This month, Dr. Kiltz chose Happiness by Thich Nhat Hanh for our Book of the Month. This book is a wonderful guideline for working towards happiness, mindfulness, and inner peace. Each chapter has a different exercise, and I have highlighted a few of them for you as well as a few of my own breathing exercises. The main focus of these exercises is returning to the breath, and finding an inner quiet. Achieving this will help you relax in regards to fertility, and your everyday life.
“Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment.”
“It is the key to uniting body and mind, and bringing the energy of mindfulness into each moment of our life.” (p. 3) Conscious breathing is incredibly important, and can be a wonderful tool for challenging situations, such as blood draw appointments and IUIs/transfers. The breath is incredibly powerful, but in order to utilize this skill you must practice. Harnessing the breath can be practiced at any time during the day you just need a few quiet moments.
“In the beginning, you may notice that your breathing may feel labored or awkward. Your breath is a result of your body and feelings. If your body has tension or pain, if your feelings are painful, then your breath is affected. Bring your attention to your breath and breathe mindfully.” (p. 5) Thich Nhat Hanh has outlined some wonderful breathing exercises and one of the more simple and easy to learn are the following; on the inhale say the first word in the phrase, and the second on the exhale (taken from p. 6):
Present Moment, Wonderful Moment.
“Never force your breath. If your in-breath is short, let it be short. If it’s not very peaceful, let it be like that. We don’t intervene, force, or “work on” our breath. We just become aware of it, and after some time, the quality o four breathing will improve naturally. Mindfulness of breathing identifies and embraces our in-breath and out-breath, like a mother going home to her child and embracing her child tenderly in her arms. You’ll be surprised to see that after one or two minutes, the quality of your breathing will improve. Your in-breath will become deeper, your out-breath will become slower. Your breathing becomes more peaceful and harmonious.” (p. 6)
Here are a few additional exercises that I have found work well for me:
The basic process of meditation with the breath is to just follow your natural flow of breathing, observe the pattern, and the sensation. With this it is not necessary to slow your breathing down or focus on a particular thought while you are breathing, rather just listen to and feel the breathing itself will be enough.
If your mind is wondering more often than you would like during the basic breathing technique, it can help to count the duration of your breath. With this technique you would inhale for 4 counts and exhale for 5 counts. This keeps your mind focused on counting, and decreases the wondering from though to thought that is sometimes a challenge to control. One benefit of this meditation is that it can even be done at your work desk. Just focusing for about 10-15 breaths can quiet your mind and body, without anyone else knowing what you are doing!
One of my favorite meditations incorporates the breath, as well as audio and mental visualization. For this meditation it is best to lie down and play a cd or mp3 of the ocean. Once you are comfortable, close your eyes and slow your breath. During this meditation you can either align your breath with the cyclic sounds of the waves, or you can just breathe on you own. Either way, as you inhale, imagine the ocean’s waves beginning at your toes, and rolling up over your stomach, and stopping at your chest. As you exhale then imagine the waters receding back into the ocean along with your stress and worries. Continue the wave visualization with each breath, and try to actually feel the water coming up onto your body and then retreating back into the ocean. This meditation can also easily be done without a cd or mp3, just by hearing the ocean in your mind.
“Sitting meditation is a way for us to return home and give full attention and care to ourselves. Every time we sit down, whether it is in our living room, at the foot of a tree, or on a cushion, we can radiate tranquility like the Buddha sitting on an altar…Sitting meditation is very healing. We can just be with whatever is within us, whether it is pain, anger, irritation, joy, love, or peace. We are with whatever is there without being carried away. We let it come, let it stay, then let it go. We have no need to push, to oppress, or to pretend our thoughts are not there. Instead, we can observe the thoughts and images in our mind with an accepting and loving eye. Despite the storms that arise in us, we’re still and calm.” (p. 9) “While sitting, begin my following your in-breath and out-breath. Whenever a feeling comes us, recognize it. You can learn a lot from observing what’s going on in your body and mind during the sitting meditation. Most of all, sitting is a chance for you to do nothing. You have nothing at all to do, just enjoy sitting and breathing in and out.” (p. 10) This is a wonderful tool to try while you are waiting to be seen in our office.
“Breathing in, I have arrived.
Breathing out, I feel at home.
“The mind can go in a thousand directions.
But on this beautiful path, I walk in peace.
