Looking out the window of the train as I slowly make my way back home from a 21 day silent meditation retreat, I notice that the landscape seems different this time.
The stillness I cultivated is lost to the rapidly passing trees and houses and I feel a little overwhelmed, unsure if I can maintain the mindfulness I have developed, I find myself trying to hold onto and attaching to what I had achieved. In the background fear is lurking and I encourage myself to “come back” to the present moment, and to sit with my breath. Perhaps one of the simplest of mindfulness tools, always ever ready and accessible to the beginner and the advanced practitioner.
As I have for the past 3 weeks, the breath brings me back to present moment awareness, back to foundational skills I have developed over the years in Meditation and Yoga, and I sit again happily in the simplicity of a beginner’s mind. With a beginner’s mind I can sit unashamedly, joyfully in simplicity, in an open awareness to whatever arises with a clear, fresh and loving perspective. I’m not holding onto preconceived ideas and expectations of how I should be or how my practice should be, even after the seemingly endless hours and days of silent meditation. I can let go of any striving to be someone somewhere, and sit quietly, contently in an open, relaxed and loving awareness.
A sensory delight on any other occasion, the train ride today however with the combination of sounds, sights, and smells creates an intense unsteadiness within. Transferring from a contained sensory space of silence, with mindfulness of thought and movement at the retreat, to random, loud and a very fast paced sensory world, as modeled in this train carriage, requires me to quickly recognise that this is the reality of my world going forward. Sharing the carriage space with others I observe a mother gazing lovingly and cooing at her baby. Another person furiously typing on his computer, then muttering disgruntingly and tapping even more vigorously as delays are announced. An older woman writing in her journal, perhaps creating poetry I wondered, and a young guy “on his phone”. As mirrors to my own life, and as interesting as they all are, I quickly realise that getting caught up in others life stories or starting to plan and strategise how best to live in this busy world will not support me regaining my balance in this moment.
I mentally search for my meditation tools to support me, before I am lost in my own thoughts.
I come back to a beginner’s mind and come back to the essentials of my meditation practice. Settling into a sitting position, feeling the support of the seat and the ground as my toes connect to it through my shoes. My eyelids touch, face softens and shoulders gradually begin to draw back and open. I begin to relax into and be with and in my body. Bringing focus to the breath, and more closely to the movement of the belly, my breath deepens whilst the train rattles and shakes. As the cool breath flows in through the nostrils and makes its way Into the belly, it comes alive and shows it’s own personality of hardness and also soft spots. I stay with a present moment awareness just observing what is arising through my sense door, the sounds, smells and feelings. Trying to keep a beginner’s mind of simplicity, open and loving awareness to all that arises around me and within me. And when the mind wanders off, knowing that that is OK too, then finding the breath again and gently, lovingly inviting my focus to come back to the arising moment.
I sometimes think of returning to present moment awareness is like seeing an old friend again after some time apart. We embrace each other in joy and respect, and just continue on from where we left off last time. There is an unspoken ease, openness and acceptance that everything is as it should be, and that that is OK. The sound of passenger chatter also now fades into the background as I hold steady and relaxed, observing the breath and senses as they arise bringing equanimity back to my being.
A feeling of gratitude and calm moves throughout my mind and body and settles into my eyes, as they moisten for the deep sense of calm that has washed over me.
Staying with the simplicity of my practice, with a beginner’s mind, I regain a sense of being back in the present moment. I sit with an openness of heart and mind.
We can all get caught up in the sense of self, for me, it’s pushing hard to extend and open my awareness through mindfulness meditation. We can get caught up in the external world of striving and desiring and attaching to experiences, and often we take that same way of being into our meditation practice, unintentionally. However this is an opposing energy to what I, and all of us are trying to cultivate. I remind myself that keeping it simple, accepting what is in this moment is all I need to do, without complexity or over analysis.
So let’s remember a beginner’s mind – being wth the joy of simplicity, in an open awareness to whatever arises with a clear, fresh and loving perspective. And to come back to the essentials: a relaxed body, flowing breath, an awareness of the senses and finding focus and stillness in each moment.
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