Archive for the 'Mindfulness Class' Category

Mindfulness Week 8

Gratitude at the end of the day

Exercise:  At the end of the day, write a list of at least five things that happened during the day that you are grateful for.  At the end of the week, read it out loud to a friend, partner, or mindfulness companion.

Reminders:  Keep a notepad and pencil or pen beside your bed or on your pillow.  When you get into bed at night, write your list before you lie down and go to sleep.

Discoveries:

When people first do this practice, they often think that they will have trouble making a list of at least five things they are grateful for.  However, they are surprised to find that when they start, the list often grows longer.  It is as if a long-neglected faucet were turned on, and the flow doesn’t shut off.  During the day you may find yourself taking mental notes of “things to add to the list.”  This encourages a lovely transformation into a mind-state of ongoing gratitude.

Research conducted by Lywbomirsky shows that 40 percent of happiness is determined by our intentional activities.  People who keep a daily “gratitude journal” or who regularly express gratitude to people who have been kind to them show a significant increase in happiness and decrease in depression.

How to Train a Wild Elephant, Jan Chozen Bays, pp. 46-47.

Mindfulness Week 7

Mindfulness of posture:

“Several times a day, become aware of your posture.  This has two aspects.  First it means to become aware of what posture you are in and how it feels within the body. . .  Being aware of posture also means to notice and adjust your posture many times a day.  If you are slouching, gently straighten up.
“A very good time to work with mindfulness of posture is at meals.  Sit on the front edge of the chair with your feet planted on the floor, knees a bit apart.  Straighten the spine to maximize room for breathing. Other interesting times to become aware of posture include while standing in line, driving, lying down in bed, in meetings, and while walking.”  How to Train a Wild Elephant, Jan Chozen Bays, p. 42.
To remember:  You might ask friends or family members to notice and comment on your posture.  You might put a bit of colored tape or a note saying “posture” near where you eat meals.

Discoveries

“People are often surprised to discover that they have poor posture.  Their posture looks OK from the front, but whetn they see their reflections from the side, they are shocked to discover that their shoulders are slumped.  We adjust our posture to different situations.  At a job interview or an interesting lecture, we sit up straight; watching, TV we slump on the couch.  It is easy to pick out those people who have ahd certain kinds of training, such as military officers, dancers, or royalty.  They have a noticeably upright posture.  Why is posture important for these people?  There is a Spanish saying, “You can tell a priest even in a bathing suit,” meaning that a religious person is distinguishable just by his or her outward demeanor, because this reflects on internal posture or alignment.

“In Zen practice we put a lot of emphasis on posture, not only in the mediation hall but also sitting at the table, and even walking about.  We walk with the hands held folded together at the waist, maintaining what Catholic nuns call “custody of the hands.”  When we pass each other in the walkways, we stop, put palms together, and bow.  When we are given our work assignment for the day, we bow, grateful for a body that can work. Four times a day during chanting services we do full prostration down to the floor, where we take a posture of humility, head to the ground, putting down our self-obsessed minds and guarded hearts, lifting our palms from the floor to signify we are seeking to raise up our full potential for wisdom and compassion.  Some days we do over a hundred of these full bows.  People who are doing atonement practice for past wrongdoing may do 108 extra full prostrations each day.  One Zen master did so many full bows each day that he developed a callus on his forehead.  He said that he was an obstinate, stubborn fellow and needed to practice humility.

“Japanese people bow many, many times each day.  Often old people there are bent over and cannot straighten up.  They do not mind this, saying that it helps them to keep on bowing to life and to be grateful for whatever it brings them.”

How to Train a Wild Elephant, Jan Chozen Bays, pp. 43-44, © 2011

Mindfulness Week 5

Mindfulness, Week 5

Exercise:  When Eating Just Eat

“This week, when you’re eating or drinking, don’t do anything else.  Sit down and take the time to enjoy what you are taking in.   Open all the senses as you eat or drink.   Look at the colors, shapes, surface textures.  Attend to the smells and flavors in your mouth.  Listen to the sounds of eating and drinking.”

