I’m bad, I have it because of the spike in my blood sugar brought on by the cupcake. I could have prevented the headache had I avoided the cupcake, but that doesn’t mean I was bad for eating it.

The lessons of childhood and of our culture are so pervasive I can’t even eat a meal or spend an afternoon in the sun without judging myself worthy or unworthy. Do I deserve to feel good? Do I deserve to be happy? If I’m not happy; what am I doing wrong? How can I be a better person so I’m happy all the time? How can I be happy all the time so I feel like a better person?

I think the answer is to replace “just deserts” with compassion.

If we can love others especially when they’re doing “wrong,” maybe we can learn to love ourselves even when we’re bad. Punishing ourselves doesn’t make us better people. Punishing others doesn’t make them better people. Loving ourselves doesn’t mean we don’t want to make changes in our lives. Loving someone doesn’t mean we agree with them or even let them continue what they’re doing, if it’s harmful.

And rejoicing at the misfortune of our sisters and brothers, even if they’ve wronged us, makes none of us feel better, not in the long run.

The only thing anyone—friend, stranger, or enemy—deserves is compassion.

It is not because that person is of the same religion or has the same color skin as we do that we love them. It is not because a person loves us that we love them. We love our brothers and sisters because they are suffering and need our love. It is as simple as that.

-Thich Nhat Hanh

I’ve Nothing to Fear but Reality. And Maybe My Kids.

Last night, in an effort to stay up past bedtime without the aid of the internet, I began reading Joyfully Together: The Art of Building a Harmonious Community by Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s about building Sangha, or spiritual community. For Thich Nhat Hanh, his Sangha is the community of nuns and monks at his monastery in France.

My Sangha is all of the people in my life who are traveling with me. This would include my husband and my children, my extended family, my close friends, my acquaintances, and on out to include anyone with whom I’m in contact as I go about my day.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes about the importance of solidity to the Sangha. He writes, “The best way of building the Sangha is to turn ourselves into a positive element of the Sangha body by the way we walk, stand, sit, or lie down in mindfulness. When others in the Sangha can see our stability in this way, they also will become solid.”

As each member of the community becomes more solid, the community itself become stronger and can better serve the needs of the individuals within it.

This idea of mindfulness and solidity also showed up in the eBook Finding Reality: Thoreau’s Lessons for Living in the Digital Age by Nate Klemp (you can download the eBook for free by following the previous link). In his eBook, Klemp applies the wisdom of Thoreau to the challenges of living in today’s reality with so many digital distractions.

Klemp quotes a passage from Walden in which Thoreau equates solidity with reality:

“Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe…till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake.”

One of Thoreau’s suggestions for how to reach that “hard bottom”: do nothing. Simply be in the world.

So, the way that I can make my Sangha (which is based in my family) stronger is by being mindful and present with myself, and I can do this by letting go of external distractions and reaching that solid bottom of reality.

Here’s the thing: As much as I want to live mindfully in the present, I recognize that I distract myself—with Facebook, blog stats, Twitter, e-mail—because sometimes the idea of being present is rather scary.

My kids are the present ones, the mindful, in-the-moment creatures. They pull me and pull me back towards reality and the present moment. They’re loving, merciful beings in most things, but in this they cut me no slack. It’s intense. And I escape to my laptop as often as I can.

What need do I meet when I escape like this?

I meet my need for the oblivion that comes from the fast pace of online interactions. As Klemp describes it, it’s moving swiftly between several worlds. These worlds feel urgent, and they demand my attention and action right now, even if (or perhaps especially if) that means ignoring my children.

With my kids, I can’t escape myself. They hold up a mirror and show me everything, both the things that I want to see and those things that I’d rather not see. My online life—with the exception of the act of writing—draws me out of myself. It gives me a break. It allows me to glide along the surface rather than digging down into the solid stuff beneath.

This, I think, is the real reason I have trouble setting limits around my internet use. I feel anxious and I think at the time that I’m anxious about disconnecting from the online community. Upon further reflection, I think actually I feel anxious about connecting with reality.

Back in 2001, we changed apartments and decided not to hook up cable in the new place. To test out how this would be and to see what channels we’d be able to get in without cable, I unhooked the coax and turned on the tube.

It was nothing but popcorn. I changed the channel and it was more of the same.

I nearly had a panic attack.

And that’s when I decided that I had to give up cable. I didn’t want to keep it simply to avoid a panic attack. At the very least, I wanted t take a break from it to see what was on the other side of that fear. It’s been ten years and we’ve still not hooked the cable back up. We have the digital tuner, and we can get local networks and PBS, and that allows us to watch some sporting events and a show or two on occasion.

