Christiana Figueres – a Costa Rican diplomat – and the principal architect of the historic climate change agreement was at her wit’s end. She had just left a room full of bickering world leaders who kept blaming each other for the climate crisis. A personal emergency was also weighing her down, and she was running out of options. She decided to make a short trip to a Buddhist monastery in Waldbrol, Germany. The monastery, previously a mental hospital run by Nazis, had been transformed by Thich Nhat Hanh – fondly known as Thay – into a spiritual haven. He wanted to prove that mindfulness and compassion could transform pain into love, turn a victim into a victor, and turn hate into love. Christina applied the lessons she learned in the monastery to convince 196 countries to sign the historic Paris Climate Change agreement.
The story is a small illustration of the power of mindfulness and the impact it can have on our lives. When most people hear about mindfulness, their mind conjures up images of monks and saints resting in bliss. The danger of this portrayal is that we automatically assume that mindfulness is not for us and has no impact on our daily lives. The reality behind mindfulness is exquisitely summed up by Jon Kabat Zinn – an American professor – and world-renown meditation expert. He defines mindfulness as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” Did you notice that he does not refer to any specific activity in his definition? It does not matter if you are cooking, taking a bath, walking, washing dishes, or enjoying your favorite meal; the key is purposeful attention. It sounds deceptively simple, doesn’t it?
Let’s focus on three key activities we perform every day and examine how we can do them mindfully.
The Tea Drinking Ceremony – Experience Bliss with Every Sip
Most of us cannot begin the day without a strong cup of tea or coffee. Take a moment to visualize how you drink your favorite beverage. A majority of us gulp our brew while reading a newspaper or browsing our phone as we try to catch up with a whirlwind of events. The same restlessness with which we switch from one event to another plagues us for the rest of the day as we relentlessly hop from one activity to another. Is there a more mindful way of drinking our tea or coffee?
Tea drinking or Chanoyu is one of the essential activities in Zen Buddhism because it allows you to focus intensely on individual moments that are part of making and drinking tea. So the next time you set out to drink your tea, remember “purposeful attention” by Jon Kabat Zinn.
How to Drink Tea Mindfully
Start by ensuring you don’t have any devices or distractions around you. Open your drawer and identify the right vessel to boil water. As you fill it up with water, observe the water taking the shape of the pot as you fill it. Set the water to boil and marvel at the bubbles that form. Every time you get a stray thought, smile, and direct your attention back to the boiling water. Slowly drop your tea leaves into the boiling water and marvel as it gradually changes the color of the water. Slowly and purposefully add other ingredients such as milk and sugar. When you are ready, strain the tea, and watch it slowly filling up your cup. The liquid in the vessel is now taking the shape of your favorite mug. Sit down, take a couple of breaths, and tell yourself that you have earned a few minutes of solitude. Focus on the steam rising from the cup and marvel at the scent of your favorite beverage. Slowly, raise the cup, and taste your creation. Swirl the liquid in your mouth a few times and gradually swallow it. Stay with it as it moves down your food pipe and spreads warmth through your body.
When you begin your day mindfully, you give yourself the best chance to continue on that trajectory.
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.” – Thich Nhat Hanh.
Mindful Reading – Being One with Text
Most people are in a hurry to finish reading one book and jumping to the next. Everyone is in a race to gather more knowledge. Sadly, the race has no finish line, so victory is just an illusion.
Woody Allen – the Hollywood director – captured it best when he said, “I took a speed reading course and read War and Peace in 20 minutes. It involves Russia.”
Mindful reading is drastically different from speed reading because it involves dramatically slowing down the reading experience. It’s especially useful when you are reading classical text by renowned authors.
How to Read Mindfully
Sit with a book and run your hands across the binding and the pages. Begin reading slowly and ensure you don’t skip over any words. When you skip a word or a paragraph, smile, remind yourself about purposeful attention, and begin the sentence again. When you reach something interesting or poignant, stop and reflect on it. How does it make you feel? Does it remind you of an experience you had? What words does the author use to make this snippet meaningful for you?
Let the words gently sink into your consciousness and transform your life.
Mindful Walking – Being One with Mother Earth
Most of us walk with a purpose. We want to get somewhere, lose weight, firm up our muscles, or relieve some stress. We walk with headphones plugged into our ears, listening to music or podcasts to ensure we are productive.
Walking meditation means that we tread with reverence. We realize that we are one with mother earth, and we take every step with humility and veneration. Thich Nhat Hanh sums this up beautifully in the following poetry:
I take refuge in Mother Earth.
Every breath, every step
manifests our love.
Every breath brings happiness.
Every step brings happiness.
I see the whole cosmos in the earth.
The primary function of walking meditation is to unite the rhythm of the mind and the body by using the breath as the vehicle.
How to Walk Mindfully
Take a deep breath and take a few steps. Be conscious of every step, and gradually breathe out. Notice the number of steps you take while breathing in and out and be aware of how that changes as you tire or walk on different terrains. Remember to smile during this activity. You don’t have to control your breathing. Just be aware of how it responds to your steps. Remind yourself that mindful walking is not WORK. Do it when you can breathe fresh air, listen to the birds, see some flowers blooming, and feel grateful to mother earth for giving you the privilege to walk on her.
Practicing Mindfulness by Using Black Lotus
You may find some of these activities challenging initially, but just like any skill, it can be mastered with practice. Simply download the Black Lotus application on your mobile device and sign up for a free trial. Black Lotus is designed by Om Swami – one of the world’s foremost meditators and spiritual teachers. The application handholds you through the remarkable journey of self-transformation by using the RARE framework.
Reflect – You kick start your day with a guided meditation and breathing exercises designed with individual goals in mind.
Act – You are encouraged to perform random acts of kindness to help you give something back to the world.
Reinforce – You read remarkable short stories aligned with your current goal to help reinforce crucial lessons.
Evaluate – You end the day with a thoughtful reflection that helps you with simple course corrections for transformative results. Remember that even the most incredible journeys begin with the first step. Begin your journey on the path of mindfulness by downloading the Black Lotus application.
Wondered about the Science Behind Mindfulness, check out our post here.