One of the initial teachings of the Buddha when he was giving instruction on the practice of mindfulness was to note one’s physical position. To briefly paraphrase the Buddha: When one is standing, be aware that one is standing. When one is sitting, be aware one is sitting. When laying down, be aware one is laying down. When walking, be aware one is walking.
When I first encountered this teaching I thought to myself, “Boy, this sounds awfully simplistic.” But as with most things in Buddhist practice once you start trying it, if you are anything like me, you realize how difficult it is to put this into actual practice. When attempting to be aware of my position, it was usually a good 10-20 minutes into changing from one position to another that I would make a mental note that my position had even changed. We go through life with such automaticity (being “asleep” as the Buddha termed it) that such changes are made in autopilot mode. Engaging in this practice forces you to see your mind in autopilot mode and enables you to come out of it during daily moments of your life.
We can extend this practice by noting when we transition from one room to the next as they do in Zen meditation halls. At the San Francisco Zen Center where I sometimes practice they take an intentional pause before entering and leaving the Zendo in order to take a mindful step in and out of the practice hall. This simple practice encourages wakefulness in the practitioner.
As we expand further into this practice, mindfulness of transitions can also be extended into noting transitions in our life. We can take mental note of the beginning and end of work, seasons, times of the day and so on.
By practicing in this way we can be more aware of and engaged with the natural ebb and flow of life.
W.C. Ark, PsyD
As always, if you find yourself struggling with mental health issues please seek a professional’s help. Blog posts not intended to replace a professional’s advice.