Mindfulness Community of Hampton Roads

no mud, no lotus...

Training in Mindfulness

What is Mindfulness?

To be mindful is to be really alive, fully aware of our body and mind and of our surroundings in the present moment. We practice mindfulness by doing everything with awareness and without rush, aware of each step and each breath. Moving more slowly and calmly allows us to give more time and attention to ourselves and to life. Actions done in mindfulness and with a little smile bring feelings of lightness and joy.


"Those who practice mindfulness will inevitably transform themselves and their way of life. They will live more simply and have more time to enjoy themselves, their friends, and their natural environment, and to offer joy to others and alleviate others’ suffering." 
                                                                                                                                - Thich Nhat Hanh

What is Mindful Breathing?

Our breathing is the stable, solid ground in which we can take refuge. Regardless of our internal weather - our thoughts, emotions, and perceptions - our breathing is always with us like a faithful friend. When we feel carried away, caught in a deep emotion, or scattered in worries and projects, we return to our breathing to collect and anchor our mind.

We feel the flow of air coming in and going out through our nostrils. We feel how light and natural, how calm and peaceful our breathing functions. At any time, while we are walking, gardening, or typing, we can return to this peaceful source of life. We do not need to control our breath. Feel the breath as it actually is. It may be long or short, deep or shallow. With our focused awareness, it will naturally become slower and deeper. Mindful breathing is the key to uniting body and mind and bringing the energy of mindfulness into each moment of our daily life.

                  Breathing in, I see myself as a flower.
                  Breathing out, I feel fresh…

                  Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain.
                  Breathing out, I feel solid…

                  Breathing in, I see myself as still water.
                  Breathing out, I reflect things as they are…

                  Breathing in, I see myself as space.
                  Breathing out, I feel free…
                                                 - Thich Nhat Hanh

Listening to the Bell

When we hear the bell, we listen with our full attention. It is a bell of mindfulness. We relax our body and mind and become aware of our breathing. This is the practice of stopping: we stop talking, moving, and thinking and go back to our breathing, naturally and with ease. We take three mindful breaths, releasing the tension in our body and mind and returning to a cool and clear state of being.

By stopping to breathe and restore our calm and our peace, we become free, our activities become more enjoyable, and the friends around us become more real. In everyday life we can use the ringing of our telephone, the local church bells, the birds' singing, or the cry of a baby as a bell of mindfulness.

The sound of the bell calls out to us:
                     Listen, listen, this wonderful sound
                    Brings me back, to my true home.

Sitting Meditation

Sitting meditation is like returning home to give full attention to ourselves. Like the Buddha, we too can radiate peace and stability. We sit upright with serenity, and return to our breathing. We are able to maintain a relaxed and upright position when our posture is stable. Using the right cushion or bench will enable us to be steady by allowing our weight to be balanced and supported on three points: our buttocks and our two knees. We bring our full attention to what is within and around us. We let our mind become spacious and our heart soft and kind.

Sitting meditation is healing. We realize we can just be with whatever is within us - our pain, anger, and irritation, or our joy, love, and peace. We are with whatever is there without being carried away by it. We let it come, let it stay, then let it go as we return to our breath. No need to react, to run away from or to push, to oppress, or to ignore. We observe the thoughts and images of our mind with an accepting and loving attitude. We are free to be still and calm despite the storms that might arise within us.

In our sangha gatherings we usually sit for a period of 20 minutes. If our legs or feet fall asleep or begin to hurt during the sitting, we are free to quietly adjust our position. We maintain our concentration and support others in their practice by following our breathing as we slowly and attentively change our posture if needed.
Walking Meditation

Zen Master Lin Chi once said that the miracle is not to walk on water or on burning charcoal, but to walk on the Earth. With each step, we arrive in the here and now, becoming solid and free. Whether walking outdoors or in the meditation hall, we coordinate our steps and breathing as we walk. For example, outdoors we may take two steps with each in-breath and two steps with each out-breath. In the meditation hall it may be slower - one step with each breath. We can mentally say to ourselves, "In, in... Out, out" to help us identify the in- and out- breaths. Just as in sitting meditation, while walking, we allow our breathing to be natural, not forcing it. The following gatha (meditation verse) can help us along the path:

I have arrived (in-breath) - I am home (out-breath)
In the here (in-breath) - In the now (out-breath)
I am solid (in-breath) - I am free (out-breath)
In the ultimate (in-breath) - I dwell (out-breath)

As we walk, we are aware of the contact between our feet and the Earth. We enjoy and are nourished by Nature. Look around and see how vast life is, the trees, the white clouds, the limitless sky. Listen to the birds. Feel the fresh breeze. Life is all around, and we are aware of the miracle that for now we are alive, healthy, and capable of walking in peace.

