The way I begin my period of sitting meditation in the morning is with a simple technique called the “look, listen, feel, breathe practice” . I developed this to help my students enter the present moment more fully at the beginning of every class when we are still arriving and transitioning form the busy ‘doing mode,’ to exploring a time of ‘being’. This practice helps me ground myself in the moment many times throughout my day and particularly before I practice meditation. It goes like this; first we take in the visual aspects of our present moment, taking in the sights around us in an open non-judgmental way. Many times we enter a room or place with out really seeing it. This can be helpful on a practical level, like noticing where the exits are and other safety issues. It can also help us become more present to the richness of life right around us. Next, we shift the attention to the ears, and hearing, asking, “What are the sounds in this present moment?”. Not needing to wish they were gone, but simply opening up to them and noticing them as a way to experience this moment. Then we shift to the sense of feeling, of touch, by bringing our attention to all the places our body is making contact with the chair or cushion, or if we are standing -to our feet on the floor, or if driving, our hands on the steering wheel. We feel the sensations of pressure or support in our bodies. Another way to experience the present moment is through temperature, feeling the air on our skin, noticing the places on our body that feel the coldest and then the warmer parts. From here we go to feeling our breath; not thinking about breathing or controlling the breath, but actually feeling what movement happens in our chest or belly as we inhale and as we exhale. Or we may focus on the place the breath enters the body -the nose or mouth- and where it leaves the body, feeling the rush of air past the nostrils, noting the coolness of the inhale and the warmer air as we exhale. You might like to try this right now.
Many people have heard phrases like “just live in the moment’ or “all we have is the here and now”… These are very fine ideas, but with out a practice – they may remain a concept and not a way to actually live. That was how it was for me. I wanted to be more present but the pull of my mind was quite strong, very habitual and familiar -if painful. Mindfulness practice gave me a way to actually enter the present moment through the body and the senses. My students report that this simple step by step practice helps them in all sorts of situations in their lives when they notice that their mind is running away with them.
This morning as I did this, my eyes first lit upon my wood stove, a big cast iron stove from Vermont , and I thought, ‘hello old friend’. This stove is the only source of heat in my home and I love it’s radiant warmth, and going out into our local woods with a saw to gather wood that is ‘dead and down’. Then I saw the cabinet that houses the stereo and television, one that I made myself and hand painted in primary colors – it looks like it could come to life at any moment and start singing and dancing. I saw the 2 beautiful paintings by my partner Hugh – hanging on the red wall behind the cabinet, glowing like jewels. When I shifted to hearing I heard the wind in the trees, I heard my dog Sophie breathing, and the hum of the refrigerator. I felt my legs and buttocks on the cushion, the pressure of my feet and calves on the floor, and had a sense of the earth and gravity supporting me. Then I felt how cold my face and nose were, and the warmth of the center part of my body under a blanket I made years ago. Then I moved to feeling my breath. As I did this I felt that everything around me was a kind companion, animate and inanimate alike. I felt the friendliness of the history of my surroundings as well as it’s value in the present moment, even the things touched by losses. And I wondered why I sometimes want to shut down to life? Life is all around us, offering itself to us if we just ‘look listen, feel and breathe’ it in and receive the gift of our very own precious moments.