Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present and at one with those around you and with what you are doing. We bring our body and mind into harmony while we wash the dishes, drive the car or take our morning shower.
In practicing together as a Sangha, as a community, our practice of mindfulness becomes more joyful, relaxed and steady. We are bells of mindfulness for each other, supporting and reminding each other along the path of practice. With the support of the community, we can practice to cultivate peace and joy within and around us, as a gift for all of those whom we love and care for. We can cultivate our solidity and freedom – solid in our deepest aspiration and free from our fears, misunderstandings and our suffering.
We describe below several foundational mindfulness practices in the Thich Nhat Hanh/Plum Village tradition, and encourage ease for newcomers and long-time practitioners alike as we continue to explore these practices.
Sitting meditation is very healing. We realize we can just be with whatever is within us- our pain, anger, and irritation, or our joy, love, and peace. We are with whatever is there without being carried away by it. Let it come, let it stay, then let it go.
No need to push, to oppress, or to pretend our thoughts are not there. Observe the thoughts and images of our mind with an accepting and loving eye.
Stopping is the first important step when we sit down. When our body has stopped moving, it gives our mind a chance to calm down too. Then we can be free to be still and calm despite the storms that might arise in us.
Try to find 3 points of contact on a cushion, bench, or chair.
Sit upright and straight but relaxed.
Relax your hands where ever they feel comfortable.
Close your eyes gently, or leave them half-open if you are tired.
If our legs or feet fall asleep or begin to hurt during the sitting, we are free to adjust our position quietly.
In the beginning, just feel where you feel your breath—maybe in your stomach, nose, or elsewhere and just rest your mind there.
We can maintain our concentration by following our breathing and slowly, and attentively change our posture.
Our breathing is a stable solid ground that we can take refuge in. Regardless of our internal weather – our thoughts, emotions and perceptions – our breathing is always with us like a faithful friend.
Whenever we feel carried away, or sunken in a deep emotion, or scattered in worries and projects, we return to our breathing to collect and anchor our mind. Mindful breathing helps us go back to the island of self.
We feel the flow of air coming in and going out of our nose. We feel how light and natural, how calm and peaceful our breathing functions. At any time, while we are walking, gardening, or typing, we can return to this peaceful source of life.
We may like to recite:
Breathing in “I know that I am breathing in”
Breathing out “I know that I am breathing out”
We do not need to control our breath. Feel the breath as it actually is. It may be long or short, deep or shallow. With our awareness, it will naturally become slower and deeper.
Conscious breathing is the key to uniting body and mind and bringing the energy of mindfulness into each moment of our life.
Wherever we walk, we can practice meditation. This means that we know that we are walking. We walk just for walking. We walk with freedom and solidity, no longer in a hurry. We are present with each step. And when we wish to talk we stop our movement and give our full attention to the other person, to our words and to listening.
Walking in this way should not be a privilege. We should be able to do it in every moment. Look around and see how vast life is, the trees, the white clouds, the limitless sky. Listen to the birds. Feel the fresh breeze. Life is all around and we are alive and healthy and capable of walking in peace.
We may like to use a gatha as we walk. Taking two or three steps for each in-breath and each out-breath,
Breathing in “I have arrived”; Breathing out “I am home”
Breathing in “In the here”; Breathing out “In the now”
Breathing in “I am solid”; Breathing out “I am free”
Breathing in “In the ultimate”; Breathing out “I dwell”
Dharma sharing is an opportunity to benefit from each others' insights and experience of the practice. It is a special time for us to share our experiences, our joys, our difficulties and our questions relating to the practice of mindfulness. By practicing deep listening while others are speaking, we help create a calm and receptive environment. By learning to speak out about our happiness and our difficulties in the practice, we contribute to the collective insight and understanding of the Sangha.
Dharma Sharing Guidelines
Many of our events include time for Dharma Sharing. Often a person may give a brief talk or reflection on a given topic, after which the Sangha is invited to share our experiences in relation to that topic or to share more generally from our lives, practices, questions, struggles and insights.
We invite all present to use the following guidelines during Dharma Sharing, as modeled in the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition:
When we want to share, we bow into the group. We are recognized by the group with a bow, share what we have to share, and then bow out. (If you are not comfortable bowing, please feel free to put your hand into the circle, touch your heart or in some way indicate the beginning and end of your sharing.) We will not be interrupted while speaking. This method of sharing may seem unfamiliar at first and, indeed, it is not a common way of conversing in our society. However, this practice allows us to slow down and pause, to speak and listen mindfully.
We want to be aware of allowing a bit of a pause between people sharing. We may want to enjoy three breaths before the next person speaks.
We speak from our hearts and from our experiences. We avoid giving advice or corrections. We listen with our hearts, giving the Sangha the gift of full presence and attention. Dharma Sharing is an opportunity to practice the Fourth Mindfulness Training, Deep Listening and Loving Speech.
We are mindful of the length of our sharing, recognizing that others may wish to share. We learn to trust that what needs to be said will be said. We may want to refrain from speaking a second time until everyone has had an opportunity to share.
We avoid “cross talk” or responding directly to another person. Instead we stay grounded in our own experiences. This is another way that Dharma Sharing differs from a typical group discussion or exchange of ideas. If we ask a question, it will likely not be directly answered. However, by listening carefully to the collective wisdom of the Sangha, practical answers, inspiration and insights can arise. (Long-time Sangha members welcome any questions about the practice, the Sangha or Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition as we informally talk after our gathering.)
We honor each other’s experiences as confidential during Dharma Sharing. After the gathering, we refrain from speaking to a person about what they said in the group without asking for their permission first. Sometimes a person wants to share an experience in the circle but does not want to talk more about it at a later time.