I’ve considered going back to dial-up (does dial-up still exist?) to make online interactions less appealing so I’d use it less. But as I wrote the other day, the internet serves a utilitarian purpose in our lives that TV never has. We never paid our bills or shared photos with our far-away relatives via the television.

Nate Klemp offers some suggestions for maintaining mindfulness while continuing to interact online. I’m going to mull over some of his ideas and see if I can find that creamy middle I’ve been seeking. Or perhaps what I’m really looking for is the solid anchor that keeps me moored to reality even while surfing through multiple worlds.

Love and Gardening

A quote from Teachings on Love by Thich Nhat Hanh:

When we try to grow flowers, if the flowers do not grow well, we do not blame or argue with them. We blame ourselves for not taking care of them well. Our partner is a flower. If we take care of her well, she will grow beautifully. If we take care of her poorly, she will wither. To help a flower grow well, we must understand her nature. How much water does she need? How much sunshine? We look deeply into ourselves to see our true nature, and we look into the other person to see her nature.

Of course, my partner is a flower who can also care for himself well or poorly. In that sense, it might not make sense for me to take full responsibility for his growing well or withering. But because our lives are so intermingled, often it’s difficult to tell just where one’s influence ends and the other’s begins. In addition, my husband’s well-being is influenced by my own. If I don’t care for myself, eat well, get adequate sleep, my husband suffers as well as I do. It’s like when I wrote about how my husband and I view our individual goals as shared goals or family goals and work toward them accordingly. From this perspective, it seems like a fairly safe option to assume mutual responsibility for one another’s well-being.

It’s a good starting point, at least, loving one another as we love ourselves.

August: Thoughts About “Mindfulness Month”

I am so glad that I started this project with mindfulness. Making a practice of bringing awareness to the moments that make up my day is a great foundation for the rest of the project.

I started the month with three resolutions:

  • Daily Emotions Log
  • Be Aware of Judgmental Thoughts
  • Breathe

Within the first two weeks, I abandoned the daily emotions log. Instead, I brought awareness to my emotional state and recognized the needs that were being met or not, but I didn’t write them down. It could have been useful data as I fine tune my resolutions for the upcoming months, but it just wasn’t happening. I decided that the awareness part was more important than the data collection part.

The overall effect of practicing these resolutions has been that my mind feels calmer. The little hamster that’s usually racing away in my head is much more chill. And he uses much less foul language. I have more patience with my children, with my husband, and with inconvenient situations in general. I definitely want to keep up these practices in the coming months in addition to my new resolutions.

I’ve had several challenges that have given me extra practice using my new skills of breathing and awareness. The dishwasher broke down, and I got to practice mindfulness while my hands were in a sink of soapy water several times a day. Then it took three visits from the installer guy and the removal of several floor tiles to finally install the new dishwasher. My daughter and then my son developed separation anxiety and for a period of time wouldn’t let me leave them with the babysitter. Breathing and awareness helped me make it through these challenges with much more grace and gratitude than I normally exhibit under duress.

I’ve also done some great reading this month and gotten some great support and suggestions from people reading my blog. I’ve read portions of The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living and The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler. I’ve read part of Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices by Thich Nhat Hanh and re-read portions of Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. I’ve also discovered several blogs, both by friends and by people I’ve never met, that I enjoy and that give me food for thought. And most recently, I’ve read portions of the Bible and added several more books to my to-read list as a result of suggestions from friends. As I’ve mentioned before, I love reading, and I love incorporating other perspectives into mine.

In the future, I hope not only to be aware of judgmental thinking, but to transform it into empathy and compassion. I feel disappointed that I’m not more compassionate. I take small comfort in the knowledge that I’m even more judgmental with myself than I am with others. I realize that this lack of compassion with myself is probably the largest barrier to my having compassion for others. I’m working on it and trying to be gentle with myself when I fall short of where I’d like to be.

I remain surprised at how intense my mindfulness practice has been this month. I feel such profound changes as I struggle to be aware of my thoughts and emotions. I’m looking forward to seeing where my project will take me, even as I’m feeling a little anxious about the challenges that I’m certain await me.

Bouncing Meditation

Kozy Carrier Mei Tai

I’m reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices. It’s not the first time I’ve read about walking meditation, but it’s been very much on my mind. He suggests walking slowly and mindfully, allowing your breath to guide your steps rather than the other way around. “When you breathe in,” he says, “take two or three steps, depending on the capacity of your lungs. If your lungs want two steps while breathing in, then give exactly two steps. If you feel better with three steps, then give yourself three steps. When you breathe out, also listen to your lungs. Know how many steps your lungs want you to make while breathing out.” As we go along, we should modify the number of steps we take per in-breath and out-breath based on what our lungs want.