Discoveries

“This is not an easy task for most people.  If you’re on the go, walking from one place to another and about to take a sip of tea or coffee, you’re going to need to stop, find a place to sit down, and savor it.  If you’re working on the computer, you’re going to have to take both hands off the keyboard and turn your eyes away from the screen in order to savor a sip of coffee.

“Eating has become part of our modern habit of perpetually multitasking.  When we do this exercise, we discover anew how many other things we do while eating.  We eat while walking, driving, watching TV or movies, reading, working on the computer, playing video games, and listening to music.

“Once we eliminate those obvious activities, we come to a more subtle aspect of inattention—talking while eating.  Our parents may have scolded us for talking with our mouths full, but we still find ourselves eating and talking simultaneously.  While doing this task we learn to alternate eating and talking.  In other words, if you want to talk, stop eating.  Don’t do them at the same time.

“It is so common to socialize while eating that you may discover that you feel awkward eating alone in a restaurant without reading or otherwise distracting yourself.  You might imagine that people are thinking, “Poor thing, no friends.”  You pick up a book or open your computer to show you are being productive and wouldn’t “waste time” by “just eating.”  One problem with eating and doing other things is that it becomes “waist time,” that is, time for extra food to go down unnoticed, and end up on your waist!

“In Japan and parts of Europe it is very rude to walk and eat or drink at the same time.  The only food you can eat in Japan while standing up or walking is an ice-cream cone, because it might melt.  People will stare at the boorish foreigner who busy fast food and walks down the street munching.  Even fast food is taken home, arranged attractively, and served at a table.  Meals are times to slow down and truly enjoy the food, drink, and company.”

How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventure in Mindfulness, Jan Chozen Bays, Shambhala, Boston, 2011, pp. 33-35.

 

Mindfulness Week 4

Mindfulness:  Week 4

Exercise:  Appreciate your Hands

“Several times a day, when your hands are busy, watch them as though they belonged to a stranger.  Also look at them when they are still.”

Discoveries:

“Our hands are very skilled at all sorts of tasks, and they can do many of them by themselves, without much direction from our mind.  It’s fun to watch them at work, busily living their own life.  Hands can do so much!  The two hands can work together or do different things at the same time.

“While doing this exercise we noticed that each person has characteristic hand gestures.  Our hands wave about when we talk, almost by themselves.  We noticed that our hands change over time.  Look at your hands and imagine them as they were when you were a baby, then imagine them changing as you grew older, until they reach the present time and state.  Then imagine them growing older, becoming lifeless when you die, then dissolving back into the earth.

“Even when we are asleep our hands are caring for us, pulling up the blankets, holding the body next to us, turning off the alarm clock.”

How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventure in Mindfulness, Jan Chozen Bays, Shambhala, Boston, 2011, pp. 29-30.

Mindfulness: Week 3

Mindfulness, Week 3

The Exercise:  Filler Words

“Become aware of the use of ‘filler’ words and phrases and try to eliminate them from your speech.  Fillers are words that do not add meaning to what you’re saying, such as ‘um,’ ‘ah,’ ‘so,’ ‘well,’ ‘like,’ ‘you know,’ ‘kind of,’ and ‘sort of.’  Additional filler words enter our vocabulary from time to time.  Recent additions might include ‘basically’ and ‘anyway.’

“In addition to eliminating filler words, see if you can notice why you tend to use them—in what situations and for what purpose?”

