By Susanna Hamilton
Freedom is a practice. It is in the awakening, the awareness that our feelings and perceptions in the present moment are transient; our happiness and suffering ebb and flow as the tides of the ocean.
When we are happy the people around us are more likely to be happy. As we practice being mindful we recognize that our happiness is directly connected with the happiness of others. Suffering is as much a part of life as joy, and is likewise directly connected with the suffering of others. When we suffer the people around us are more likely to suffer.
Practicing mindfulness provides us with the tools to transform our fear, anger and sense of separateness into compassion, love and inclusiveness. When we sit with our suffering, breathe and allow ourselves to be present with it, our suffering becomes less. Likewise, when we sit with the suffering of others and breathe, their suffering lessens.
Our mindfulness practice can be as simple as being present and mindful while washing dishes, eating lunch, or talking with friends. Focusing our attention, our breath, on any given activity, provides us the freedom to know that the choices we make are for the well-being of ourselves and those around us. Over time, as we become more comfortable with our mindfulness practice, being present with our thoughts and feelings, we can deepen our practice with the Five Mindfulness Trainings. These practices are guidelines developed by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, to help us live a more beautiful, peaceful life. We can be of any religious or spiritual path and still practice mindfulness. Being a Buddhist is not a requirement.
Reverence for Life
Interbeing is the understanding that there is no separate self, that we are interconnected with everything; fellow humans, animals, plants and minerals. Our thoughts and actions have an impact on the world around us and we have the ability to be open and supportive toward all living and non-living elements in the world around us. When we are mindful of our choices and their affect not only on ourselves, but on everything on this planet and potentially beyond, we are practicing reverence for life.
True happiness is realizing that we have all we need to be happy in the present moment. Our happiness is contingent on our own mental attitude. When we choose to utilize only those resources that support our growth, we allow others to have access the resources they need. By releasing fear, anxiety and the notion that we do not have enough to be happy, we reduce our own suffering. Practicing true happiness or generosity, sharing our planets limited resources with others, we provide the opportunity for others to also be happy and free from suffering.
True love arises from compassion and joy. When we engage in relationships that are built on loving kindness and inclusiveness, we increase not only our own happiness, but that of those we are involved with, be they friends, family, lovers, or strangers. Practicing true love we create a lasting peace and deepen our ability to live a beautiful, fulfilling life, receptive and willing to protect children, couples and families from suffering.
Loving Speech & Deep Listening
Communicating with others is one of the most challenging aspects of being human. Each person involved in a given conversation has their own thoughts, ideas and perceptions about the world based on his or her own experiences.
When we engage in dialogue using loving speech we have the ability to create happiness and peace in ourselves and others. This is especially true when we communicate through letters, email and text messaging. Loving speech is language that cultivates confidence, joy and hope.
Deep listening is a practice whereby we devote our entire attention to what the other person is saying, verbally and/or through body language. We allow our own thoughts, ideas and perceptions to rest, providing a forum for the person speaking to be fully heard, therefore reducing their suffering. When we realize we are no longer listening deeply we acknowledge this by excusing ourselves, walking and breathing mindfully until we are able to be fully present once more.
Nourishment & Healing
Through mindful consumption we can nourish our bodies and heal our suffering as well as the suffering of others. Food and beverages, alcohol and drugs, are the most common things we think of, but on a daily basis we also consume information, whether through television, literature, or various other mediums. When we are in the present moment we are aware that what we consume has an impact on our thoughts, ideas and perceptions, as well as our happiness and suffering, and that of others.
Great freedom comes with recognizing that happiness and suffering are only temporary states of being. Each moment provides us with the opportunity to practice being mindful and present. Through our practice of compassion, love and inclusiveness we can be happy, healthy, and therefore at peace.
For a full description of the Five Mindfulness Practices and to learn more about Thich Nhat Hanh, please visit: http://www.plumvillage.org.