Sunday, July 5, 2009
Every Sunday morning I spend 60 minutes in a walking meditation and then I sit down and blog. I blog on other days, too, but as a matter of spiritual practice, Sunday morning is reserved as the sacred space in which I have gifted myself with permission and freedom to turn my attention to attention.
On Sunday morning, whether I walk on my treadmill, in the woods, or along the bike path, I do so in silence, without my ipod, without my neighbor's kids, without my best old dog, but alone with my intention of attention.
Attention is also known as mindfulness, awareness, concentration, recollection. Not only of who you are, but why you and everything else are here.
During my Sunday morning meditations I recall recent and long forgotten moments of grace. I find opportunities for gratitude. I contemplate evidence of my meaningful connections with others, and signs of the presence of Spirit in my everyday comings and goings. I do so by looking for the bigger picture encompassing my experiences.
Yes, I am a watcher of the big picture. I watch for patterns in the world and in my own behavior. I string together meanings like pearls by attaching analogies, metaphors, symbols, and stories to things and events. I discover that messages and messengers will come to me when I regard them in this way. I learn to understand things by paying attention, and walking.
Thich Nhat Hanh teaches walking meditation as a practice of attention.
"Try to practice this in your daily life. Even when you go to the bus stop, make it into a walking meditation. Even if your surroundings are full of noise and agitation, you can still walk in rhythm with your breathing. Even in the commotion of a big city, you can walk with peace, happiness, and an inner smile. This is what it means to live fully in every moment of every day of your life. This is something which is possible. All of us who live here at Plum Village have signed an agreement with the flight of stairs we most often use. We agree to always practice walking meditation on these stairs, whether going up or down. Even on these stairs, we find a rhythm with our walk and our breath. We never take them absent-mindedly. When we realize we have climbed several steps in forgetfulness, we go back down and climb them over again. Over twenty years ago, I signed such an agreement with my stairs, and it has brought me great joy."
I find that even within a few hours without awareness, I can end up living in a daze of stimulation without any grasp of its significance. I operate on automatic pilot, and because nothing really registers in my consciousness, I can feel really drained of energy. And sometimes, not paying attention has just the opposite effect: everything registers, and I find I don't know what to do with it all!
At my computer, with its tweet alerts, email notifications, incoming faxes, and ecommerce and social networking technologies working overtime like a staff of ten – sometimes I am so bombarded with stimuli that I can't focus on anything. I feel scattered, stressed, and mesmorized by seemingly random fragments of interactions. I think of the effect as an unproductive cocoon of protective trance.
But, the universe is a friendly place, and everything in it has meaning, even this daze of stimulation. Nothing happens by chance. To everything there is a purpose, and the purpose of getting caught up in this comedy we know as the world wide web of beeps, blinks and tweets is to urge us back into silence, awareness, and significance.
It's a paradox. If we assign urgency to every little beep, we risk the health of our bodies, mind and sprits. But, if we think nothing deserves to be taken seriously, then it is easy to regard what happens to us as insignificant, pointless. After all, what really matters if the universe is characterized by random occurrences or endless urgency ? On a personal level, this translates to the feeling that there is no direction to our lives. And, who has the energy to deal with that?
For both lack of direction, energy and stress, attention is a good corrective prescription.
I begin by doing one thing at a time. I keep my mind focused on whatever I happen to be doing at the moment. I notice details. If what I am doing doesn't seem important, I realize it's time to work with the practice of meaning. I simply close my eyes, breathe, and visualize the winding set of stone stairs that lead from my garden thru the woods to the driveway. Even on these etheric stairs, I find a rhythm with my walk and my breath. If I realize I have climbed several steps in forgetfulness, I go back down and climb them over again, watchful and open for analogies, metaphors, symbols, and stories to emerge. With every step I increase my ability to discern the possibilities available to me. Of what is important, and of what I can let go.
On these steps I find opportunities for gratitude. I find connections with others, and signs of the presence of Spirit in all of our comings and goings, chance meetings, 140 character greetings. Eventually, the regular practice of attention yields understanding, not only of who I am but why you and everything else are here. Gratitude for the beep, blink and tweet.
May you be blessed!