Discoveries

“At the monastery we have found this to be one of the most challenging mindfulness practices we do.  It is frustratingly hard to hear your own filler words and catch them before they are spoken—unless you are a trained speaker.  In the Toastmasters clubs (groups that train in public speaking) there are people assigned to tally filler words during talks, assisting members as they learn to be effective speakers.  Once you begin to hear filler words, you will hear them everywhere, on the radio and TV and in everyday conversation.   A typical teenager uses the filler word like an estimated two hundred thousand times a year!  You will also notice which speakers do not use them, and become aware of how the absence of filler words makes a speech more effective and powerful.  For example, listen to Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama, or President Barack Obama’s speeches with an ear for filler words.

“Filler words seem to serve several functions.  They are space holders, telling the listener that you are going to start speaking or that you are not finished speaking yet.  ‘So . . . I told him what I thought of his idea and then, um, I said, like, you . . .’ Filler words also soften what we say, making it less definite or assertive.  ‘So anyway, I you know, think we should, basically, kind of go ahead with this project.’  Are we afraid of provoking a reaction or of being wrong?  We wouldn’t want a president or doctor who spoke in such a wishy-washy way.  Filler words can become an obstruction to the listening audience when they so dilute the meaning as to render it silly.  ‘Jesus sort of said, ‘Love your, you know, neighbor, as, sort of, like, yourself.’’’

Jan Chozen Bays, How to Train a Wild Elephant, Shambhala, Boston, 2011, pp. 25, 26-27.

Mindfulness, Week 2

The Exercise:  Leave No Trace.

“Choose one room of your house and for one week try leaving no trace that you’ve used that space.  The bathroom or kitchen works best for most people.  If you’ve been doing something in that room, cooking a meal or taking a shower, clean up in such a way that you leave no signs that you’ve been there, except perhaps the odor of food or fragrance of soap.”

 

Discoveries:

“Often we leave rooms a bit messier than when we entered.  We think, ‘I’ll clean it up later.’  Later never comes, until the mess is unbearable, and we become irritated enough to undertake a thorough cleaning. Or we get annoyed at someone else for not doing their part in the housework.  How much easier if we take care of things right away.  Then we don’t have to feel growing annoyance at the gathering mess.

“This task helps us become aware of the tendency to turn away from doing certain things, even small things that we could take care of during the day but somehow don’t have the motivation to do.  We could pick up the trash on the sidewalk as we walk by, or the paper towel that missed the bin in the washroom.  We could straighten the pillows on the couch after we get up, or wash our coffee cup instead of putting it in the sink, and we could put tools away even through we’ll be using them again tomorrow.

“One person observed that becoming mindful about leaving no traces in one room spread out to include other areas.  Washing her dirty dishes immediately after eating led to making her bed immediately after arising, and then to cleaning the little hairs out of the drain right after a shower.  We have to summon the initial energy, but thereafter, energy seems to breed more energy.”

 

Jan Chozen Bays, How to Train a Wild Elephant, Shambhala, Boston, 2011, p. 23.

Mindfulness Week 1

Mindfulness Week 1:  Use your non-dominant hand for some daily activities
“Discoveries:  This experiment always evokes laughter.  We discover that the non-dominant hand is quite clumsy.  Using it brings us back to what Zen teachers call “beginner’s mind.”  our dominant hand might be forty years old, but the non-dominant hand is much younger, perhaps about two or three years old.  We have to learn all over again how to hold a fork and how to get it into our mouths without stabbing ourselves.  We might begin to brush our teeth very awkwardly with the non-dominant hand, and when we aren’t looking our dominant hand will reach out and take the toothbrush or fork away!  It is just like a bossy older sister who says, “Hey, you little klutz, let me do it for you!
“Struggling to use the non-dominant hand can awaken our compassion for anyone who is clumsy or unskilled, such as a person who has had disabilities injuries, or a stroke.  We briefly see how much we take for granted scores of simple movements that many people cannot make.  Using chopsticks with the non-dominant hand is a humbling experience.  If you want to eat a meal in under an hour and not end up spilling foo all over, you have to be very attentive.”
from Jan Chozen Bays, How to Train a Wild Elephant, Shambala Pulbications, Boston, (c) 2011, p. 20.