“Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.” Thich Nhat Hanh
In this nomadic path which started in Asia, meditation found me in a group called a Sangha, which is a community of people practicing the dharma together in order to collectively cultivate and foster awareness. The essence of a sangha is understanding, acceptance, harmony and love. And so I joined the Sangha which followed the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Zen master and peace activist. On Tuesdays I started to learn how to meditate, how to share without judgment, and how to listen without talking. To me, mediation is a challenging practice, it is not easy to disconnect from a busy environment where our minds are constantly worrying, thinking and overthinking. What TNH identifies as forgetfulness, the opposite of mindfulness which he describes as “the energy that helps us recognize the conditions of happiness that are already present in our lives”.
Meditation taught me to disconnect so I can be connected, to be in the present moment so I can appreciate what I have; something I have been lacking probably since I became a young adult, or perhaps earlier when my home environment was collapsing and I was not able to focus because the situation kept drowning my thoughts.
Becoming aware of this present moment and developing the ability to be centered can only be achieved through mindfulness which happens when we experience practices such as meditation and yoga, or any spiritual exercise that fosters the unity of mind, body and spirit.
When you focus on something, anything, for example: washing the dishes, and you are just experiencing the moment as if it was the most precious situation in life. The warm water like a waterfall bathing the plates, while your hand gently cleanses the ceramic with the softness of the sponge. At that particular moment your mind is connected to that action and you experience joy in the present moment. So to be mindful we don’t HAVE to meditate, but meditation is a path that cultivates the development of this experience. And you are silent, the talking out and the mind talking in is off, an “elegant kind of silence” as he says, the one that heals and nourishes us.
In this article, Thich Nhat Hanh points 5 ways to establish mindfulness through these exercises:
- Mindful Breathing
- Body Awareness
- Releasing Tension
- Walking Meditation
I want to share a way in which I am able to establish meditation and thus mindfulness when my brain is trying to constantly go back and forth between “To-do” lists and what will happen tomorrow. I call it The Hot Air Balloon Meditation.
I start by imagining that I am getting into a beautiful rainbow colored hot air balloon. It is located in an enormous grassy field, a blue sky in the background, and all around this magnificent aircraft there is everyone I know, especially my family [right in the front] watching me, smiling with a kind look. I also see the places I go, the things I do, represented perhaps by a symbol or an icon, like a part of my kitchen, my laptop, a basket full of dirty clothes… As I get in the basket I notice there are no burners, no flame. I start to breath deeply as I look at everyone around my contained whimsical balloon.
On my exhalation I gracefully start lifting up, and as I continue my dedicated way of breathing, I keep lifting and lifting, noticing that with my inhalation the balloon expands, and with my exhalations the basket lifts higher into the open space, while the audience of people and things starts getting minuscule. And then when a mundane thought comes into mind I can feel my hot air balloon lightly descend just a few meters. Then, I put focus into experiencing the exhalation so as to lift higher. This is how I internally guide my meditation when I have a cluster mind.
The days when my breathing and I accomplish complete disconnection from any thoughts, on those days that sometimes seem too scattered, is when I see nothing… just white clouds and air around me. And there is just me in the rainbow hot air balloon, flowing through the current of air, blowing to meditate and becoming mindful.
Cultivating this state of mind is helping me cope calmly with my marriage as we walk the path of parenthood in our nomad lives.