Grounded in the Present Moment

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Dear Still Water Friends,

As I look forward to Spring, I find myself yo-yoing between having a lot of energy and feeling drained. I also notice that I am easily pulled off course and distracted.

I’ve been playing with three simple ways to come back from distractions and stay with myself when I experience waves of strong emotions. The first is to repeat a few times to myself as I breathe in and out “I’m aware.” This is a shortened version of Thay’s (Thich Nhat Hanh’s) meditation phrase, “Breathing in, I’m aware of breathing in. Breathing out, I’m aware of breathing out.” As I say “I’m aware,” I begin to notice a pulse of energy, the subtle return of my focused attention.

My second practice I’ve learned from fellow mindfulness practitioner and therapist Rachel Philips-Anderson. When my emotions are intense, I say out loud what I’m feeling using my name as if I were another person witnessing myself. For example, when feeling sad, I say “Eliza is sad.” I feel an immediate rush of kindness and support for myself; these spoken words are a container to hold my emotions. This use of the third person evokes the kindness I’d feel with another person.

The third practice I use is eating meditation. Thay teaches that mindfulness practices, such as eating meditation, help us return to the present moment as nourish our ability to concentrate. In 2021, Thay’s article, “This Moment is Perfect,” appeared in Lion’s Roar Magazine. He wrote:

Take the time to eat an orange in mindfulness. If you eat an orange in forgetfulness, caught in your anxiety and sorrow, the orange is not really there. But if you bring your mind and body together to produce true presence, you can see that the orange is a miracle. Peel the orange. Smell the fruit. See the orange blossoms in the orange, and the rain and the sun that have gone through the orange blossoms. The orange tree that has taken several months to bring this wonder to you. Put a section in your mouth, close your mouth mindfully, and with mindfulness feel the juice coming out of the orange. Taste the sweetness. Do you have the time to do so? If you think you don’t have time to eat an orange like this, what are you using that time for? Are you using your time to worry or using your time to live?

Spiritual practice is not just sitting and meditating. Practice is looking, thinking, touching, drinking, eating, and talking. Every act, every breath, and every step can be practice and can help us to become more ourselves.

The quality of our practice depends on its energy of mindfulness and concentration. I define mindfulness as the practice of being fully present and alive, body and mind united. Mindfulness is the energy that helps us to know what is going on in the present moment. I drink water and I know that I am drinking the water. Drinking the water is what is happening.

Mindfulness brings concentration. When we drink water mindfully, we concentrate on drinking. If we are concentrated, life is deep, and we have more joy and stability. We can drive mindfully, we can cut carrots mindfully, we can shower mindfully. When we do things this way, concentration grows. When concentration grows, we gain insight into our lives. …

Oneness of body and mind is the fruit of practice that you can get right away—you don’t have to wait.

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we’ll take time to pause and share our experiences with mindfulness practices that help us when we are awash in strong emotions.

  • What practices help you come back to and stay grounded in the present moment?
  • Which ones are most effective when you are experiencing strong emotions?
  • Which practices would you like to cultivate more?

You are warmly invited to join us!

Several more paragraphs from the Lion’s Roar article are below, after the announcements.

Many blessings,

Eliza King


More from “This Moment is Perfect” by Thich Nhat Hanh

Even a daily habit like eating breakfast, when done as a practice, can be powerful. It generates the energy of mindfulness and concentration that makes life authentic. When we prepare breakfast, it can also be a practice. We can be really alive, fully present, and very happy during breakfast-making. We can see making breakfast as mundane work or as a privilege—it just depends on our way of looking. The cold water is available. The hot water is available. The soap is available. The kettle is available. The fire is available. The food is available. Everything is there to make our happiness a possibility. If we are caught in our worries and anger, or in the past or the future, then, although we’re making breakfast, we’re not there. We’re not alive.

If you are cutting carrots, you should invest one hundred percent of yourself into the business of carrot-cutting. Nothing else. While cutting the carrot, please don’t try to think of the Buddha or anything else. Just cut the carrot in the best way possible, becoming one with the carrot, becoming one with the cutting. Live deeply that moment of carrot-cutting. It is as important as the practice of sitting meditation. It is as important as giving or hearing a dharma talk. When you cut the carrot with all of your being, that is mindfulness. If you can cultivate concentration, and if you can get the insight you need to liberate yourself from suffering, that is because you know how to cut your carrots.

You can clean the toilet in the spirit of mindfulness, investing all of yourself into the cleaning, making it into a joyful practice. Do one thing at a time. Do it deeply. There are many wonders of life that are available in the here and the now. Without mindfulness, you may be angry that you have to clean the toilet or feel resentful, and neglect and ignore the wonders around you.