Mindfulness

“When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh

walking meditation
The heart of our practice is learning to live with mindfulness in each moment. Mindfulness can be described as the energy of being aware of what is going on in us and around us. When we live with mindfulness, we have the capacity to touch life deeply, whether we are talking, taking our cup of tea, or walking.

Here are some introductory words on our practice of mindfulness:

I have arrived. I am home.

“I have arrived. I am home” – These two lines are the essence of the practice of the Plum Village tradition taught by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. It is the practice of dwelling happily in the present moment. We are no longer grasping at the future, regretting the past or being swept by our feelings of despair and anger. We have arrived at our true home, our true self, no longer seeking to be something else.

Breathing Consciously
Stopping for the Wonderful Sounds
Walking Meditation
Gathas
Eating Meditation
Five Contemplations before Eating
Sitting Meditation
Practising as a Sangha
Listening to Dharma Talks
Dharma Sharing
Touching the Earth
Beginning Anew
Deep Relaxation
Hugging Meditation
Working Meditation
Mindful Movements
The Five Mindfulness Trainings

Breathing Consciously

Our breathing is a stable solid ground that we can take refuge in. Regardless of our internal weather- our thoughts, emotions and perceptions- our breathing is always with us like a faithful friend. Whenever we feel carried away, or sunken in a deep emotion, or scattered in worries and projects, we return to our breathing to collect and anchor our mind.


Our breathing is a stable solid ground that we can take refuge in. Regardless of our internal weather- our thoughts, emotions and perceptions- our breathing is always with us like a faithful friend. Whenever we feel carried away, or sunken in a deep emotion, or scattered in worries and projects, we return to our breathing to collect and anchor our mind.

We feel the flow of air coming in and going out of our nose. We feel how light and natural, how calm and peaceful our breathing functions. At any time, while we are walking, gardening, or typing, we can return to this peaceful source of life.

We may like to recite:

“Breathing in I know that I am breathing in.
Breathing out I know that I am breathing out.”

We do not need to control our breath. Feel the breath as it actually is. It may be long or short, deep or shallow. With our awareness it will naturally become slower and deeper. Conscious breathing is the key to uniting body and mind and bringing the energy of mindfulness into each moment of our life.

Recommended book: Breathe! You are Alive; Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing

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Stopping for the Wonderful Sounds

The sound of the temple bells, the telephone and the clock chimes are all wonderful sounds to help us to practice. When we hear them, we can stop what we are doing and, at the same time, we can stop talking and even stop thinking. We just stop and become aware of the present moment by following our breathing. Enjoying three in-breaths and three out-breaths is the best way to listen to these wonderful sounds.

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Walking Meditation

Whenever we are not standing, sitting or lying down, we are moving. We can learn to move and to walk with awareness. We do not need to rush. We have arrived with each step in the present moment. When we are walking from one side of the room to the other or from one building to another, we can be aware of the contact of our feet with the earth and of our in and out breath. As we breathe in we can say “in,” as we breathe out we can say “out” silently. We are aware that we are alive with each step, not carried away by our thoughts and emotions. We can train to practice walking meditation all day long. It is a wonderful practice which we can do anywhere and at any time; therefore, it has the capacity to transform our everyday life.

Wherever we walk, we can practice meditation. This means that we know that we are walking. We walk just for walking. We walk with freedom and solidity, no longer in a hurry. We are present with each step. And when we wish to talk we stop our movement and give our full attention to the other person, to our words and to listening.

Walking in this way should not be a privilege. We should be able to do it in every moment. Look around and see how vast life is, the trees, the white clouds, the limitless sky. Listen to the birds. Feel the fresh breeze. Life is all around and we are alive and healthy and capable of walking in peace.

Let us walk as a free person and feel our steps get lighter. Let us enjoy every step we make. Each step is nourishing and healing. As we walk, imprint our gratitude and our love on the earth.

