Whether we are on a zafu or on a mat, how do we begin our meditation? How do we end the session and take the mindfulness with us? These are practical considerations that are important for transferring the practice of mindfulness into everyday life.

Often teachers will suggest beginning your practice with an intention. One of the highest intentions is that of the bodhisattva. The bodhisattva is an enlightened master, a buddha who has forsaken final liberation, choosing instead to remain with us for the benefits of all the other beings who have not yet reached enlightenment. They have four qualities referred to as the Brahma Vihara. [1] These are:

  1. Loving kindness to all creatures
  2. Compassion for all who suffer
  3. Sympathetic joy for all who are happy
  4. Equanimity, a pervading calm.

This grand intention may be a bit over the top for most students. Stephen Batchelor in Buddhism without Beliefs offers a more tractable resolve. He suggests our intention include “aspiration, appreciation and conviction.” For example, he offers these words to begin our practice:

“I aspire to awaken, I appreciate its value, and I am convinced it is possible.”

The resolve to awaken may at first seem a selfish one but all Buddhists assure us that if we awaken, everyone benefits. Sarah Powers has adapted Batchelor’s phrasing and uses a similar intention at the beginning of her classes. She will often say,

“I vow to awaken to awareness for the benefit of all beings. I appreciate its immeasurable value and believe it is possible, as I am now, without condition.”

You may wish to copy this phrase completely or develop words that resonate with your own intentions. A common phrase, short and succinct, is lokah samasta sukhino bhavantu. This simple and beautiful chant is a wish for all beings everywhere to be happy.

Once your practice on the mat has ended, the real practice begins, bringing mindfulness to every minute of your day. Of course, we cannot be truly mindful every second, but we can intend to be. Bringing mindfulness to our lives is the subject of many books and teachings. Buddhist teachings in all their forms are very practical and pragmatic. Wonderful authors abound. Taste the teachings of Charlotte Joko Beck with either of her excellent books Everyday Zen and Nothing Special. Or dip into any of the ninety or more books by Thich Nhat Hanh (also affectionately called Thay, which means “teacher”) such as Peace is Every Step.

Thay has several excellent suggestions for bringing our awareness back to the moment. One practice is the Telephone Meditation. When the phone rings, most people’s first instinct is to answer it right away; we have some hidden fear that the person on the other end will hang up if we don’t answer in the first two rings. Thay points out that the other person really wants to talk to us, so we don’t need to rush. First, when the phone rings, we should pause, stop whatever we are doing, and just notice the phone. On the second ring we should think about who the other person is and smile. On the third ring we should think about ourselves talking with this person and again smile. On the fourth ring we move toward the phone. Finally we pick up the phone and say “hello” with a smile.

Another wonderful everyday meditation Thay offers us is the Red Light Meditation. He has noticed that many drivers – when they get stopped at a red light – get angry or upset with being delayed. So many people have allowed their lives to become so busy that they resent their time being wasted in traffic. Being slowed down easily irritates them. But that reaction is a choice: we can choose to react another way. Thay suggests we see each red light as an opportunity to do a mini-meditation: we can thank the light for turning red, for giving us a chance to check back in with our life, to notice our breath or sounds, our body or feelings. We can win back another precious taste of this moment, the only time we can actually be alive.

All these techniques of building mindfulness help us in our daily life. The more we practice, the easier it becomes to practice. As noted earlier, the Buddha was not concerned about models and science – he didn’t care why the world is the way it is. His concern was to help end suffering now. The yogic models of Samkhya or Tantra didn’t concern the Buddha. His advice was always practical and pragmatic.

In the West many brilliant minds have pondered the mind, and have developed a wide array of models and theories about how the mind works and how we can end our suffering. Many of these thinkers have independently rediscovered methods that the Buddha described two and a half millennia ago. Their models also echo the divisions of mind noted by the psychonauts of early yoga. Our journey down the Yin River now takes us toward some of these Western viewpoints of mind. We will learn how these too can assist our practice of yoga.

  1. — Similar to the Yoga Sutra’s teaching of maitri, karuna, mudita and upeksanam.