“The best place to practice Zen is at a busy intersection” – Zen proverb
Cultivating mindfulness requires nothing exotic. You don’t need any expensive gadgetry or accoutrements. All you need is to be in the here and now.
Daily life – sitting, standing, working, resting – is an excellent ground for practice. Sure, from time to time it’s beneficial to fully retreat and to dedicate ourselves exclusively to the practice of meditation and yoga. But let’s remember, the purpose of such intense periods of practice is to nourish and strengthen our practice in daily life.
So what tools can we work with in daily life? The short answer is the body, breath and mind.Yes, you already have all you need to live your fullest potential as a human being!
From these three countless ways to cultivate mindfulness emerge. It comes down to the refinement of awareness; the more refined it is, the more we notice, and the more we can use for our mindfulness practice. Something as routine as turning a doorknob, for example, can become a nourishing and grounding practice.
Each sense gate – nose, eyes, ears, touch – offers a range of inspiring mindfulness practices. Our ears, and our sense of hearing, for example, can be harnessed for transformative effect. In our time of noise, frenetic chatter, bragging and hyperbole, mindful listening is in scant supply. Yet, mindful listening can transform relationships and open hearts.
Here are two practices you can experiment with.
Stop reloading and just listen
When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know; but when you listen, you may learn something. – Dalai Lama
How often do you talk without really listening?
Somebody responds to something you’ve said, but you’re not actually hearing what they’re saying because you’re formulating what you’re going to say next, or making assumptions and judgements about what the person really means. When we’re not listening with attention, very often we don’t hear what is said and we usually misunderstand it. This can result in unnecessary conflicts, lost time and hurt feelings.
Make a commitment for one day to really try to listen. When you sit down and have a meal with your partner or friend, take a moment to connect with your breath – feel your belly rising and falling – and feel the weight of your body connecting to the chair or floor. Then turn your awareness to your friend and listen openly. Notice the urge to respond, and instead let space and silence settle. This often encourages people to express themselves more deeply and can lead to some beautiful and surprising discussions.
Opening to the sounds of the city
City life has so many layers. It can be thrilling, as well as exhausting. Walking down a busy street while being assaulted by traffic noise, lying down in a park with street musicians playing, dancing to your favorite beats at a party, all these urban living scenarios offer a chance to refine our awareness of how we are responding to, or perhaps reacting to, everyday sounds.
So much of what we find exhausting about city living is not the noises themselves, but our reactions to them. The practice of mindfulness – a conscious, gentle and non-judgmental presence in the moment – can transform our reactions from exasperation, irritation or outright anger into compassion and co-being with our fellow citizens (and all beings in the city).
Walking through the city, open your hearing to all of the sounds. Embrace all the sounds of the city at once. Then choose one sound and really zoom in on it, while fading out everything else. How does it make you feel? Do you find this sound pleasant or unpleasant? Is there one particular part of the sound that stands out more than others? Then expand your awareness again and take in all the city sounds. Let them flow through you while you stay silent within.
What does it mean to stay silent from within?
It means to stop oscillating between grasping and pushing away. Instead of picking and choosing, liking and disliking, silence within means an openness and acceptance for what is. Rather than evaluating and categorising, we listen wholeheartedly. We can gently lean into the sounds, like you lean against a wall while waiting for a friend.
And whenever you notice your mind reacting to sounds and going into a dialogue about them, let go of that and come back to listening to the music of the city. Be curious, and hear as much as you can.
When you come home after such a walk and close the doors of your apartment, your inner space will be more spacious and silent.
The noise is not yours. You are not the noise.