Pictures today come from our hike around Lake Cuicocha, which resides in a dormant caldera at the foot of the Cotacachi Volcano
My mind is still wrapped up in the thoughts and ideas I’ve had as a result of reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s book “True Love” which I recently posted about here. I love it for its simplicity and for its wisdom. I wish I was as skilled at saying so much in so little space as the Buddhist teacher Hanh is. Those who’ve heard me teach know that instead of possessing that rare gift, I have more of a gift of “long-windedness”. It’s only because I’m so passionate about it 🙂
Hanh argues that the greatest gift that you can ever give to someone is to actually be present.
Now, for those unfamiliar with Buddhist thought, this doesn’t mean simply being there with another. It would mean being there, completely. In other words, it would require you to lay aside in your mind all the worries of the past or stresses of the day you may have just had. It also requires of you to lay aside all of your concerns, fears, or even hopes and expectations for tomorrow or the future. When you are with someone, you are not also on your phone emailing someone else, nor are you thinking about tonight’s dinner or tomorrow’s presentation, or yesterday’s argument, and you aren’t thinking about the TV show you DVR’d and would rather be watching at that moment. In short, it requires True Presence.
Clearly this is not an easy thing to do, especially in today’s world of social media and the thousand ways to connect with and communicate with a thousands of people almost simultaneously. All these things are distractions to being able to offer someone your actual Presence (or for that matter, to even offer it to yourself). I know I have a lot of work to do in this area.
Thich Nhat Hanh offers a couple of helpful tips on how to begin to develop more mindfulness (the term he uses for present-mindedness, which would indicate a state of being where there is union between the body and the mind). One of tips I wanted to practice was what Hanh calls walking meditations.
He says one should start by practicing bringing the mind and body in to union. This can be done through simple breathing exercises where a person focuses on the physical act of breathing while simultaneously bringing their mental activity to pay attention only to the breathing. You would do this by saying, while you are inhaling, “I’m aware that I am breathing in,” and while exhaling “I’m aware that I am breathing out.” This simple exercise is repeated as many times as needed in order to feel a sense of union. It is the beginning of mindfulness.
You then move on to being aware of and practicing love and gratitude for the things around you. While inhaling you’d say “I see/know that you are there.” Exhaling you’d say “I thank you for being there.” This can be directed at anything you choose. It can be different parts of your body, it can be the air that you are breathing, or the grass beneath your feet, the flowers or birds around you, your loved ones, your home….whatever you want.
I believe deeply in the importance of practicing gratitude. The word needed to be bolded and underlined because gratitude does not always come easy, and you must practice and cultivate it.
Though I’ve had my own way of practicing gratitude over the years, I decided to apply Hanh’s technique on a hike Mara and I took on Easter Sunday near the village of Cotachachi in northern Ecuador. The hike had us walking along the entire ring of a dormant volcano that now has a beautiful lake in the middle.
First, as I walked I focused only on my breathing, and for 15-20 breaths I tried to only be aware that I was “breathing in” and “breathing out.” I then shifted my attention to whatever else was around me and began expressing gratitude.
Breathing in – “I am aware of the yellow flower.” Breathing out – “I smile at and am thankful for the yellow flower that reminds me of happiness.”
Breathing in – “I am aware of my legs.” Breathing out – “I smile at and am thankful for the legs that power me through this beautiful scenery.”
Breathing in – “I know the rain is there that falls only on the right side of my body because of the gusts of wind.” Breathing out – “I am grateful for the rain that cools my body and gives life to all that grows here on this volcano ridge.”
Breathing in – “I am aware of the loving wife who hikes beside me.” Breathing out – “I smile at and am grateful for this wonderful woman.”
Just thinking about all those things right now and writing them out brings me back to the same joyful state I experienced when I was on the hike. Of course I could go on and on. I thanked the sun, my hiking boots, the fruit we ate, the insects, the young horse that followed us and called out to us as if it wanted to play, and just about anything else that came into my view. For a while I even walked with my arms outstretched just a little bit so that I could feel and touch and acknowledge things as I spoke the words in my mind. I did most of it silently, but it was enough fun that I told Mara what I was doing and started speaking it out loud, and had her add her own.
And so we went, thanking and acknowledging everything around us. We tried our best to be fully present and no where else – not thinking about when the hike will end, or what we should be writing about (because we’d been traveling for a while with limited internet access and therefore no blogging), or anything else for that matter.
It was beautiful.
Like I said above, just thinking about it and going back there in my mind for a moment helps me feel a stillness and peace and warmth. These are things that always come when I practice gratitude. Especially when I practice gratitude for things I may not want to have to deal with at that very moment. In fact that’s exactly why it is important to learn how to do it…because those are the moments when it is most difficult and when you need it the most.
Honestly, I don’t think you need to do it in the way I’ve described. You don’t need to follow these steps or any others that you may read. You may already have something that helps you enter into that “mindful” state, or you may find something that works better for you. How you decide to do it isn’t really important. What is important is that you do it.
Now You Try
So get started today. Find a time to do it on a walk, during your drive to work, while at lunch with colleagues or preparing meals for loved ones, or whatever else your day may consist of. And then write about it in the comment section and tell us how it went and how you felt. You never know, your words may be the ones that help another human being figure out what will work for them.