The Mindfulness Project

DISCOVERIES

This is not an easy task for most people. If you you're on the go, walking from one place to another and about to take a sip of tea or coffee, you'r going to need to stop, find a place to sit down, and savor it. If you're working on the computer , you're going to have to take both hands off the keyboard an turn your eyes away from the screen in order to savor a sip of coffee. Eating has become part of our modern habit of perpetually multitasking. When we do this exercise , we discover anew how many other things we do while eating. We eat while walking, driving, watching TV or movies, reading, working on the computer, playing video games, and listening to music.

Once we eliminate those obvious activities, we come to a more subtle aspect of inattention. talking while eating. Our parents may have scolded us for talking with our mouths full, but we still find ourselves eating and talking simultaneously. While doing this task we learn to alternate eating and talking. In other words, If you want to talk, stop eating. Don't do them at the same time.

It is so common to socialize while eating that you may discover that you feel awkward eating alone in a restaurant without reading or otherwise distracting yourself. You might imagine people are thinking. "Poor thing, no friends." You pick up a book or open your computer to  show you are being productive and wouldn't "waste time" by " just eating." One problem with eating and doing other things is that is becomes, "waist time," that is, time for extra food to go down unnoticed and end up on your waist!

In Japan and parts of Europe it is very rude to walk and eat or drink at the same time. The only food you can eat in Japan while standing up or walking is an ice-cream cone, because it might melt. People will stare at the boorish foreigner who buys fast good and walks down the street munching. Even fast food is taken home, arranged attractively, and served at a table. Meals are times to slow down and truly enjoy the food, drink and company.



Exercise # 4


WHEN EATING JUST EAT

The Exercise: This week, when you're eating or drinking, don't do anything else. Sit down and take the time to enjoy what you are taking in. Open all the senses as you eat or drink. Look at the colors, shapes, surface textures. Attend to the smells and flavors in your mouth. Listen to the sounds of eating and drinking.

Reminding Yourself: Post a note on the table where you eat meals that says, "Just Eat." Also post this note wherever you are likely to snack.

Also post notes on objects that tend to distract you while you eat. For example, on your computer or TV, post the word "Eating" with an X through it as a reminder not to eat while using it. 

SUNDAY CONVERSATION 

Our hands our often taken for granted in the same fashion that we can take for granted the ones we love or work with. Sometimes we feel that we solely carry the burden. It may be true that the load is heavy but usually the people who surround us- people we have entrusted to their positions in our lives because of strong qualities such as exceptional leadership, being thorough, hardworking, dedicated etc.- are dedicated to the same cause just as much as we are.

This is what it is like to have two hands working together. One may hold the fruit steady while the other chops but one is obsolete with out the other. 


DEEPER LESSONS

We are being taken care of all the time. Some zen teachers say that the way the body takes care of us, without our even being aware of it, is an example of the beautiful and continuous functioning of our original nature, the inherent goodness and wisdom of our being. Our hand pulls back from fire before we even register heat, our eyes blink before we are even aware of a sharp sound, our hand reaches out to catch something before we know it is falling. The right and left hands work together, each one doing its half of a task. Drying dishes, one hand holds the dish and the other the towel. Cutting with a knife, one holds the vegetable while the other chops. They cooperate to wash each other. 

There is a koan (a Zen teaching story) about the bodhisattva of compassion, who is called Kanzeon in Japanese, Kuan Yin in Chinese. She is often depicted with a thousand eyes, to see every person in need of comfort, and one thousand hands, each holding a different implement to aid them. Sometimes there is even an eye in the palm of each hand. The story is this:

One day the Zen monk Ungan asked Zen master Dogo, "How does Bodhisattva Kanzeon use all those many hands and eyes?"


Dogo answered, "It is like a man in the middle of the night reaching behind his head for his pillow."

One of my students is a luthier, and he had insight into this story. Working inside the body of a guitar on a spot he could not see, he realized that his hands have "eyes." They can "see" the surface they are touching, in detail, and work on it, even in the dark. His inner eye and his hand were working together beautifully, just as a sleeping man "sees" his pillow and his hands naturally reach out to pull it under his head. in Zen we say this shows the way our innate wisdom and compassion work together when our mind is not in the way.

When we see clearly into the unity of all existence, we see that all things are working together, like the hands and eyes. As our hands would not hurt our eyes, our natural nature is not to hurt ourselves or each other.

 Final words: The two hands work together effortlessly to accomplish many wonderful things and they never harm each other. Could this become true for any two human beings? 

WEDNESDAY DISCOVERIES

Our hands are very skilled at all sorts of tasks, and they can do many of them by themselves, without much direction from our mind. It's fun to watch them at work, busily living their own life. Hands can do so much! the two hands can work together or do different things at the same time. 

