Saturday, July 30, 2016

Mindfulness at a Stop Light

A repost from July 2014.

***
"Present Moment Wonderful Moment"
-my meditation garden-

There is a little coffee table in my office on which I keep a Buddhist-style "gong"- a "bell of mindfulness," to be struck with a mallet as a signal for beginning a period of quiet meditation. The sound of the bell resonates throughout the room calling me to clear my mind and pay attention to the present moment.


The other day I was reminded of the fact that a period of daily meditation is certainly a great way to begin the day, but the morning meditation is also a "practice" for living mindfully throughout the rest of the day in the ordinary routine of daily life.


While I am getting better at embracing the moment and living in the "now" in many aspects of my everyday life, the one area where I fail miserably is when I get into a car. I am a very impatient driver and my impatience is particularly manifested when I have to stop at a red light and wait for it to turn green.


For some reason or other there seems to be an awful lot of stop lights on the streets of the various residential communities out here where I live. I never remember there being this many "red lights" in any of the other places where I have lived (not even in a city as big as Los Angeles). Out here in the desert communities you can barely go a few blocks without having to stop and wait as a light turns red.


The other day as I waited at a stop light for what seemed to be an unbearably long period of time, I found myself muttering under my breath, squirming and complaining, itching to "lay on the gas," when I suddenly realized how far away my stressful impatience was taking me from living mindfully in the moment.


As I reflected on my "stop light" impatience, I was immediately reminded of something I had read a few years ago in the Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh's book, Present Moment Wonderful Moment. Master Hanh talks about learning how to "embrace the moment" while driving a car - specifically suggesting that a "red light"can be as much of a bell of mindfulness as a meditation gong:


When we see a red light or a stop sign we can smile at it and thank it because it is helping us return to the present moment. The red light is a bell of mindfulness. We may have thought of it as an enemy preventing us from achieving our goal. But now we know the red light is a friend helping us to resist rushing and calling us to return to the present moment where we can meet life with joy and peace.


The other day, as I re-read this teaching from Thich Nhat Hanh, I felt as if he were speaking to me directly. So I decided I would embrace a new discipline and turn those many dreaded stop lights in my community into helpful "bells of mindfulness."


As the light turns red, I stop and wait, aware of my breath, and instead of grumbling I utter some phrases I have memorized, also suggested by Master Hanh


In - Out - Deep - Slow;
Calm - Ease - Smile - Release;
Present Moment - Wonderful Moment


Waiting at a stop light is not all that different from sitting in my meditation garden in the morning.


Lots of people tell me that they don't have time to quietly meditate or pray every day but almost everyone has to stop and wait at red lights.

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