I’m happy to be writing a post on lovingkindness and compassion and the practice of meditation, because I see kindness as essential to maintaining a regular practice. One way I’ve noticed lately that kindness can be present in my mindfulness practice is the way in which I return to the breath during formal sitting practice. When I notice that the mind has wandered elsewhere than the present moment, I try to return to the breath with kindness and gentleness.
A technique I have been trying to use lately is to smile to the thinking mind when it is present, and when thoughts have taken the place in my awareness instead of my breath:
“Sit or lie down in a way that allows your body to rest…Relax all your muscles…Relax the muscles in your face. If you are angry or worried, those muscles will be tense. Smile lightly, and you will relax hundreds of muscles in your face…Don’t try too hard.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
It takes a notable amount of effort to keep this technique of smiling, which is an instruction from Thich Nhat Hanh, but I think it is essential for my practice. I think that when I am able to use this technique, it allows my sitting practice to unfold more smoothly, and to allow the mind to settle and be still more easily. I imagine the surface of a body of water, where this kindness and gentleness allows any agitation on the surface of the water to dissipate, and for the water to become calm and clear.
I try to use kindness and gentleness in the way that I return to the breath. Sometimes I experiment with letting the mind return to the breath easily and on its own pace, slowly, almost floating back to where I would like it to be. I try to place my mind gently on the breath, but with a firm intention that this is where I would like to be.
It seems that being able to let go of discursive thoughts is a form of kindness in and of itself. Letting go of worrisome thinking and preoccupations is a kind of relief, and returning to the breath is a way of coming home to myself and my body. Its as if the breath and the body is a safe refuge from all the stressful and uncomfortable places the mind can take me.
The act of committing myself to staying here, in this moment, with my breath and my body, is an act of kindness as well. It means that I am being whole, body and mind, in the present moment, here and now, rather than dispersed into the past and future and into discursive thinking.
I wish that you may enjoy some kindness and gentleness in your sitting practice as well.
photo by neonow (Flickr): https://www.flickr.com/photos/neo-now/