Creating a Home Practice

Five Foundations to Your Home Practice

Sitting meditation is one formal practice that helps cultivate mindfulness. It is supported by 1) your intention to practice, 2) your focussed attention, and 3) and your attitude (such as being open, accepting, and curious). However, keep in mind that you can be mindful during any activity at any time. In fact, this is what we are actually working toward!  Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us that we can be mindful while walking, hugging, talking, scrubbing pots. You name it!  A consistent, formal daily practice can help cultivate a deeper sense of mindfulness that will support us in being mindful during any moment of life.

But getting started, or committing yourself to a practice isn't always easy.

In order to create a home practice, it is helpful to have a few practical elements in place.

Consider these five foundations as you start:

1. Identify a space in your home where you can practice, ideally with minimal interruption. This can be a corner of a room or a place where you have some privacy.

2. Make a date with yourself. Choose a time when you can commit to practicing on most days. This might be a time when others in your home are generally preoccupied.

3. Begin small. Start with any amount of time, but usually, 10-15 minutes to begin is helpful. Set a timer so you aren't watching the clock.

4. Pay attention to your posture. Whether you are on a chair or sitting crossed-legged on a cushion on the floor, sit upright and lifted. Decide if you want to close your eyes or have a soft gaze down to the floor. Feel where your body connects with the floor or the chair and begin to follow your breath in and out of your body with your attention. You may focus on the sensations of the body where you feel the breath most vividly. You will notice your mind wander. Gently bring your attention back to your breath. Do this for your designated time.

5.  Show up with goodwill toward yourself. Even when you don't want to. That is the practice. Manage your expectations and know that some practice is better than no practice.

Being in the space in between- together

There is a space in between where nothing is as it was. We are there, now, today. Together. We sit in uncertainty as we let go of aspects of what may have once seemingly been certain- daily routine, health, job, freedom of movement- (if we were privileged to experience these things) and can barely begin to anticipate what life will look like once we emerge from this time. And while we all go through many different thresholds of our lives - births, graduations, deaths, moves, traumas, losses-  we are now encountering a collective experience of the space in between.  Like a threshold, today we may find ourselves in the process of crossing over but to where and what we are not sure. As with most thresholds and transitions, we may experience a certain degree of aloneness, stuck in the betwixt and between, lost, confused, wondering the meaning, and uncertain of the outcomes. We may feel ungrounded from a sense of hope or faith. After all, nothing is as it was, or as we imagined it would be.

However, in these liminal spaces of our lives, we may look to community and ritual to buoy us and remind us of our place, our connectedness. Especially now as we collectively find ourselves in the space in between, we can find comfort that we exist in relation to others around us. As Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, we “inter-are.” Our contributions- a call, an errand for someone, staying home- no matter how seemingly insignificant, are essential and life-giving. In turn, when we open ourselves up to receiving, we feel the support of the neighbor, or family, or stranger to us. These moments of meeting not only keep us connected, they remind us that we are inherently connected. In the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s commencement address at Oberlin College, June 1965,  “ …All mankind is tied together; all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an escapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be- this is the interrelated structure of reality…And by believing this, by living out this fact, we will be able to remain awake through a great revolution.”

We awaken to the fertile ground of the space in between; a ground where personal and collective meaning can be cultivated through rituals which invite and celebrate our transformation. We call on one another, as well as our community of ancestors living among us in our bloodstreams, our memories, and our collective wisdom.  During these times, as we experience rituals of Passover and Easter, as well as our own personal endings and beginnings, we may wish to open ourselves up to what is offered in each moment. What is here now? For me, time seems to slow down as I wonder where I am, what I am doing and where I am going. It dawns on me that this “time of wondering” is transforming into “a time of wonder.” The spring cardinal with a bright orange beak, the light green haze cast over the low ground of the woods. The sounds of water rushing down a hill over rock, or a child playing with bubbles in a distant yard. The returning lost view of the Himalayas, the brightening outline of LA , the teaming visible life in Venice canals.  Perhaps even a new understanding of the four questions of Passover, or the three long days leading up to Easter, arises from our being together in this space in between. I am reminded of the words of Jalaluddin Rumi, a thirteenth-century Sufi Muslim poet, alluding to a type of space in between (translation by Coleman Barks):

“Beyond our ideas of right doing and wrong doing, there is a field. I will meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about ideas, language. Even the words ‘each other’ don’t make any sense.”

