By Paddy Brosnan
Brother Phap Bieu shared that as we all live, practice, and serve in community together, it can be useful to practice with the mind of “non-self confidence.
A few years ago, I spent some time in Plum Village. While I was there, I came across a teaching from Thay about having a mindful day every week. I decided that this would be my New Year’s resolution for that coming year, and it turned out to be one of the few resolutions I’ve ever stuck with.
I pick a day that is not filled with things to do. Maybe it’s a day when I am not working and not a lot of family stuff needs to be done. I put a reminder, such as a note or a picture, beside my bed the night before in a place where I will see it the moment I wake up.
Before I get out of bed, I spend a few moments lying there and bringing my focus to the sensation of the breath as my chest rises and falls. I allow a smile to form on my face and my body to relax. I gently get out of bed, and as my feet touch the floor, I’m aware of that sensation and all the other sensations in my body. I stand in place for a moment and say to myself, “Today is my mindfulness day, and I am happy.” Then I do my morning mindful meditation as part of my normal routine.
I go about my usual morning activities and remember to be mindful. As I shower, I’m aware of the feel of the water on my body and the smell of the soap or shower gel. While brushing my teeth, I bring my attention to the feel of the brush on my teeth and gums. I drink my tea or coffee and eat my breakfast mindfully, focusing on the smells, tastes, temperature, and textures.
I let my day develop and flow naturally, with as little planning as possible. When the “have-to” thoughts like “I have to do … ” or “I have to go …” come to my mind, I take a moment before acting on them and check that they are actually true. Do I really “have to” do whatever it is right now, or can it wait until tomorrow? I don’t get pushed around by these thoughts or question them. I allow my day to unfold organically and remember to make sure that my mind is focused on whatever I am doing in that moment.
I bring the practice and mindfulness energy to everything I do. If I go for a walk, I make sure I am aware of the movement of my feet and legs. What sounds can I hear? What scents are in the air? What is the quality of the light around me? I might want to get some housecleaning done. Instead of rushing through this task, I bring a mindful quality to it.
I simply ensure that my attention is on whatever I am doing—hoovering, dusting, or sweeping—and that my mind is engaged in that task and doesn’t wander off. When I am interacting with other people, I am present for them. I listen to what they say, and I don’t allow my mind to stray to what I am going to say next. When I speak, I am cognisant of the impact of the words I might use.
In the evening, I set aside some quiet time to read, listen to music, or sit in mindful meditation—whatever gentle activity I like doing. As I lie in bed before I go to sleep, I am grateful for the day I had and the opportunity to live a whole day with ease.
I love my mindful days because they are completely free of stress and schedules; I allow them to unfold because there is a huge sense of freedom and contentment. The main barrier to having a day like this is that most of us feel we just won’t be able to set aside a whole day.
I am not setting aside a whole day to be mindful. I am doing whatever I would normally do, but I am doing it mindfully with attention. I also avoid the nonsense of “false busyness”—the sense I have to do this or go there. When I question these impulses, I find that most times they aren’t true, and rejecting them will allow me precious time to relax without the anxious feeling of having to rush to the next thing. After a few mindful days, I’m relaxed, and I no longer have a rushing attitude.
Paddy Brosnan is a mindfulness and meditation teacher and author. He is also the Spiritual Director of The Other Shore Sangha, a small Sangha in Dublin, Ireland.