I sit along the bank of a dormant volcano, the mist of the morning Balinese air cools my skin, it smells of moss green, and the sounds are tuned to the primordial age of the crater. I am still and quiet, but when I pay attention I perceive the buzzing data of nature around me. I notice the courtship of two beetles in the sand, the occasional ripple in the lake where a fish kissed the surface, and the profound beauty of a temple floating in the middle of a lake, in the crater of a volcano, at the center of a Hindu kingdom along the longest archipelago of islands in the world.
These notices do not come so regularly. I have the leisure of being on vacation, where the mandibles of a busy life relax their grip and the mind can perceive the world. But I am remembering to strive for this attention not only while in Bali, because enlightenment is not finding sanctity in novel experiences but finding it in the mundane. I can so easily carve paths into my routine that I move in automated motions through my daily life, waking up and finding myself at work with no recollection of how I got there. However amidst the wonder of a place that I do not see often I’m reminded that the awareness of presence is a way to let the mind breathe freely.
Meditation can be overwhelming for many of us. Sometimes it carries with it a burden that we must sit quietly in a space for long periods of time, calming the mind into a happy state, with the intention to feel better after a session. For me, that expectation is unrealistic. What I can do though is take snippets of presence throughout the day to realize where I am. By doing this it enriches the experience of whatever activity I am doing, transforming the mundane into novel, and the secular into sacred. I’ve compiled a list of hacks that can help trigger awareness and bring our minds into a present state.
- Count your breath. This is just a simple trick I learned that allows me to notice my breathing. Am I breathing from my neck and chest, or through my belly to allow my diaphragm to expand? How many inhales do I take? Is it full or is it shallow?
- Listen to your chew. This is a funny thing that I noticed while I was in an alley in old Shanghai during my transit to Bali. I was sensationalized by some of the flavors I had tasted during my travels and realized that I was barely chewing because I was so rushed to just eat without experiencing the flavors. But when I started listening to what it sounded like to eat my food, I was able to experience it more fully. It’s a weird practice but try it out.
- Think about your toes. We so rarely remember the 10 digits that allow us to articulate with the ground. Giving them some attention prompts me to notice other parts of my body.
- Describe a color. I learned this from reading a book about Helen Keller, and now it’s one of my favorite exercises. I take color for granted because it’s so easy to see a hue and say what it is. This exercise prompts the brain’s abstract and language centers to describe a color as if you were describing it to a person who could not see. How would you describe blue?
- Stare at a flame. This helps me hone the focus of my thoughts. I can get mesmerized by the dancing physics of fire, it so easily grips my attention that I can’t help but be present in what it is doing.
These are just a few tricks that I’ve found can help ground my awareness in presence. I can so easily get swept away in the maelstrom of thought, that I forget the trueness of what is happening at this very moment. I hope this helps in your practice of mindfulness.