I’ve started trying to take a mindfulness walk with the kids a couple of times a week. Based on our experiences so far, I think “mindfulness walk with the kids” might be an oxymoron. But I have found another place in my life to apply the principles of walking meditation.

For each of my son’s naps, I put him in a mei tai carrier on my chest and bounce him on my birth ball until he falls asleep. We have white noise on, and sometimes I sing, but often he falls asleep better if I’m silently bouncing him or just humming one note over and over again. Which leaves me not much to do besides bouncing. Today I found myself counting the number of bounces I took on my in-breath, and then counting the number of bounces on the out-breath. I smiled a little because I hadn’t consciously made the choice to do a Bouncing Meditation, but I was pleased that I stumbled upon this means of combining my mindfulness practice with my mothering.

I closed my eyes and focused on my breath. After a few breaths, I felt my shoulders and my face relaxing. I felt kind of floaty, like weight was being lifted from my body allowing me to sit taller without effort. This feeling of serenity and lightness was much nicer than what I usually do, which is stare at the clock wondering when I’m going to be able to lay him down on his little bed.

After he was asleep, I was relaxed and ready to jump into a frantic 15-minute house-cleaning session before the babysitter arrived, humming and smiling as I went. I didn’t make much headway, but at least I felt calm about it.

Good News, Honey! We Need a New Dishwasher!

What mindfulness looks like.

While I consider this something of a mindfulness cliche (judgment), it’s still somewhat fortuitous (judgment) that our dishwasher was declared “not worth fixing” (judgment…oh, wait, that wasn’t my judgment) by the repair guy today.

For at least the past couple of weeks, the dishwasher’s been making funny noises and just generally acting oddly. The dishes in the top rack weren’t really getting very clean, but we operated under the assumption that, since they had run through the dishwasher, they were getting washed. When the dishwasher was finished, we’d put the dishes away and then use them again. After the repairman explained today that the sounds we were hearing indicated that the pump was not getting water to the top rack, we decided that we could no longer pretend that the dishes were getting clean. So, while we shop for a new dishwasher, we are doing the dishes by hand and using the dishwasher as a drying rack. By which, of course, I mean that I am doing dishes by hand and using the dishwasher as a drying rack.

Rather than complain about this turn of events (well, I complained a little), I decided to use it as an opportunity to do dishes mindfully. I washed each dish and brought awareness to my breath and the sensations in my body. I didn’t remain aware of my breath or the dishes or the moment constantly. But the calm and the deep breathing helped me to use a gentle voice (rather than yelling or being sarcastic or yelling something sarcastic) to tell my husband that it would have been more help to me if he’d put all of the leftovers away rather than just the ones he wanted for his lunch tomorrow.

And while I wasn’t in the moment while doing dishes, I was thinking about how this day (August 3rd) last year was my due date with my son. I remembered how the six days between my due date and when my son was born were surprisingly blissful and cathartic. My sister was visiting and while I worried that the baby wouldn’t be born before she went back home, I was thankful to have her help with my daughter during those days. I was grateful to be able to share my pregnancy with her as we watched the “belly show” every evening and took the bus around town because I could no longer fit behind the steering wheel of my car. I even got to share with her the awkwardness of people swearing I must be having twins and then looking at me with suspicion when I insisted that there was only one human in my belly. It was during that week that we discovered the tree in our front yard was a plum tree and was covered with ripe, golden plums. I remembered the fear and worry and then the release when I finally broke down and cried about feeling somehow responsible for not having given birth yet. That week was a respite from many of the discomforts I’d had throughout pregnancy, and I felt more energetic and happier than I had in months. It was a wonderful prelude to my son’s birth and to my birth as the mother of two children.

Had the dishwasher been working, I would have rushed through the task and not had time to reflect on all of these memories. I felt a sense of ease, quiet, calm, and satisfaction throughout the soaping and rinsing of the dishes that’s lasted even after the task itself was complete. I might even say that the demise of the dishwasher has been something of a blessing.

I’m still getting a new dishwasher, though.

 

Happiness Project Kickoff: August is Mindfulness Month

The big day is here! It’s time to start my Happiness Project in earnest. I’m going to post here the schedule of areas of focus for each month, but I’ll only put the resolutions for the current month. I’ve got resolutions made for each month, but I want to reserve the right to modify them based on further study of happiness and on my experience with my other resolutions.