We may like to use a gatha as we walk. Taking two or three steps for each in-breath and each out-breath,

Breathing in “I have arrived”; Breathing out “I am home”
Breathing in “In the here”; Breathing out “In the now”
Breathing in “I am solid”; Breathing out “I am free”
Breathing in “In the ultimate”; Breathing out “I dwell”

Recommended book: The Long Road Turns to Joy

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Gathas

One way to help us dwell in the present moment is to practice reciting gathas or mindfulness verses. When we recite the gathas silently to our self, our mind comes back to the present moment and our thoughts are guided by the deep wisdom of our ancestors. Our actions of body, speech and mind are poetically filled with understanding and love. There are many gathas for different aspects of the practice. We can begin by memorizing one or two and learn more over time.

Recommended book: Present Moment, Wonderful Moment

Hearing a Bell:
Listen, listen (in breath),
This wonderful sound (out breath),
Brings me back (in breath),
To my true self. (out breath)

Joining Palms, Meeting Others:
A lotus for you (in breath),
A Buddha to be. (out breath)

Walking Meditation:
I have arrived,
I am home (in breath, out breath),
In the here, in the now (in breath, out breath),
I am solid, I am free (in breath, out breath),
In the ultimate, I dwell. (in breath, out breath)

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Eating Meditation

Eating in mindfulness can benefit our spiritual life and physical health. We allow our body and mind to be at ease while we eat. We do not rush to finish, but enjoy every morsel with awareness. We become aware of the rain, the sun and the green earth as we chew slowly. We are aware of what we are chewing and do not let our mind be occupied by meaningless thinking. We chew every mouthful at least thirty times so the saliva has a chance to aid the digestive process. Our full awareness during the meal is a way of showing gratitude for the nourishment and for the countless supporting conditions that have come to sustain us. If eating with others, we can look at each other from time to time with compassion and smile. We take time to enjoy our meal as a community, as a family. In the practice centres, we wait for the whole community to be served before the bell is invited three times to start eating. The first 20 minutes we eat in silence. After a double sound of the bell we may converse or serve more food.

Upon finishing our meal, we take a few moments to notice that we have finished, our bowl is now empty and our hunger is satisfied. Gratitude fills us as we realize how fortunate we are to have had this nourishing food to eat, supporting us on the path of love and understanding.

Recommended book: Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life

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The Five Contemplations Before Eating

 

This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard and loving work.
May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive this food.
May we recognize and transform unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed and learn to eat with moderation.
May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that reduces the suffering of living beings, stops contributing to climate change, and heals and preserves our precious planet.
We accept this food so that we may nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, build our Sangha, and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.

Read the Plum Village post about the contemplations

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Sitting Meditation

Sitting meditation is like returning home to give full attention to and care for ourself. Like the peaceful image of the Buddha on the altar, we too can radiate peace and stability. We sit upright with dignity, and return to our breathing. We bring our full attention to what is within and around us. We let our mind become spacious and our heart soft and kind.

Sitting meditation is very healing. We realize we can just be with whatever is within us- our pain, anger, and irritation, or our joy, love, and peace. We are with whatever is there without being carried away by it. Let it come, let it stay, then let it go. No need to push, to oppress, or to pretend our thoughts are not there. Observe the thoughts and images of our mind with an accepting and loving eye. We are free to be still and calm despite the storms that might arise in us.

If our legs or feet fall asleep or begin to hurt during the sitting, we are free to adjust our position quietly. We can maintain our concentration by following our breathing and slowly, and attentively change our posture.

Recommended book: The Blooming of a Lotus

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Pratising as a Sangha

 

We have come to practice together as a community. We do not encourage isolated practices or solo retreats. We are part of a body – the sangha body, the community. Our practice is that of Interbeing. Our joy and our sorrow contribute to the collective joy and sorrow of the community. Our transformation and realization on the path can nourish us all. The community can also be of great support if our heart is open. Our insight and development must be realized in the community. There is no individual, separated happiness.

Read more on sangha.

