Last night I went to the first of a six-week class on mindfulness meditation. It is taught by Rodney Smith, the founding and guiding teacher of the Seattle Insight Meditation Society (SIMS). It was interesting to see that over a hundred people showed up for the class. I guess I’m not the only one who is searching for something.
Early on, Rodney asked the students to comment on what we hoped to get out of meditation. One person said he wanted to feel more peaceful, another said she hoped it would quiet her mind. I wanted to say that I hoped it would help me get into the present. To feel like I’m experiencing each moment and appreciating that this is my life. These are my children. This is the sound of their voices. This is what it’s like to cut a carrot. I want to notice it all.
He taught us a basic sitting meditation and we practiced that for a short while. It involves sitting upright, either in a chair or on a cushion on the floor, closing your eyes, and trying to keep your mind focused on the sensation of your breath. Nothing more, just paying attention to the breath. Thoughts arise and your mind wanders away, over and over you bring it back to the breath.
Thich Nhat Hanh says this: “Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”
Rodney also taught us how to do walking meditation, in which you pay close attention to the sensation of taking each step. Picture a large empty room filled with people taking very slow steps. It felt a little weird, but also interesting to see how focused you can become. “Don’t miss a step,” he would say occasionally. You are training your mind to pay attention.
For homework, he asked us to sit in meditation for 30 minutes every day and to do one “marker.” A marker is a daily activity that you do routinely, without thinking about it, that now you will try to do with complete mindfulness. He suggested teeth brushing. Here’s Thich Nhat Hanh:
Chopping wood is meditation. Carrying water is meditation. Be mindful 24 hours a day, not just during the one hour you may allot for formal meditation or reading scripture and reciting prayers. Each act must be carried out in mindfulness. Each act is a rite, a ceremony. Raising your cup of tea to your mouth is a rite. Does the word ‘rite’ seem too solemn? I use that word in order to jolt you into the realization of the life-and-death matter of awareness.
So this is the beginning. The path I am choosing to follow, at least for now. Thirty minutes of sitting meditation each day. Mindful teeth brushing. Maybe mindfulness will spread into other parts of my day. And we will see.