Some of us in Wildmind’s Google Plus community are working our way through exercises from Jan Chozen Bays’ book, How to Train a Wild Elephant. We’re now on week 17 of the book, and this week’s exercise is called “Entering New Spaces.”
Here’s a brief outline of the practice:
The Exercise: Our shorthand for this mindfulness practice is “mindfulness of doors,” but it actually involves bringing awareness to any transition between spaces, when you leave one kind of space and enter another. Before you walk through a door, pause, even for a second, and take one breath. Be aware of the differences you might feel in each new space you enter.
This has been one of the hardest exercises for me, because I keep forgetting to do it! I’ll be in the Google Plus community and I’ll read about being mindful while walking through doors, and I’ll think, “Drat! I’ve forgotten to do the exercise. I’ll make sure to be mindful next time I walk through a door.”
Then I forget all about the practice, and at some point I find myself back in the community, get another reminder of the exercise, and have the exact same thought.
So this time I decided I’d just get up and walk through a door just to begin engraving the experience of walking mindfully through a door into my brain, so that I build up the habit.
The experience was lovely: Being aware of approaching the door; mindfully taking a breath; being aware of pushing down on the door handle; being aware of pulling the door open, of stepping through, of being on the other side; mindfully closing the door; mindfully hearing the different sounds in the corridor.
The practice turned into a practice of realizing anatta (not-self) because I had the joyful experience of noticing that the being who arrived in the new space was not exactly the same being that had left the old one. There was no “self” that was transported across the threshold. And that experience was repeated as I stepped back into the office.
I’ve found that “rehearsing” practices is a useful thing to do. For example, you might hear about a practice like paying mindful and compassionate attention to feelings of hurt. (This is something I do — and teach — a lot.) But when someone says something hurtful, your normal automatic defense mechanisms may kick in, and you lose your mindfulness. Maybe you get angry, or maybe you get very upset. Rehearsal can help with that: you can deliberately call to mind an experience that you found hurtful, mindfully notice the sense of hurt, and then direct compassionate and kindly attention to the pain. That way you’re building up an association: feel hurt, be mindful. In time you can engrave that pattern into your brain so that it becomes automatic.
Excuse me a moment while I go walk through a door again…
So there are two things I’m suggesting:
1. Generally, if you want to cultivate a new mindfulness habit, rehearse, either in your imagination (as with becoming compassionate toward feelings of hurt) or by acting out the exercise (as in walking through a doorway).
2. Mindfully walking through doors is a delightful exercise, and if you want to get a feel for just how delightful it is then get up and do it — right now!
PS. And do feel free to join us in Wildmind’s Google Plus community