“Just as an untamed elephant can do damage, trampling crops and injuring people, so the untamed, capricious mind can cause harm to us and those around us.”
So writes Jan Chozen Bays, M.D., a physician and Zen teacher, in her book How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness: Simple Daily Mindfulness Practices for Living Life More Fully & Joyfully.
How often have you let negative thoughts run your life? Let a punitive perspective take over so you end up beating yourself up for the smallest of supposed offenses? Or just experienced the days like you’re listing through a boring book, going through the motions but skimming the significant stuff?
Something that can help is mindfulness. According to Chozen Bays, “Mindfulness unifies our body, heart and mind, bringing them together in focused attention.”
And with regular practice, she believes that “Much of our dissatisfaction with life will disappear, and many simple joys will emerge, if we can learn to be present with things just as they are.”
Here are two of my favorite practices from the book.
Stop throughout the day and consciously identify what you are able to appreciate in this moment. It could be something about yourself, another person, your environment, or what your body is doing or sensing. This is an investigation. Be curious, asking yourself “Is there anything I can appreciate right now?”
Chozen Bays says that we can appreciate anything from the positive, such as having food in our tummies, to anything that’s absent, such as illness.
The Great Earth Beneath You
As often as possible, become aware of the great earth beneath you. Become aware through sight and touch, especially the touches on the bottoms of the feet. When you are not outside, you can use your imagination to “feel” the earth beneath the floor you are on or the building you are in.
Chozen Bays recounts how at the monastery she and others would begin their day by touching their foreheads to the floor upon waking. While she says that at first this felt strange, with time, everyone appreciated it.
She writes, “To wake up, stand, and immediately kneel and touch the forehead to the ground helped us begin the day with humility and gratitude for the earth that holds us to itself.”
I also love what she says about ruminating, because I’ve no doubt perfected this practice. She says that ruminating and being in our heads pushes us off balance. However:
If our attention is extended through the bottoms of our feet into the earth, we feel rooted, more solid and less swayed by thoughts and emotions or unexpected events.
What are some of your favorite
mindfulness exercises? Share below!