Recommended book: Teachings on Love, Friends on the Path

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Listening to Dharma Talks

 

The expounded teachings can be like a Dharma rain watering the seeds of our store consciousness. If our conscious mind is trying too hard to remember, to compare and to understand something, it becomes like the hardened earth; thus the Dharma rain can not reach the depths of our mind easily. So let go and enjoy the rain. If we relax and enjoy listening during the talk, our concentration will arise naturally. We will be alert and attentive. Please arrive on time for the talks. Enjoy your breathing before the talk begins and during the talk. Out of respect for the teachings and the teacher, you are asked to sit on a cushion or in a chair at the back during the teachings and not to lie down.

Recommended Books: The Miracle of Mindfulness; Peace is Every Step; Being Peace; The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching; Old Path White Cloud; My Master’s Robe, Transformation at the Base

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Dharma Sharing

 

Dharma sharing is an opportunity to benefit from each other’s insights and experience of the practice. It is a special time for us to share our experiences, our joys, our difficulties and our questions relating to the practice of mindfulness. By practising deep listening while others are speaking, we help create a calm and receptive environment. By learning to speak out about our happiness and our difficulties in the practice, we contribute to the collective insight and understanding of the Sangha.

Please base our sharing on our own experience of the practice rather than about abstract ideas and theoretical topics. We may realize that many of us share similar difficulties and aspirations. Sitting, listening and sharing together, we recognize our true connections to one another.

Please remember that whatever is shared during the sharing time is confidential. If a friend shares about a difficulty he or she is facing, respect that he or she may or may not wish to talk about this individually outside of the sharing time.

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Touching the Earth

 

The practice of Touching the Earth is to return to the Earth, to our roots, to our ancestors, and to recognize that we are not alone but connected to a whole stream of spiritual and blood ancestors. We are their continuation and with them, will continue into the future generations. We touch the earth to let go of the idea that we are separate and to remind us that we are the Earth and part of Life.

When we touch the Earth we become small, with the humility and simplicity of a young child. When we touch the Earth we become great, like an ancient tree sending her roots deep into the earth, drinking from the source of all waters. When we touch the Earth, we breathe in all the strength and stability of the Earth, and breathe out our suffering- our feelings of anger, hatred, fear, inadequacy and grief.

Our hands join to form a lotus bud and we gently lower ourselves to the ground so that all four limbs and our forehead are resting comfortably on the floor. While we are Touching the Earth we turn our palms face up, showing our openness to the three jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. After one or two times practicing Touching the Earth (Three Touchings or Five Touchings), we can already release a lot of our suffering and feeling of alienation and reconcile with our ancestors, parents, children, or friends.

Recommended book: Touching the Earth

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Beginning Anew

 

To begin anew is to look deeply and honestly at ourselves, our past actions, speech and thoughts and to create a fresh beginning within ourselves and in our relationships with others. When a difficulty arises in our relationships with fellow practitioners and one of us feels resentment or hurt, we know it is time to Begin Anew.

The practice of Beginning Anew helps us develop our kind speech and compassionate listening. Begin Anew is a practice of recognition and appreciation of the positive elements within our sangha. For instance, we may notice that a sangha member is generous in sharing her insights, and another friend is caring towards plants. Recognizing others positive traits allows us to see our own good qualities as well.

Along with these good traits, we each have areas of weakness, such as talking out of our anger or being caught in our misperceptions. When we practice “flower watering” we support the development of good qualities in each other and at the same time we help to weaken the difficulties in the other person. As in a garden, when we “water the flowers” of loving kindness and compassion in each other, we also take energy away from the weeds of anger, jealousy and misperception.

We can practice Beginning Anew often by expressing our appreciation for our fellow practitioners and apologizing right away when we do or say something that hurts them. We can politely let others know when we have been hurt as well. The health and happiness of the whole community depends on the harmony, peace and joy that exists between every member in the sangha.

Recommended book: Teachings on Love

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Deep Relaxation

 

Relaxation is a wonderful chance to allow our bodies to rest.

