Dear Still Water Friends,
Earlier this year I felt as though I was caught in an endless stream of moving from task to task with every new task being the most important. I also felt overwhelmed listening to the news of politics, conflict, and tragedy all around. This left me drained and very stressed. I was out of sync with something and though it took a little while, I finally admitted to myself that I had been skipping my daily practice time on the cushion.
I was yearning to get back into my formal practice but kept sabotaging myself for all the reasons we come up with when this happens. Luckily, I was scheduled to go on a spring retreat at Blue Cliff Monastery. I set my intention for the retreat around refreshing my energy to engage in my formal practice.
At the retreat, one of my dear friends on the path mentioned the book Breathe, You Are Alive! written by Thich Nhat Hanh. This book delves into the Sixteen Exercises for Mindful Breathing. With relief I thought—ahh, here is a path back to the foundational practice of mindful breathing—just what I need.
Over the past few months I have been working through the Sixteen Exercises very slowly, not worrying about progress, just experiencing them in my daily sitting practice.
What I have noticed throughout my years as a practitioner is that it always makes me happy to come back to the basic practices. I never tire of being reminded, refreshed, and renewed. And each time I revisit the practice of breathing in and breathing out, I discover something new. This is the beginner’s spirit I would like to bring to our evening together.
Excerpt from Breathe, You Are Alive!: Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing by Thich Nhat Hanh
Most of us don’t live in forests or in monasteries. In our daily lives we drive cars, wait for buses, work in offices and factories, talk on the telephone, clean our houses, cook meals, wash clothes, and so on. Therefore, it’s important that we learn to practice full awareness of breathing in our daily lives. Usually, when we perform these tasks our minds wander and our joy, sorrow, anger and unease follow close behind. Although we’re alive, we’re not able to bring our minds into the present moment, and we live in forgetfulness.
We can begin to enter the present moment by becoming aware of our breath. Breathing in and breathing out, we know we are breathing in and out, and we can smile to affirm that we are in control of ourselves. Through Awareness of Breathing, we can be awake in, and to, the present moment. Being attentive, we already establish “stopping” and concentrating the mind. Full Awareness of our Breathing helps our mind stop wandering in confused, never ending thoughts.
Excerpt from the poem Breathe, You Are Alive! by Sister Annabel Laity
Breathe for your joy to be steady and calm.
Breathe for your sorrow to flow away.
Breathe to renew every cell in your blood.
Breathe to renew the depths of consciousness.
Breathe and you dwell in the here and now.
Breathe and all you touch is new and real.