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Posts Tagged ‘awareness’

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When I began practicing Sitting Zen, my best aid was an occasional temple bell. Its beautifully ringing sharpness and clarity created that same resonance within my mind, pulling away any stray thoughts with it as its tone gently faded.

The temple bell is also the best aid for my practice of Active Zen. That is, trying to bring that same quality of receptivity and non-judgment to all parts of my life, not just the quiet times. In particular, my practice of Driving Zen.

I don’t have a terribly long commute in the morning, but it is 30-45 minutes of generally heavy, somewhat dangerous traffic. While I try to focus my mind within the Zen state upon awakening, it’s during this drive that I most dedicate myself to this practice. I have a whole day of many, many issues to tackle, so it’s important to center my awareness.

My practice of Driving Zen involves trying to be aware of all of the cars around me: ahead, behind, and to the sides. I also focus on being aware of the sky, the trees, and other landmarks that I pass. If anything has changed about the environment, I try to be aware of it, and welcome it into the otherwise familiar space. I also stay mindful of how I am feeling, without allowing those feelings power to control my thoughts. Through all this, I focus on retaining a joyful receptivity, taking it all in without judgment or hangups.

This can be pretty difficult some days, and not just because Rush Hour on the Florida Turnpike is a Master Teacher. I’ll have interesting dreams I remember snippets of, memories from the day before, or even problems to resolve at work that try to pop into that space I’ve cleared and demand attention. Often, they’ll get some of that attention for a little while, until I remember to return to my practice.

At those times, I let my mind ring with the sound of the temple bell. I let the clarity wash through me, and allow the sounds to gently fade from my mind.

Refreshed, I turn my awareness back to the road I travel, joyfully receptive to all it may bring.

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I wanted to break my latest hiatus by letting you know I’ve been thinking of you. I know I haven’t reached that many people with my words in the grand scheme of things. That said, I do believe that those whom I have touched have in turn touched the lives of others, just as I continue to share the gifts of insight and love that others have given me. We are sharing the human experience, and we can’t stop our influence from spreading beyond our reach.

It is my sincerest goal that my life bring more love, more peace, and more joy to the lives of those around me than I would have thought possible. And that, through enjoying those blessings we share, those lives then shine their light forward to illuminate the dark spaces of others. In this way, the light and love that I have received with may continue that work throughout our world.

Please, take a moment to remember something that is special to you, that warms your heart. Remember a thought, an experience, a talent or a dream that helps you feel your spark inside. Take three deep, slow breaths, savoring this moment of precious peace. Feel the sacred beauty of nature, and of the human heart, savoring that precious unity-point where the outside world touches your skin. Remember we are one people, sharing one planet, and enjoy a moment of gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of it.

Take another moment, please, to experience the positive, warm peace that dwells within the stillness. Form a memory of what that feels like. And from now on, whenever possible, call up that moment of peace to your conscious attention, to help you through a hectic time, or even to periodically brighten your day.

As you practice this, you can’t help but create a positive influence for the world you inhabit. May that warm embrace of the joyful stillness come easier and easier for you, until it shapes your every day.

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Changes to our environment have subtle effects on us. Soon they are no longer changes, but have become just more background hum running through our lives.

While we may not be consciously aware of these effects, our subconscious pays close attention to every tiny detail. If our environment has happy, friendly people, our subconscious begins to recognize that as normal. If we are surrounded by negative, violent people, our subconscious begins to recognize that as normal, too.

Our subconscious will also try to normalize our experiences to those expectations. It will help us see the good it feels we expect, as well as the bad. It can also help us say and do things, making choices that will continue to reinforce the good or bad that have become the baseline “normal” in our lives.

So it’s important to take a breath – a deep breath – and let it out slowly, paying attention to how we feel. As we breathe in, what kind of environment are we taking in? As we breathe out, what expectations are we sending out?

Taking a few of these moments a day for several days in a row should help us become more aware of this sea of experience we’re swimming in. Once we’re aware, we may make more conscious choices as to how we wish to experience our days to come.

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I’m traveling for the second time in as many months, and in another month I’ll be out for another few nights. This time, my toddler is having a harder time with me being away, and it’s reminding me how I’ve gotten used to a particular place of being.

I mean this in more than just physical location. Even with my daily awareness practice of my Zen Year goals, I still have settled into a feeling of being in a routine. Even though it’s not accomplishing more than three quarters of what I’d like it to accomplish, this external routine has infused itself into my expectations, and my sense of place.

The toughest part of traveling has been breaking these patterns, of suspending these feelings of knowing what and “where” to expect. That has also been the most beneficial. It has been snapping me out of the daydream a bit, reminding me of how and where I like to live.

In the past, I wasn’t such a creature of habit. Life was pretty variable, and I flowed right along with it. Then different sets of patterns and samenesses took hold, some of them pretty grinding. I settled in. Somewhere along the way, change ceased being my one constant.

That’s really not such a bad thing, but in the meantime a visceral part of me has started to center my sense of place on the expectations, these patterns, these routines. It has taken these extreme suspensions of routine to shake that part of me up, reminding it of who and where I am. I am a creature of both change and habit, of ambition and restfulness, of expectation and surprise. I am also the product of my thoughts and feelings, which color and shape the world I experience.

There is no “place” I can expect to be, except in the space I carry with me. Whoever I meet, wherever I go, I experience it through the context of that space inside me.

As I remember this, I can take a deep breath in this strange air. I am at peace.

I am home.

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I was reminded recently that frequently people make changes only when they become too uncomfortable to continue the way they are. Change can be uncomfortable in and of itself, so generally one has to feel that the unknown discomfort of the future will be less than the known comfort of the present. I think that takes either a good deal of optimism, or desperation — though I also think optimism will make it easier.

Though it’s also true that things are changing all the time, all around us, regardless of whether we would rather have a say in them. So I think we’ll be well served to find ways to work toward changes we can shape, and to better adapt to the ones we can’t.

I’ve got in my mind some changes that I’m working on — a big one or two, but I try to keep it to the little ones. I’ve found that even the little ones take great effort, so planning one step at a time just might be the path to lasting success.

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I was just thinking about how many traditions emphasize the importance of breathing, from meditation to exercise to psychology to problem-solving.  Yet I sometimes have trouble breathing, because of health stuff, and because of habits that have taken hold because of these occasional “health stuff”, and because of all the times in a day I’m in a “holding my breath” kind of thought process.  Like this moment.
 
So I have an idea.  Every time I see the clock has changed to a new hour (or half-hour could even be a good goal), I’m going to stop and take three slow, deep breaths.  If I can, I’ll go for ten.
 
I recommend you give it a shot, see if it helps you feel better.  At the least, it might help you refocus throughout the day, maybe help you feel more like you’re present and on track.

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