Finding Plum Village


Finding Plum Village

A barely visible, tilted, sign was the only makes-shift indication that we had found what the pages of the book had promised- “Nouveau Village.”  We pulled into a field serving as a parking lot. Our family of four uncurled from the small rental car and peered at the miles of farm land surrounding us.  A woman with a British accent causally greeted us. “You will find a welcome table inside,” she said pointing to a path flanked by iron gates.  With this little bit of direction, my husband, two children and I crossed the dusty parking lot. A stone path guided us past a wooden swing hanging from a large tree. Plastic white chairs formed a circle. A large semi-permanent canopy tent stood on the left.   A brass bell hung off the wall of a stone building.  It seemed as though we were someone’s yard, rather than a world-renowned retreat center.  On cue, inscribed signs of calligraphy greeted us,  “I have really arrived.  I am truly home.”  I looked at my husband sideways.  Walking a beat ahead, he smiled.  “Cool. Like summer camp!”

I only knew of Plum Village from the books on my night stand, yet my urgency drove our Jewish-Episcopalian, non-meditating family to rural France to be in the presence of a great teacher.  It was summer 2013. Recent events -the school shooting in Newton, my mother’s failing heart, and multiple hurricanes- bared the roots of our collective vulnerability.  “We need to go to Plum Village. We need to show our children another way of living.” Seven months later we arrived.

As the days progressed, the structure of the day unfolded.  My expectation of a schedule transformed from a linear to do list of rigid expectations to a wave of intention gently nudging us along.  As we moved from meals, to dharma talks, and a walk among stone buddhas, the brown-robed monastics served as beacons, reminding us that everything was meditation. Even the cats sat in quiet contemplation.

My feet felt the warmth of the earth, and my skin felt the tickle of ants.  My hands lingered in the tub of cool rinsing water and brushed against the smooth metal pots. With each scrub, my own senses washed clean.  The dark purple stain of mulberry and the shell-like hue of a newly fallen plum expanded my color palette.  Deep pots of vegetables, spices, and rice reflected the abundance of the surrounding tangled gardens, and the silent tending of the family groups.

In this spiritual thin place of Plum Village, a stalk of the Queens Anne’s lace grew as a silhouette against the dawn sky, and one rose pronounced its aliveness in a clump of purple lavender. Under a forest of trees, Thich Nhat Hanh shared apple slices with the children.  My twelve year old son contemplated the “faint taste of lemon” and “hint of honey.”  My daughter, along with children from 54 other countries, was welcomed into the branches of the mulberry trees, promising shade and bursting purple berries.

We come home in every moment we are fully present.  We notice the sharp clarity of the world around us.  Our senses serve as conduits to the natural abundance and beauty that patiently await our arrival.  As we take in life with the whole of our senses, we see that every moment contains a radical invitation.   These moments are not meant to erase personal or collective suffering, but rather they call us into a more expansive relationship with all that is. It is our relationship to aliveness that allows us to survive our suffering. Meditation practice, such as it is, becomes both the path and our companion on that path.  Whether through breath, or “kissing the earth” with peaceful steps, or a simple “hugging meditation”, these moments germinate the very seeds of aliveness.  A deeply reparative and nurturing relationship with the world emerges as a possibility.

I ventured to Plum Village, family in tow, in search of hope; borrowing the faith of a Zen Buddhist monk, who had witnessed the worst human atrocities and still landed on the side of peace, and nonviolence.   Driving through the lighted hills of sunflower fields back into the life we left, Thich Nhat Hanh’s words reverberated “It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual.  The next Buddha may take the form of a community…”. For now, we start with just us, an interfaith, mostly non-meditating family of four; alive, and, for the moment, aware of our aliveness.

Contemplative Insights, llc