Coming Home to Yourself When You Are Not at Home

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Dear Still Water Friends,

I recently returned from a month away visiting family and friends and attending two class reunions. On this journey, I slept in three different beds and on two couches in four different towns. I averaged six hours or less sleep most nights and dealt with a couple of difficult family situations.

When I’m at home in Maryland, I have developed a practice of doing some yoga, meditation, exercise, and gratitude journaling most days. I have a nice room in my home with an altar and a big window that looks out over our backyard where I can see the leaves blowing in the breeze and observe birds, squirrels, and the occasional deer. It’s a peaceful place to come home to myself.  Then there is my awesome Thursday evening sangha I attend on a regular basis. This all supports my intention to live in peace and be kind to myself and others.

It can be a challenge to maintain my practice when I’m traveling. It seems even more important to do this when faced with the difficulties that come my way. For example, on my way to Montana I was scheduled to arrive in Bozeman at 10 pm. Because of weather delays and airplane malfunctions I arrived in Bozeman at 3:30 am. There were no taxis or Ubers available and I had no ride for about an hour. I was able to just breathe, sit, and wait and keep trying the app until an Uber was available at 4:30 am. Because of my practice, I was able to roll with it. I kept my cool by continuing to come back to my breath.

I made some preparations for mindful traveling. Before I left on my trip, I looked up meditation groups near where I was staying with the idea that if I had a break I would know where to attend a sitting. As it turned out, I only had an opening to attend one meditation group in Bozeman and as soon as I sat on the cushion with that group I was home. It was a respite and recharge that was much appreciated. I also took a little bag with a few items from my home altar and set it up next to where I was sleeping and it was a nice reminder that I could come back to myself and my breath anywhere, anytime. I was able to do some yoga, exercise, and journaling even if not as much as I’m used to at home, which helped me navigate difficult situations.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes about sitting regardless of location in his book Peace Is Every Step:

When you need to slow down and come back to yourself, you do not need to rush home to your meditation cushion or to a meditation center in order to practice conscious breathing. You can breathe anywhere, just sitting on your chair at the office or sitting in your automobile. Even if you are at a shopping center filled with people or waiting in line at a bank, if you begin to feel depleted and need to return to yourself, you can practice conscious breathing and smiling just standing there.

Wherever you are, you can breathe mindfully. We all need to go back to ourselves from time to time, in order to be able to confront the difficulties of life. We can do this in any position — standing, sitting, lying down, or walking. If you can sit down, however, the sitting position is the most stable.

One time, I was waiting for a plane that was four hours late at Kennedy Airport in New York, and I enjoyed sitting cross-legged right in the waiting area. I just rolled up my sweater and used it as a cushion, and I sat. People looked at me curiously, but after a while they ignored me, and I sat in peace. There was no place to rest; the airport was full of people, so I just made myself comfortable where I was. You may not want to meditate so conspicuously, but breathing mindfully in any position at any time can help you recover yourself.

This Thursday after our sitting and walking meditation, we will discuss coming home to ourselves when we are away from home. Here are a few questions that we will use to guide our discussion:

  • What steps are important to you for taking your practice with you while traveling?
  • What difficulties have you encountered in coming home to yourself while traveling?
  • What experiences have you had when practicing on the road?

Below is an excerpt from Awakening of the Heart where Thay describes how to come home to Full Awareness.

I hope you can join us.


Shawna Donaldson

Practicing Wherever We Are

In Awakening the Heart, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote:

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 thoughts 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. As our awareness increases, we can smile to affirm that we are in control of ourselves. Through Full 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 Breathing helps our minds stop wandering in confused, never ending thoughts.

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