Spaces for Practice (written 2018)
Find small spaces in your day for pauses, for silence, peace, the breath. This is what I often tell those who are beginners at meditation practice or working to develop mindfulness. This is not just a way to start, like walking before you run, but this habit develops patterns that are valuable in their own right. Now into my third decade of practice, I continue to find these spaces important. While formal daily sitting has become a healthy habit for me, like brushing my teeth, or remembering to drink water, these smaller and numerous “spaces”work to keep me connected to my intention, to build a practice that runs through my life and is not just a postscript, or a comment in parenthesis.
Some are daily, positive, reflexive mind habits, while others arise from the moment and what is happening around me, or what I'm doing at the time.
I use a gentle alarm bell, the same that rings to mark the end of meditation, and this means I am not startled awake. Usually I even hear the hand of the clock tick into place just prior to the bell. This is precious space to know my mind-weather before I interact with anyone else, even the fur baby who will begin to scuffle with excitement when my feet hit the floor.
I love yin in the morning. Slow stretches, long pauses, comfortable breathing, softening body as it wakens and loosens. Each movement, each breath, each still point is its own space, a meditation. If the unexpected delays formal sitting till later, this will be my most sustained morning mindfulness string, a moving meditation that lubricates the joints and expands heart and mind.
Feeding others is an act of generosity and bringing this to mind whenever I am preparing food for all the beings in my home keeps me more present to each action. Pausing to enjoy the aromas of even simple things like tea and toast brings me into the moment. If it's possible I will find a quiet place for breakfast, where there is less competition for my attention and so more pleasure in the meal itself. And where, as I do in my yin practice and my early solitary waking, I can more easily direct attention inside for awhile. Knowing how things are for me, my mood, how this body and mind feel, grounds the practice of patience and gives me more balance when I'm sad, tired, sick, stressed or fragile in some way.
A forced pause at a red light or a train crossing means a space for breath or metta practice. A long lineup at the bank, in the grocery store or at the pharmacy is a space for breathing and attending to patience. A walk with the dog is an opportunity for touching the earth with deliberate and careful steps, for listening, breathing, seeing, and harnessing the mind to the body. In the winter, turning on the gas fire is a moment for the soft natural reflection the movement of the flame invites, and this is laced with gratitude. In the summer, the dying blossoms of my potted deck plants provide practice with the truth of impermanence and the peaceful act of lifting and looking and trimming, making discoveries of bees and beetles and new shoots along the way.
While I deliberately avoided social media for many years, I've been a participant on Facebook for a good stretch now, finding , as is the case with so many things, mindfulness transforms the activity. Even this can be practice. The names above photos posted by my friends remind me to send metta and to be grateful for the community, family, and global web that holds me. The posts that disturb me or bump up against my values, give me reason to reflect on my views and my prickly sense of self, a space to practice compassion and non-judgment. The texting style of Facebook, a bit removed from the easy and quick flow of oral conversation where Right Speech can be so challenging, is a place to practice control of reactivity. I lift my hands from the keyboard for a moment when I am aware of a mind that wants to comment and convince.
Making space, when it is suggested as an early mindfulness practice, may seem like a list of tricks and techniques. Over time it becomes the habit of mind that is mindfulness as action, not just an idea.