While doing this exercise we noticed that each person has characteristic hand gestures. Our hands wave about when we talk, almost by themselves. We noticed that our hands change over time. Look at your hands and imagine them as they were when you were a baby, then imagine them changing as you grew older, becoming lifeless when you die, then dissolving back into the earth. 

Even when we are asleep our hands are caring for us, pulling up the blankets, holding the body next to us, turning off the alarm clock.


Exercise # 3

APPRECIATE YOUR HANDS

The Exercise: Several times a day, when your hands are busy, watch them as though they belonged to a stranger. Also look at them when they are still.

Reminding Yourself:
Write the words," Watch Me" on the back of your hand.

If your work makes this impossible, put on a ring that you don't usually wear. (If you are not allowed to wear rings, say because you work in an operating room, you can use the time of hand washing or putting on surgical gloves to become aware of your hands as though they belonged to a stranger.)

If you don't usually wear nail polish, you could remind yourself to watch our hands by painting your nails for a week. Or if you do wear polish, you could wear an unusual color.


SUNDAY CONVERSATION

This exercise proved difficult as the "Wednesday Discoveries" mentioned. I recruited the help of my husband and daughters but even with there help it was hard to catch. Part of the challenge for me is creating room in your schedule amongst many other ongoing projects, to record or discuss your speech. In the deeper lessons section "actively working to change" was mentioned and it made space in myself for patience. As long as we are actively working to change- assessing our habits and the impact they have on our families and world that is a step in the right direction. This will take much patience and persistence but it is worth it to make our words literally MEANING FULL.

A friend mentioned that the exercise, took away from her conversations and made them boring. Perhaps if we leave no room for filler words and explore a world of rich vocabulary, really understanding the words we say and the meaning they carry, we can begin to place those rich decadent words in place of our "habit words".

I am so happy to be growing with you all. Thank You for following along. Light and Love


DEEPER LESSONS

Filler words have become common only in the last fifty years. Is this because there is less emphasis in schools on precise speech, elocution, and good debating skills? Or, in todays multicultural, postmodern world, where truth is often regarded as relative, have we purposely moved to speaking in less definitive ways? Are we afraid to say something that might be politically incorrect or provoke a reaction from our audience? Are we sinking into moral relativism? If this trend continues we will find ourselves saying, "Stealing is like, sort of, in a way, wrong."

When our mind is clear, we can speak in a straightforward way, with precision, and without insulting others. This mindfulness tool shows how entrenched unconscious behaviors are, and how difficult they are to change. Unconscious habits such as using filler words are just that, unconscious. As long as they remain unconscious, they are impossible to change. Only when we bring the light of awareness to a pattern of behavior do we begin to have some space to work to modify them. Even then, it is very difficult to change an ingrained behavior. As soon as we stop working actively to change an unwanted habit, it quickly returns. If we want to change ourselves, if we want to realize our potential, it takes kindness, determination, and steady, sustained practice.

Final Words: "I think you're all enlightened until you open your mouths."-Zen master Suzuki Roshi


WEDNESDAY DISCOVERIES

At the monastery we have found this to be one of the most challenge mindfulness practices to do. It is frustratingly hard to hear your own filler words and catch them before they are spoken- unless you are a trained speaker. In the Toastmasters clubs (groups that train in public speaking) there are people assigned to tally filler words during talks, assisting members as they learn to be effective speakers. Once you begin to hear filler words, you will hear them everywhere, on the radio and TV and in everyday conversation. A typical teenager uses the filler word like an estimated two hundred thousdand times a year! You will also notice which speakers do not use them, and become aware of how the absence of filler words makes a speech more effective and powerful. For example, listen to Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama. or President Barack Obamas's speeches with an ear for filler words.

Filler words seem to serve several functions. They are space holders, telling the listener that you are going to start speaking, or that you are not finished speaking yet. "So... I told him what I thought of his idea and then, um, I said, like, you know..." Filler words also soften what we say, making it less definite or assertive. "So anyway, I, you know, think we should, basically, kind of go ahead with this project." We wouldn't want a president or doctor who spoke in such a wishy-washy way. Filler words can become an obstruction to the listening audience when they so dilute the meaning as to render it silly. "Jesus sort of said,'Love your, you know, neighbor, as, sort of, like, yourself."


Exercise #2


FILLER WORDS

The Exercise: Become aware of the use of "filler" words and phrases and try to eliminate them from your speech. Fillers are words that do not add meaning to what you're saying, such as "um', "ah", "so", "well", "like", "you know", "kind of" and "sort of". Additional filler words enter our vocabulary from time to time. Recent additions might include "basically" and "anyway".

In addition to eliminating filler words, see if you can notice why you tend to use them- in what situations and for what purpose?


