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Relaxed, Kind Attention

Being on retreat last month gave me the opportunity to really watch what arose in my mind without any outside distractions. I spent about five hours a day sitting and I since this was a silent retreat, I assumed that sitting was the most important aspect of the retreat. It was more important than walking meditation or work meditation or anything else I did during the day.

And of course, because I considered sitting the most important part of the day, I tried the hardest to make sure I had a “fruitful” meditation. Otherwise, why bother?

Then one of the teachers at the retreat suggested we establish our priorities as follows;

  1. activities of daily living (eating, showering, brushing teeth, etc) meditation
  2. walking meditation
  3. sitting meditation.

She recognized that we all tend to view sitting practice as the ultimate practice; more important than the other mindfulness practices. When in reality, they are all meditation and each should be done with mindfulness; each carries equal weight. Our life is a process, so awareness needs to be present during all aspects of that process.

What a revelation for me!

First, it made me recognize how much I was struggling with sitting because I was making it “so important”. There was so much tension around sitting and I didn’t realize how attached I was to the idea that I should have a “good practice” – whatever that is!

Secondly, I realized that I had great awareness both in walking meditation and in my activities of daily living (ADL). My focus of attention tended to be different for each, as well they should be, but my mindfulness was strong. That was so encouraging to me.

Now that I wasn’t judging my sitting practice as good or bad, I started to relax during my sits. This relaxing was encouraged by another teacher who suggested that I try to be gentle with myself. With mindfulness strong, relaxing into the sit, and being gentle with myself, I found that my “bad” thoughts were ok and I could be with whatever arose and not careen into a story.

Now sitting meditation has taken on a completely different flavor. It looks like my mind and I have become reluctant partners in this process of awakening. I understand it is informing me, even though it may still be snarky! We still have our disagreements, and my mind can be a bit sneaky sometimes, but I understand that it’s not personal.

Some day I hope that my mind will be my friend in this journey called life. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? But until then, I hope to continue to sit with my mind and just notice what arises with a relaxed, kind, attention.

“Feelings, whether of compassion or irritation, should be welcomed, recognized, and treated on an absolutely equal basis; because both are ourselves. The tangerine I am eating is me. The mustard greens I am planting are me. I plant with all my heart and mind. I clean this teapot with the kind of attention I would have were I giving the baby Buddha or Jesus a bath. Nothing should be treated more carefully than anything else. In mindfulness, compassion, irritation, mustard green plant, and teapot are all sacred.”

Thích Nhất Hạnh, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation

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