Dear Still Water Friends,
This is a wonderful time of year with holidays, celebrations, and excitement about the coming New Year. And it’s also a stressful time with lots of expectations, time with family, and hurrying to finish things. How do we navigate through the holidays with mindfulness, recognizing the many joys while not getting lost in the many stresses?
A cornerstone of mindfulness practice is using our breath to be aware of our bodies, to help us not be carried away by our minds. Paying attention to and listening to our bodies help sustain and nourish our mindfulness.
For me, paying attention to my body is especially important this time of year because of the availability of heavy food and my strong habits around sweets. For example, if I remain aware of my body before and while eating, I’m more likely to catch myself when my greed for gooey Christmas brownies is untempered by my need for sustenance and health. Similarly, being present in my body—sensing the tension in my shoulders or jaw or feeling the tightening of frustration or anger in my throat—provides important clues to the arising of various emotional triggers and habits, many of which get lots of exercise during the holidays.
The trials and tribulations of late December give us so many opportunities to practice—lucky us! This Thursday, we’ll continue our training by reestablishing ourselves in our bodies. We’ll do a guided meditation to listen to what our bodies are telling us about where we are today and to thank them for all they do for us. We’ll share our experiences and practices in being mindful through the holidays so we can be fully present to the joy, gratitude, and renewal that are available to us always but that are especially evident in this holiday season.
I hope you can join us.
Thich Nhat Hanh, Dharma Talk, February 19, 1998
When we are able to take hold of our body in mindfulness, we begin to master our mind, and our body becomes one with us. If the practice of mindfulness is still weak, our body is like a wild buffalo. Therefore, mindfulness is the herdsman and our mind is the wild buffalo. The buffalo trainer comes to the buffalo, and with the practice of mindfulness, the buffalo trainer gets to know the buffalo. After that, the buffalo trainer can sit or lie on the back of the buffalo. That is the image of the Ten Buffalo Training paintings: mastering the buffalo. At first, the buffalo is a separate entity from the one who masters the buffalo. Gradually, the buffalo trainer and the buffalo become one. And in the end the buffalo trainer is sitting on the back of the buffalo and singing. He can lie on the back of the buffalo and the buffalo can go wherever he likes. But if we are not able to master our body, it is very difficult to master our mind.
Therefore, the practice of the Four Establishments begins with looking, observing the body in the body, taking hold of the breathing as we are in any position–sitting, standing, walking, taking hold of our body by mindfulness when we are bending down, when we are straightening up, when we are walking forward, and when walking backwards. It is a very important practice to be able to see the different parts of the body, smile to them, enjoy ourselves with them, to be able to see the different elements which make up the body.
There are people who say "when I practice, I just practice with my mind". This is because they have not yet understood what practice means. When you practice, you have to practice with your body. Your body is the object of your practice. We know that when we are not able to grasp firmly our steps and our breathing, we are not able to grasp our mental activities. Therefore, to be able to take hold of our steps and take hold of our breathing is to be able to take hold of and understand our mind. Then we will become the buffalo, and the buffalo will become us.