“As a free person you can enjoy every step you make. The earth that you tread becomes the Kingdom of God, becomes the Buddha Land. Whether it is hell or the Kingdom of God depends on us, on our way of walking.  If we are full of sorrow, of fear, of anger, of violence, the very ground that we walk becomes hell.  But if we are a free person, if we have the energy of love, compassion, understanding, and freedom in our heart, then that place will become the Kingdom of God, the Buddha Land."
                                                                                                                      - Thich Nhat Hanh

Listening to a Dharma Talk

Please listen to a dharma talk with an open mind and a receptive heart. To listen deeply, we do not engage our intellect. If we listen only with our intellect, comparing and judging what is said to what we already think we know or what we have heard others say, we may miss the chance to truly receive the message that is being transmitted.

When our ears are filled with the din of our own thoughts, it is hard to hear the bird's song. Similarly, we need to empty our mind, and be free of thoughts, ideas, and preconceptions in order to listen to a dharma talk. Comparing what we hear with something we already had in mind, and drawing "right" or "wrong" conclusions, is a mental habit that limits our capacity of listening. To agree or disagree with what is said does not help us learn anything new.

The Dharma is like rain.  Let it penetrate deeply into our consciousness, watering the seeds of wisdom and compassion that are already there.  Absorb the talk openly, like the earth receiving a refreshing spring rain.  The talk might be just the condition our tree needs to flower and bear the fruits of understanding and love.

What is Dharma Sharing?

Dharma sharing is an opportunity for us to learn from one another's experience of the practice  - from the collective wisdom of the sangha. It is a chance for us to share concretely things that are truly in our heart. We also practice listening deeply to others, without judging or reacting, by maintaining awareness of our breathing and our feelings. Listening deeply and sharing mindfully enable us to touch the richness in ourselves and others, and to develop understanding.

Dharma is a special time for us to share our experiences, our joys, our difficulties, and our questions related to the practice of mindfulness.  Deep listening while others are speaking helps create a calm and receptive environment.  By learning to speak out about our happiness and our difficulties in the practice, we contribute to the collective insight and understanding of the sangha.

Please share based upon your personal experience of the practice rather than upon abstract ideas and theoretical topics.  We will realize that many of us share similar difficulties and aspirations.  Sitting, listening, and sharing together, we recognize our true connections to one another.

Please see the Guidelines for dharma sharing

The Value of Silence

Silence is essential for deep transformation. It allows the practice of conscious breathing to become deep and effective. Like still water that reflects things as they are, the calming silence helps us to see things more clearly, and therefore, to be in deeper contact with ourselves and those around us. If we do find it necessary to speak during Sunday morning sangha gatherings at times other than during dharma sharing, we do it discreetly to help preserve the silent atmosphere.

Eating with Gratitude

Eating can be a source of great happiness which we sometimes forget.   When we take time to sit down and enjoy every morsel of our food, we know we are very fortunate to be nourished and embraced by the whole universe. Occasionally we share a small snack together after our gathering.  The Five Contemplations will be read for us to reflect upon before sharing food together:

This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much loving work.
May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.
May we recognize and transform our unwholesome states of mind, especially our greed, and learn to eat with moderation.
May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering of living beings, and help to preserve our planet.
We accept this food so that we may nurture our sisterhood and brotherhood, strengthen our sangha, and nourish our ideal of serving living beings.

To be worthy to receive the food is to really enjoy and appreciate it. By eating mindfully and peacefully, we nourish ourselves, our society, and many generations with understanding and love. We can look at and smile to friends who are sitting next to us, enjoying their presence. Upon finishing our meal, we take a few moments to be aware that we have finished, our bowl is now empty, and our hunger is satisfied. Gratitude nurtures us as we maintain awareness of how fortunate we are to have had this nourishing food to eat, supporting us on the path of understanding and compassion.