Tag Archives: Thich Nhat Hanh

Don’t Miss a Step

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.


Washing the Dishes to Wash the Dishes

About a week after my son Sage was born I was sitting in the backseat of our car holding him and waiting for my husband to come out of the house. It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes, but in that time all I did was sit and be with my son. I rubbed his back, I kissed his head, I took him in. I don’t remember my husband arriving or where we went next or anything else about that day. But that one moment remains vivid and real in my mind.

Lately I have this panicky feeling about time passing, like I want to grab it and make it stop. It feels like I am so busy trying to keep up that I am somehow missing my life.  I recently went to the doctor for a check up and she suggested I go for a follow up test for a small nodule she found on my thyroid last winter. Back then, to rule out serious illness I had an ultrasound and eventually a biopsy involving a long thin needle being inserted into my neck. That’s a needle going into my neck. When she mentioned the follow up test a few weeks ago, I responded with a blank stare. I had forgotten all about the biopsy procedure and even that I had a nodule to be concerned about.

Why is it that I can remember that moment in the car so well, but I could barely recall the time someone stuck a needle in my neck (and I let them)?

In his book, The Miracle of Mindfulness, An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation, the well-known Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, talks about the concept of “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.”

If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not ‘washing the dishes to wash the dishes.’ What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact, we are incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup  in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future — and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.

I think this gets at the problem I am having with time passing. I would like for every moment to be as real to me as the one I had with Sage in the car. I was sleep deprived and shell shocked with new parenthood. My mind was simply too tired or uninterested in spinning plans or recounting past stories. I was just there. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Mindfulness frees us of forgetfulness and dispersion and makes it possible to live fully in each minute of life. Mindfulness enables us to live.” Time to wash the dishes.


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