During the 1990’s I discovered the writings of Buddhist Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh. From his simple writing style, I learned to practice mindfulness meditation. To my great delight, in 2000 I was able to spend a week in retreat with him in Vermont, and I discovered that how he taught mindfulness meditation in person was exactly how he taught it in print. This is what he taught us:
Find a comfortable sitting position, on a cushion, or in a chair, sitting straight, feet touching the floor, hands resting.
Become aware of your breathing, and just notice it. Do not force it or regulate it. Just observe. Then, think these words along with the breath.
- Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out. You may shorten the words in your mind to simply “In, out.” (Continue this until you notice that your breath is a little deeper, a little slower).
- Breathing in, my breath is deep. Breathing out, my breath is slow. You may shorten the words to “Deep, slow.” (Continue this until you notice that you are a little more calm).
- Breathing in, I am calm. Breathing out, I am at ease. You may shorten the words to “Calm, ease.” (Continue this until you feel some relief, some release).
- Breathing in I smile. Breathing out, I release all anxiety. You may shorten the words to “Smile, release.” (Continue this for a little while, then . . .)
- Breathing in I am in the present moment. Breathing out, it is a wonderful moment. You may shorten the words to “Present moment, wonderful moment.”
With this very simple meditation practice, I realize now that what he taught us was the way to create safe harbor within ourselves, within our own hearts, and this harbor travels with me wherever I am. I have spent many hours practicing this meditation sitting on a cushion, but I’ve practiced it while sitting in a meeting, sitting on an airplane, sitting in the doctor’s office and sitting in gridlocked traffic. I’ve spent some hours practicing it in walking meditation, but I’ve also practiced it walking across campus to a difficult parent meeting, walking through a crowded grocery store, and waiting in a long security line at the airport.
Our Unitarian Universalist hymnody provides us with a song that moves us into the same place of creating a harbor with the breath, in our own beings. You might want to listen to this version on youtube. Harbor is as close as our next in breath and out breath–when we choose to practice it.