It’s Sunday morning and a free day lies in front of me. Our cat is sleeping by my side, rolled up into a warm furry ball. Outside the early morning sun starts warming the wintry garden. Possible projects for this day are circling in my head and thoughts about the past week are moving by in the background. Breakfast is ready and some birds outside are singing about Spring.
What a precious moment! I’ve already had some of those in my life, but after an unknown time, peace and stillness slid away into the background. Some kind of busyness took over faster than I could notice. At the moment I’m still enjoying the openness and freshness of the day, but soon my mind will grab an interest in anything and carry me away in chains of thought and seeming necessities. Maybe I’ll meet the longing for peace and openness sometime again during the day, but I would guess it will be more difficult to maintain it during the speed of the passing day. Don’t we all know experiences like this?
The Flow of Our Consciousness
Especially the early morning is a great time to allow oneself the luxury of “just being” for some moments. We can just sit where we are, enjoy peace and spaciousness and notice what’s happening. Thoughts are happening and are suddenly gone again. Inner sensations and reactions move along with outer scenarios, and hopes and worries are there as well. All of this moves along like a stream of consciousness. Maybe we are still a bit tired or somewhere in the field between sleep and awake. Our mind is still relatively relaxed from the night and possibly a bit slower than during the day.
Simply Being is not Necessarily Easy
In modern culture it’s our habit to use our consciousness constantly. We are used to its operation in the background of our mind. This is the place where thoughts and other mental events are usually residing and moving. A moment of openness and freshness can allow us to just notice what’s happening around there. During this openness we might even notice little gaps in which we just are. These surprising little gaps are gone as fast as they came, just as we are noticing them. The mental play and its short breaks are part of the natural functioning of our mind. To just notice and observe the play can in itself be very calming for our whole being. This already is a wonderful practice.
In case you’d prefer more guidance, here are some suggestions for little experiments in being:
(1) First, we can pause exactly as we are right now. We are sitting somewhere in some kind of posture and are reading these words. We can simply notice: what is going on right now? There will be different answers to this and they are popping into our awareness. Which one is the most predominant? Maybe it is a pain somewhere in our body, some worry or a pleasant memory. Maybe we notice that our posture is not so comfortable, that there is music somewhere or the scent of freshly brewed coffee. Possibly our awareness is jumping or moving between different impressions and judging some of them. We can notice this in a very light and easy way, like watching a play for a few minutes in a theater.
(2) Second, we can eat or drink something and notice everything that goes along with this experience. First, we prepare it. There is what we see, maybe a scent and a kind of anticipating joy. Following that we start slowly to eat or drink. Moment by moment there are sensations and very slowly we move, taste, and notice. Many things are now happening at one time: movement, sensation, touch, taste, smell, pleasure, pausing, memories, thoughts, sensations and our reflections about all of this. Maybe even judgments and comparisons; it’s a continuous river.
(3) Finally, we can sit for some moments in a relaxed, pleasant, and upright position and notice our breathing process. We are sensing our body, noticing movement, feeling the air passing through our nostrils and extending our lungs and belly. There is a rhythm to our breathing and a particular depth. These might change a bit while we are observing them. While we are trying to simply notice this process our thoughts might wander off and we might join them. Again, this is one aspect of the natural functioning of our mind. We can notice it and come back to the original focus on the breath. Some minutes into this exercise we might notice even more details and feel somewhat more calm and relaxed.
Starting our days with a little observation as presented here can help us to find our way more easily to little relaxing breaks throughout the day. We can allow ourselves to rest for some minutes after finishing a meal, right there at the table. Or maybe while enjoying a tea or coffee. We can just notice what is or observe sensations and movements within our body and mind. In the same way, we can take little observing breaks when the light turns red, while sitting in a bus, while waiting for a friend to arrive or the cashier to do her work. We are checking in with our sensations and state of mind.
The key here is to notice “what is” and “how our mind moves.” We are so used to just having our mind work for us that the bare observation of its movements can be a real challenge. With the support of an object to focus on like our own breath or a simple object in front of us, it is much easier to notice when we have automatically followed the movements of our thoughts again. Then we can just come back to our chosen object and curiously observe what is happening next.
If you’d like to try out some guided practices you can find them below.
♥ Some little pointers for our days:
♥ Sharon Salzberg guides a meditation:
♥ Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about the daily benefits of awareness practices in the context of MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction):
♥ A nice guided experiment around eating something (can be anything):
♥ In the last post Skillful Means I shared a short video of Sogyal Rinpoche talking about “what meditation really is” and Mathieu Richard’s TED talk about “the habits of happiness.”
For the coming week I hope you’ll have a fun time observing, noticing and calming a bit here and there as you go.
Enjoy your time!