So, here’s the big plan!

August – Mindfulness
Focus: Bring more awareness to my emotions and identify needs that I may not be meeting adequately.

Resolutions:

-Daily emotions log (at least 3 times a day, log my emotional state and the circumstances surrounding the emotional state. Analyze weekly for patterns.)
-Be aware of judgements (without trying to change them or judging myself for having them)
-Breathe in a quiet moment (at least once a day, take a moment to just breathe. Thich Nhat Hanh recommends using a red light (traffic light and/or brake lights) as a cue to breathe and relax. I’ll start with this as a cue, but I’ll have to find something else on days I don’t drive. Maybe every time I check my blog stats. That would give me dozens of chances to breathe during the day.)

September – Self Care
Focus: Do those things I know (or suspect) will help put me in a positive physical and emotional state.

October – Order
Focus: Complete nagging tasks and make my home more of a refuge of calm.

November – Writing
Focus: Jump start my writing practice and make it a part of my daily routine again.

December – Fun
Focus: Let myself have a ball.

January – Explore
Focus: Go out on a bit of a limb and try some things I haven’t done before.

February – Marriage
Focus: Increase happiness in my bond with my husband.

March – Motherhood
Focus: Find and foster joy in my relationship with my children.

April – Friendship/Social Life
Focus: Build and strengthen relationships with my friends and my extended family.

May – Service
Focus: Experience the pleasure of giving to the wider community.

June – Sharing Happiness
Focus: Find and utilize ways in which to express my happiness in order to share it with others.

July – Practice and Reflect
Focus: Determine which practices are increasing my happiness and continue those. Reflect on the experience and record my impressions.

I have yet to determine my posting schedule for the duration of the project. I want to post at least once weekly, but I’d rather post daily or close to that. Any ideas for a weekly feature in addition to a weekly update/summary? What would you like to hear about my experience putting my Happiness Project into practice? What would you rather I avoid telling about?

A Shift in Perception

The resolutions I’m coming up with are all actions. Some are mental actions and others are physical actions, but they’re all (if I’m doing it the way I intend) concrete, measurable actions that I’m choosing because I think they are things that will help increase the happiness in my life. This has got me thinking, though, about those things that I can’t change.

At this moment, I’m blogging rather than doing the dishes. In fact, I’m blogging because there are dishes to do. And I don’t want to do them. What I’d like to do is something I read years ago in Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh:

“I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to eat dessert sooner, the time of washing dishes will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity, for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and the fact that I am here washing them are miracles!”

I recognize that I’m rarely in the moment, and it’s possible that I miss a great deal of happiness this way. I’ve considered making “Do one thing at a time,” one of my resolutions. I’ve been reading and hearing a lot of things about how multi-tasking isn’t as effective as focusing on one task at a time, and I’d really love to try it, but I’m not at all sure how I’d get anything done with two small children around if I did just one thing at a time.

But perhaps mindfulness isn’t as black and white as I’m making it out to be. I’m approaching this as though I need to be in the moment constantly. Maybe simply being mindful a few times a day would be enough to bring me back to the present moment and let me appreciate where I am.

It seems very challenging to shift a perception, to turn, “Doing dishes: ugh! But if I don’t do them now, I’ll regret it tomorrow,” to, “Doing dishes: what a great opportunity for peaceful reflection!”

But when I look back, I realize I’ve experienced pretty profound shifts in perception before. When my first child was born five years ago, I was initially overwhelmed by the amount of “nothing” I did throughout the day. My daughter would nurse for 1 to 1.5 hours at a time and I would just sit there. I watched a lot of TV, but sometimes I just couldn’t watch another minute and shut the thing off. And I sat. And I looked at my baby. And I nursed. And the next time I looked up at the clock, 45 minutes had passed. Having struggled for a couple of years to get myself to sit in meditation, I felt proud that I could sit still for so long. This likely was helped along by oxytocin and sleep deprivation, but when I look back, these times of closeness with my daughter, just sitting there doing nothing, are some of the most vivid and cherished memories I have of that harried newborn time. While expecting my second child last year, these were the moments to which I most looked forward. Of course, I didn’t have near as much time to do nothing with both a newborn and a 4-year-old.

I’m fairly certain, however, that I’m nowhere near being able to shift my perception of a screaming tantrum. That may be part of the advanced course.

What perception shifts have you experienced? Have they come on quickly, or were they gradual? Were they a result of conscious effort, or did they just happen?