Awareness Exercises

Mindfulness

Awareness Exercises
A man sits cross-legged looking out at the sun setting on a flat landscape

The following awareness exercises are meant to assist in accepting reality. Used along with half-smile and observing your breath, these exercises can help you practice radical acceptance.

Body Positions Awareness

Begin to focus your attention on your breath. Breathe quietly and more deeply than usual. Be mindful of the position of your body, whether you are walking, standing, lying or sitting down. Know where you walk, stand, lie or sit. Be aware of the purpose of your position. For example, you might be conscious that you are standing on a green hillside in order to refresh yourself, to practice breathing, or just to stand. If you have no sense of purpose, be aware that there is no purpose. This can be practiced anytime and anywhere.

Connection to the Universe Awareness

Focus your attention on where your body touches an object (floor or ground, air molecules, a chair or arm rest, your bed sheets and covers, your clothes, etc.). Try to see all the ways you are connected to and accepted by that object. Consider the function of that object with relation to you. That is, consider what the object does for you. Consider its kindness in doing that. Experience the sensation of touching the object and focus your entire attention on that kindness until a sense of being connected or loved or cared for arises in your heart. This can be practiced any time, any place.

Examples

    • Focus your attention on your feet touching the ground. Consider the kindness of the ground holding you up, providing a path for you to get to other things, not letting you fall away from everything else.
    • Focus your attention on your body touching the chair you sit in. Consider how the chair accepts you totally, holds you up, supports your back, keeps you from falling down on the floor.
    • Focus your attention to the sheets and the covers on your bed. Consider the touch of the sheets and covers holding you, surrounding you and keeping you warm and comfortable.
    • Consider the walls in the room. They keep out the wind and the cold and the rain. Think of how the walls are connected to you via the floor and the air in the room. Experience your connection to the walls that provide you with a secure place to do things.
    • Go hug a tree. Think of how you and the tree are connected. Life is in you and in the tree and both of you are warmed by the sun, held by the air and supported by the earth. Try to experience the tree loving you by providing something to lean on, or by shading you.

Making Tea or Coffee Awareness

Prepare a pot of tea or coffee to serve a guest or to drink by yourself. Perform each movement slowly, in awareness. Do not let one detail of your movements go by without being aware of it. Know that your hand lifts the pot by its handle. Know that you are pouring the fragrant, warm tea, or coffee into the cup. Follow each step in awareness. Breathe gently, and more deeply than usual. Take hold of your breath if your mind strays.

Washing the Dishes Awareness

Wash the dishes consciously, as though each bowl is an object of contemplation. Consider each item as sacred. Follow your breath to prevent your mind from straying. Do not try to hurry to get the job over with. Consider washing the dishes the most important thing in life.

Cleaning the House Awareness

Divide your work into stages: straightening things and putting away books, scrubbing the toilet, scrubbing the bathroom, sweeping the floor, and dusting. Allow a good length of time for each task. Move slowly, three times more slowly than usual. Focus your attention fully on each task. Maintain awareness of the breath, especially when your thoughts wander.

For example, while placing the book on the shelf, look at the book, be aware of what the book is, know that you are in the process of placing it on the shelf and know that you intend to put it in that specific place. Know that your hand reaches for the book, and picks it up. Avoid any abrupt or harsh movement.

Slow-Motion Bath Awareness

Allow yourself 30 to 45 minutes to take a bath. Don’t hurry for even a second. From the moment you prepare the bath water to the moment you put on clean clothes, let every motion be light and slow. Place your attention to every part of your body, without discrimination or fear. Be aware of each stream of water on your body. By the time you’ve finished, your mind will feel as peaceful and light as your body. Follow your breath. Think of yourself as being in a clean and fragrant lotus pond in the summer.

Meditation Awareness

Sit comfortably on the floor with your back straight, or in a chair with both feet touching the floor. Close your eyes all the way, or open them slightly and gaze at something near.
With each breath, say to yourself, quietly and gently, the word “ONE.” As you inhale, say the word “ONE.” As you exhale, say the word, “ONE”, calmly and slowly. Try to collect your whole mind and put it into this one word. When your mind strays, return gently to saying “ONE.”
If you start wanting to move, try not to move. Just gently observe wanting to move. Continue practicing a little past wanting to stop. Just gently observe wanting to stop.

Note: Exercises 1 and 3-6 are adapted from the Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual of Meditation (pp. 84-87) 1976, Boston, Beacon Press, Copyright 1976 by Thich Nhat Hanh, Adapted by permission

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