With each step, a gentle wind blows.
With each step, a flower blooms.” (p. 12)
“Walking meditation is walking just to enjoy walking. Walking without arriving, that is the technique. There is a Sanskrit word, apranibita. It means wishlessness or aimlessness. The idea is that we do not put anything ahead of ourselves and run after it. When we practice walking meditation, we walk in this spirit. We just enjoy the walking, with no particular aim or destination. Our walking is not a means to an end. We walk for the sake of walking.” (p. 12)
“As you walk, pay attention to each step you make. Walk slowly. Don’t rush. Each step brings you into the best moment of your life. In walking meditation, you practice being aware of the number of steps you make with each breath. Notice each breath and how many steps you take as you breathe in and breathe out. In walking meditation we match our steps to our breath, and not the other way around.” (p. 15)
“Every day, you walk somewhere, so adding walking meditation to your life doesn’t take a lot of additional time or require you to go anywhere different. Choose a place – a staircase, your driveway, or the distance from one tree to another – to do walking meditation every day. Every path can be a walking meditation path.” (p. 17)
“When we find ourselves in dangerous or difficult situations, or when we feel like we are losing ourselves, we can practice taking refuge. Instead of panicking or giving ourselves up to despair, we can put our trust in the power of self-healing, self-understanding, and loving within us. We call this the island within ourselves in which we can take refuge. It is an island of peace, confidence, solidity, love, and freedom. Be an island within yourself. You don’t have to look for it elsewhere.” (p. 33)
Similar to the self-soothing exercises I have previously posted, it is important for us to be able to look inside to find peace and comfort. Sometimes we will be physically and emotionally alone in challenging situations, and it is important to harness various tools to quiet, and support ourselves.
The following two excerpts are Thich Nhat Hanh’s mindfulness trainings. The first five are a bit more brief, and include the following fourteen. If you would like a more specific topic to focus on, try the longer list. These are all intentions for us to be aware of and nurture. Eventually, they will permeate to all aspects of life, and become a continuous meditation.
The Five Mindfulness Trainings
The First Training
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I vow to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals.
The Second Training
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving kindness and learn ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals.
The Third Training
Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I vow to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society.
The Fourth Training
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of suffering.
The Fifth Training
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. (p. 37)
The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings
Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology.
Nonattachment to Views
Aware of the suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, we are determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views.
Freedom of Thought
Aware of the suffering brought about when we impose our views on others, we are committed not to force others, even our children, by any means whatsoever – such as authority, threat, money, propaganda, or indoctrination – to adopt our views.
Awareness of Suffering
Aware that looking deeply at the nature of suffering can help us develop compassion and find ways out of suffering, we are determined not to avoid or close our eyes before suffering.
Simple, Healthy Living
Aware that true happiness is rooted in peace, solidity, freedom, and compassion, and not in wealth or fame, we are determined not to take as the aim of our life fame, profit, wealth, or sensual pleasure, nor to accumulate wealth while millions are hungry and dying.
Dealing with Anger
Aware that anger blocks communication and creates suffering, we are determined to take care of the energy of anger when it arises and to recognize and transform the seeds of anger when it arises and to recognize and transform the seeds of anger that lie deep in our consciousness.
Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment
Aware that life is available only in the present moment and that it is possible to live happily in the here and now, we are committed to training ourselves to live deeply each moment of daily life.
Community and Communication
Aware that lack of communication always brings separation and suffering, we are committed to training ourselves in the practice of compassionate listening and loving speech.
Truthful and Loving Speech
Aware that words can create suffering or happiness, we are committed to learning to speak truthfully and constructively, using only words that inspire hope and confidence.
Protecting the Sangha
Aware that the essence and aim of a Sangha is the practice of understanding and compassion, we are determined not to use the Buddhist community (or any community) for personal gain or profit or transform our community into a political instrument.
Aware that great violence and injustice have been done to our environment and society, we are committed not to live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature.
Reverence for Life
Aware that much suffering is caused by war and conflict, we are determined to cultivate nonviolence, understanding, and compassion in our daily lives, to promote peace education, mindful meditation, and reconciliation within families, communities, nations, and in the world.
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, we are committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals.
Aware that sexual relations motivated by craving cannot dissipate the feeling of loneliness but will create more suffering, frustration, and isolation, we are determined not to engage in sexual relations without mutual understanding, love, and long-term commitment.