I found myself sitting on my couch this weekend feeling that I really needed to take some time for myself, some down-time. Simultaneously, I felt that the need to get up and do something because my thoughts were flying wild, bouncing from one topic to the next. Before I committed to any activity I took the opportunity to look over Adrienne Glasser’s latest piece, the guest blog presented below. It’s effect on me was calming and energizing. Her wise and compassionate words helped me. I offer these same words to you and trust that they will be helpful to you:
If you’re anything like me, your mind won’t be still for a second. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to stop thinking. What a bummer! But a true meditation practice allows for thoughts to be part of the experience. Even then, the slowness of sitting sometimes feels intolerable. In many instances, I can't tolerance sitting. In those moments, despite my strong belief in the great value of meditating, it seems like a waste of time. Other things seemed more important.
In my 20’s, family illness filled my time, I was confronted with crises of life and death. I needed an active meditation practice and was introduced to Thich Nhat Hanh’s walking meditation. His practice of mindfully washing dishes was helpful to me. I found that my amped up nervous system could get a respite while in motion. I practiced active mindfulness and eventually learned to resume a seated meditation practice.
Recently, I became a mother for the first time and became preoccupied with worries concerning my newborn’s vulnerability. My sitting meditation practice fell apart as I felt speeded up with worry and unable to calm myself without physical movement. So I once again adopted an active mindfulness practice, one in which I used motion to help release tension. Many of the active mindfulness practices fall under the umbrella of what Buddhists call the Noble Eightfold Path or “The Middle Way” (like this blog!) This path is a practice of: Right View, Right Resolve, Right Speech, Right Action, Right livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. “Right” meaning an intention of non-harm (not as in right vs. wrong).
Below are my current favorite ways to practice active mindfulness that are part of The Eightfold Path. I hope these practices below will be an alternative to what Ethan Nichtern calls “The commuter” in his book The Road Home. The commuter runs to ease her pain. The running from one quick fix to the next only fuels this suffering. The practice of The Eightfold Path through Active Mindfulness allows for a bit more slowness and presence that can ease suffering, even if we are noticing seconds of stillness in action.
1. Mindful Presence
Throughout the day I turn my view to being fully aligned in the moment with another person. This can be practiced through mindful listening in a conversation with a friend or loved one (Right Mindfulness) or pausing before speaking (Right Speech). Recently I practiced Right Effort, just having a loving presence towards others. I would start my practice with feeding my infant daughter and radiating my care for her to others, extending that presence to family, friends, clients and even strangers.
2. Abbreviated Lovingkindness
Lovingkindness is a practice taught by many well-known teachers such as Sharon Salzberg and Pema Chodron. Salzberg encourages Street Lovingkindness where you can practice Right Effort towards strangers by wishing them well in a flash. While in traffic or on the street or subway, making wishes like: “May you be well. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be at peace”
3. Abbreviated Body Scan
Most of us are stuck in our heads. Our thoughts and the stories we tell ourselves can color the reality of our day-to-day lives. By taking a moment to sense sensation in our body, we can come back to what is actually happening by noticing our feelings in the present moment. It only takes a few moments to notice sensations from our feet up to our head. Here is a brief practice of a body scan with Dr. Elisha Goldstein.
4. Uplifted Aesthetics At Home and Work
This practice is certainly an imperfect one but keeping my environment clean and tidy uplifts my mood. I embrace the items, colors and cleanliness that makes me feel good. It is a challenging practice, but when I have a made bed and playful objects around my home and at work, it helps my creativity and uplifts my family and hopefully my clients. When the bed isn’t made, I practice having compassion for both my partner and I for being busy. Here are some more tips for a home practice.
5. Mindful Movement
Mindful movement can be as formal as yoga and as informal as walking to get a glass of water. The practice centers around observing your body moving and noticing body sensations in action. I enjoy this practice when walking back and forth at work to greet my clients at the door. As I walk through a long hallway I observe my breath, my feet moving across the floor, feel my arms sway and notice how open my heart feels. This movement practice can be very informal or if you have a few minutes you can practice simple movements like those described here by Thich Nhat Hanh.
With small, informal, quick practices like these, it’s possible to practice mindfulness anytime and anywhere, with no need to wait for the “right” moment.