Many of us are experiencing heightened anxiety during the global coronavirus crisis. In response, Tricycle is offering free access to our Meditation Month 2020 archive, which includes a four-part guided meditation series and a variety of helpful articles to support your practice. If you are able to, please help support this offering with a donation. Thank you!
I discovered this mindfulness practice, ironically, during a mindless internet search. During a trip down the rabbit hole of Buddhist links, I came across something called gatha practice, which takes the mundane activities we engage in every day and turns them into gentle nudges awakening us to our true nature. It’s a practice that was popularized by Vietnamese Buddhist monk and activist Thich Nhat Hanh, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr.
As I read about this practice, I began to consider how my own daily routines might be turned into gathas. This process was illuminating. What do I do automatically without thinking? This act alone, this decision to notice my mindless activities, instantly had the effect of making me more present to my life. The act of creating a deeper relationship with those activities became fulfilling in unexpected ways.
Here are some of the things I’ve started using as gathas every day.
Checking the Weather
Early in the morning, one of the first things I do is tap the little weather icon on my phone. I do this before getting dressed. Do I need extra layers today? Will a light jacket be enough? Do I need extra time to warm up the car? This tap, done unconsciously for years, became a habit I turned into a gatha.
As I click the icon, I breathe. I inhale and notice the temperature. I exhale and silently affirm what is.
Right away, this short-circuits all the mental preferences (shit, it’s going to rain, or when is this hot spell going to let up?), and for a moment, I’m invited to embrace and love everything exactly as it is. For me, a profound sense of peace developed over time as I worked with this simple gatha.
Checking Social Media
If possible, before clicking the icon, I try to take a breath and observe my state of mind. At this stage, my only job is to observe. All I have to do is see whatever’s going on and then—and this is crucial—notice any judgments about it. So often, my urge to check social media is a feeling of wanting something interesting to look at—show me something cool. But more often, this compulsion is the drug of choice for my inner narcissist. (How many likes and follows did I get? For which posts—I want to know what works so I can milk it). If that’s where my thoughts are when I am about to check my feeds, I spend an extra moment here.
Then I click: As I breathe in, I notice my thoughts. As I breathe out, I release them and return to my body. I scroll a little, watching my mind. What thoughts are coming up? (Judgment? Ennui? Contempt?) I notice my throat, my belly, my jaw, my feet, and I return to the present moment.
Taking a Shower
Not all my gathas involve a screen. Since starting this practice, I’ve realized how many things I do by rote. Showering is a perfect example: I always do it the same way, cleaning various parts of my body in the same order. I do it all without thinking.
Taking a shower as a gatha practice turns this series of robotic movements into an exercise of deep gratitude. I breathe in and feel the blessing of warm, cleansing water and a safe place to shower. Then I breathe out and practice gratitude for this and all the blessings I may have overlooked.
By now, you probably get the idea. You can create your own prayers and intentions. You can use whatever actions are mindless and automatic in your life. In fact, even considering this exercise can awaken you in unexpected ways. You begin to notice what you do, which is a great way to begin any meditation practice.
So what is it for you? Opening your front door when you leave for work? Starting the car? Swiping the MetroCard? Opening your laptop? Brushing your teeth? Anything. Anything we do without thinking can be the seed for our own spiritual transformation. Working with our own personal gathas can turn all our rote activities into little gateways toward an awakened mind.
May all beings benefit.
Start your day with a fresh perspective
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.