Reminding Yourself:
It is mortifyingly difficult to notice yourself using filler words at first. You will probably have to enlist the help of friends or family members. Children will love catching and correcting their parents using filler words. Ask them to raise their hands when they hear you use a filler word. At first, hands will pop up and down with annoying frequency, and so unconscious is this habit that you may have to ask them to tell you what filler work you just uttered!

Another way to be able to hear the filler words you use and their frequency is to record yourself talking. Ask a roommate, spouse, or child to use his or her cell phone or video camera to record you in conversation or while you're talking on the phone. Pay it back and tabulate the fillers you use and their frequency.




SUNDAY CONVERSATION

After speaking with a few of us about this weeks exercises we've come to conclusions we have to smile about. Being so used to a task taking "x" amount of time requires us to adjust our internal clock to compensate the additional time needed to clean up the messes we make. This seemed to be the biggest challenge for us with small children, busy schedules etc. Continuing to reference our "leave no trace" graphics and allowing time for the yin and the yang- mess and the clean up is a continued practice we will have to cultivate for some time- maybe even years.

Cheers to all who participated! Let's keep up the good work!

DEEPER LESSONS

This exercise puts a spotlight on our tendency to be lazy. The word lazy is a description not a criticism. If we live less wholeheartedly, we often leave messes for others to clean up. It is so easy to wash the dishes but not put them back in the cupboard.
This task also brings our awareness to the many small things that support our life and work all day long- the spoons and forks that feed us, the clothing that keeps us warm, the rooms that shelter us. When we wash, dry, sweep, fold, and put away our things with mindfulness, it becomes an expression of gratitude for their silent service.

Zen master Dogen wrote specific instructions for the cookie in his monastery. "Clean the chopsticks, ladles, and all other utensils. handle them with care and awareness, putting everything back where it naturally belongs." There is something satisfying about washing things that are dirty and putting things in order, and about treating everything that serves us with care, whether plastic plates or delicate china. Our mind seems "cleaner" and our life less complicated when we've cleaned up the space and things around us. A friend told me about hauling pounds of old clothing, long-expired medication, and trash out of an elderly aunts house. He said." At first she seemed worried, but then she relaxed, and with every bag we took out she seemed to get a year younger."

The sense of satisfaction from leaving no traces may be a reflection of our deep desire to leave the world at least no worse than we entered it, and hopefully, to leave it a bit better. Ideally the only traces we will leave will be the ways we have loved, inspired, taught, or served others. This is what will have the most positive effect on people in the future.

Final Words: First practice leaving no traces. Then practice leaving things better than you found them.

WEDNESDAY DISCOVERIES

Offen, we leave rooms a bit messier than when we entered. We think," Ill clean it up later." Later never comes, until the mess in unbearable,and we become irritated enough to undertake a thorough cleaning. Or we get annoyed at someone else for not doing their part in the housework. How much easier if we take care of things right away. Then we don't have to feel growing annoyance at the gathering mess.

This task helps us become aware of the tendency to turn away from doing certain things, even small things that we could take care of during the day but somehow we don't have the motivation to do. we could pick up the trash on the sidewalk as we walk by, or the paper towel that missed the bin in the washroom, or wash our coffee cup instead of putting it in the sink, and we could put tools away even though we'll be using them again tomorrow.

One person observed that becoming mindful about leaving no traces in one room spread out to include other areas. Washing her dirty dishes immediately after eating led to making her bed immediately after arising, and then to cleaning the little hairs out of the drain right after a shower. We have to summon the initial energy, but thereafter, energy seems to breed more energy.



Exercise #1

LEAVE NO TRACE

The Exercise: Choose one room of your house and for one week try leaving no trace that you've used that space. The bathroom or kitchen works best for most people. If you've been doing something in that room, cooking a meal or taking a shower, clean up in such a way that you leave no signs that you've been there, except perhaps the odor of food or fragrance of soap.

Reminding Yourself:
Put a sign in the room you've chosen that says,"Leave No Trace."

In Zen paintings turtles symbolize this practice of leaving no traces,because they sweep the sand with their tails as they creep along. wiping out their footprints. Instead of a written sign, you could also use small pictures of turtles as reminders.






I would like to introduce The Mindfulness Project-


Each week is busy with work and responsibilities and sometimes it is easy to be swept away into a world of worrying about what happened or what is going to happen. Mindfulness is a practice we can implement to help each of us enjoy the "here and now".

Every Monday I will post a mindfulness exercise and then revisit the exercise on Wednesdays with "discoveries" and insight into the practice. Saturday and Sunday I will wrap up the week with final thoughts, difficulties, laughable moments and successes that everyone is welcome to participate in. By having a group of people working together we have a support network we can use to create a heightened sense of mindfulness in the world.


Here is to the evolution of self!


Coach Ewah



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