Life has been … what … lately. At times overwhelming, at times sad, at times distressed, at times upset, at times peaceful, at times distracted, at times frustrated, at times joyful. In other words, lots going on. Especially in my head. Stories, worries, plans, lack of plans, projections, more stories. Scattered.
Recently I had a most wonderful Zoom conversation with a former student, now a friend, who lives in Saudi Arabia and is a devout Muslim. In speaking with him, I was reminded of his practice of praying at set times throughout the day. Perhaps I could adapt this practice to call myself back to center.
Another friend, who is in the No Way Café contemplation group, tells of a yoga teacher who suggested holding each yoga pose for five breaths.
So I put this together, and now I pause five times a day at set times to take five mindful breaths. I set my alarm on my phone to help me remember. It has taken a little getting used to, and I’m still finding my rhythm. But when the chime rings on my phone, it calls my attention back to my breath. It helps me remember. Oh right, breathe, return, align, allow, surrender, trust. And for those few moments, I am at peace.
Father Keating popularized the practice of centering prayer, which uses a reminder word during a time of prayer to call one’s attention back to God. He told of a nun who came up to him after a prayer period bemoaning her lack of focus. “I had to say my centering word a thousand times!” she complained. “That’s wonderful!” Father Keating replied. “That’s a thousand times you were connected to the divine.”
Like the nun, I might feel a lack of focus during my day. But at least five times a day I am centered and grounded. In addition, I’m noticing that now I remember to take some mindful breaths at other times, especially when feeling frazzled or scattered. The practice is slowly expanding and permeating my day.
A Buddhist teacher once said, when asked how often he meditated, “I am never not meditating.” The Bible advises us to pray without ceasing. I’m not there yet. But having a structured practice during a challenging time is gradually establishing a default orientation of mindfulness. And for that I’m grateful.
Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor. ~Thich Nhat Hanh
[Note: Yep, that’s me in my pajamas taking five mindful breaths this morning.]