When our body is at ease and relaxed, our mind will also be calm and at peace. We can relax while travelling in the bus or car, while washing the dishes at home, or even while sitting at the computer reading this text. We can also practice a deeper kind of relaxation while doing walking meditation, sitting in silence, or while lying down.

At Plum Village practice centre we have developed the practice of “Deep Relaxation”, a way to offer total rest to our mind and body. Everyone can practice deep relaxation – you just need to find ten, 15 or 20 minutes and a quiet place to lie down. Even a few minutes of deep relaxation can bring great relief and peace.

Enjoy this mp3 of Deep Relaxation by Sister Jewel

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Hugging Meditation

When we hug, our hearts connect and we know that we are not separate beings. Hugging with mindfulness and concentration can bring reconciliation, healing, understanding, and much happiness. The practice of mindful hugging has helped so many to reconcile with each other- fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, friends and friends, and so many others. We may practice hugging meditation with a friend, our daughter, our father, our partner or even with a tree.

To practice, we first bow and recognize the presence of each other. Then we can enjoy three deep conscious breaths to bring ourselves fully there. We then may open your arms and begin hugging. Holding each other for three in-and-out breaths. With the first breath, we are aware that we are present in this very moment and we are happy. With the second breath, we are aware that the other is present in this moment and we are happy as well. With the third breath, we are aware that we are here together, right now on this earth, and we feel deep gratitude and happiness for our togetherness. We then may release the other person and bow to each other to show our thanks.

When we hug in such a way, the other person becomes real and alive. We do not need to wait until one of us is ready to depart for a trip, we may hug right now and receive the warmth and stability of our friend in the present moment. Hugging can be a deep practice of reconciliation. During the silent hugging, the message can come out very clear: “Darling, you are precious to me. I am sorry I have not been mindful and considerate. I have made mistakes. Allow me to begin anew. I Promise.”

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Working Meditation

To participate in working meditation can be a great happiness. It is an opportunity to engage in the maintenance and care of our practice centre and homes, while enjoying our practice of mindfulness. When we wash the cars, or turn the compost piles or chop wood we stay mindful of our breathing and the activity that we are doing. We speak only when necessary and about the work at hand. We can maintain a light and easy feeling as we work. An environment that is quiet can make the work more pleasant and enjoyable.

When we work in the garden we get in touch with the plants and nourish our connection to the earth we are living on. Sweeping and mopping the meditation halls we see that we are already practicing to calm our mind and body. Please, do not be in too great of a hurry to get the job done. Our most important contribution to the Sangha is to maintain our practice of mindfulness.

Working Meditation links us to our everyday life, both here and when we return home.

As we are working at our computer or preparing dinner for our family or teaching a class, we can practice stopping, calming and refreshing ourselves with our conscious breathing. We can relax and smile at our co-workers and pace ourselves to maintain a light and serene state of being.

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Mindful Movements

Taking care of our body is an important practice. We need our body to be healthy in order for us to practice. Mindful Movements and Deep Relaxation can support our health and happiness in the practice, and keep us in touch with our body.

In Plum Village, the sangha practices the 10 Mindful Movements every day, which is an opportunity for us to unite our mind and body. We enjoy opening our body, stretching up to the sky and releasing down to touch the ground. We do every exercise with the awareness of our breathing and of our action. We find a sense of balance and flexibility in our own body and mind. We practice in a relaxed way, not straining to gain anything.

Recommended viewing:

Recommended book: Mindful Movements: Ten Exercises for Wellbeing

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Five Mindfulness Trainings

The Five Mindfulness Trainings represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethic written by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village community. They are a concrete expression of the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the path of right understanding and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world. To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate the insight of interbeing, or Right View, which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair.

In his book entitled “For a Future to be Possible”, Thay describes in detail how the Five Mindfulness Trainings can be used by anyone in today’s world to create a more harmonious and peaceful life – Buddhists and non-Buddhists.

Reverence For Life

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, nondiscrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

True Happiness

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

True Love

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

Loving Speech and Deep Listening

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

Nourishment and Healing

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.

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