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Don't lose the moments: Practice present-moment awareness using Gatha Meditation

I believe living a virtuous life - meaning living in the balance between the two extremes of excess and deficiency - is essential for our well-being and mental health, and ultimately for having a more purposeful and happy life.

Present-moment awareness or mindfulness is one of the virtues, we need to cultivate in our life. Present-moment awareness is a key attribute of living a fulfilling life. When our mind and our heart are present as each moment unfolds, we are more aware in each moment of how we feel, what we think, and how we behave. Then we do not react impulsively to the things that happen to us and in our relationships with others. How many times have you said something and done something out of the explosion of some strong feelings like anger and then regret it? For me, it happens many times! Or how many times you were experiencing some precious moments like playing with your toddlers or being in the arms of the love of your life, and in the middle of it you find yourself totally somewhere else? That also is a familiar scenario, isn't it? Present-moment awareness or mindfulness helps us to truly be engaged with our experiences. The quality of a mindful engagement with our experience is of being open and non-judgemental. Looking at the everyday happenings with a fresh eye as if they are happening for the first time, highly increases the quality of our day-to-day experiences.

However, mindfulness is not only about being present with day-to-day routines, with our joyful experiences, or having self-control regarding our actions and emotions. Mindfulness can also help when we are experiencing difficult moments in life. Allowing ourselves to be and feel our difficult emotions, difficult bodily sensations, or even our actions, remove their intensity. It is so liberating when we stop striving so much to suppress our difficult -feelings and -senses and the fears that come with them. We can then connect to ourselves with more patience and trust that all is fine and all is just as it is and it is OK. I really like this saying from Jon Kabat Zinn: "as long as we are breathing there is more right with us than wrong with us", and practicing present-moment awareness reminds us of that.

There are many many ways to cultivate present-moment awareness on the daily basis and practice not being on autopilot all as moments of life unfold. With a little google search, you can find dozens of them. Here I would like to give a practice called "Gatha meditation" which comes from Buddhism. It is a great way to practice mindfulness with a touch of creative expression and positivity.

What is Gatha meditation?

A Gatha is a Sanskrit term meaning song, poem, or verse. Gathas are intended to create an awareness of the present moment and a connection with the immediate future based on Gatha’s contents. Gatha is not about repeating a word or sound with the intention of creating a relaxed state. Instead, Gathas help to catalyze moments of mindful living as well as a positive action for the immediate future. Gathas help to give us a chance to strengthen our 'observing mind' and be more aware of our experiences. Gathas are also being used in mindfulness-based strengths practice. To get more familiar with this type of meditation, you can look into Gathas by Thich Nhat Hanh, who was a prominent Buddhist monk, and a peace activist. Below is an example of how you can develop your Gatha.

Purpose To strengthen a positive quality or virtue and increase present-moment awareness.

Steps 1. Choose a Character Strength/virtue (e.g. gratitude or patience) or a quality such as being calm and smiling that you like to strengthen.

2. Sit down in your favorite posture, close your eyes, and relax in your position.

3. Bring your attention to your in-breath and out-breath for a few moments.

4. As your attention is on your breath, start syncing your breath with a Gatha. Silently repeat to yourself the sentence “I am breathing in” with the in-breath, “I am breathing out” with the out-breath. “I am breathing in”, and “I am breathing out”

5. Now use the character strength (e.g. Love) or the quality that you like to strengthen in you as the one-word cue. “in” on the in-breath, “Out” on the out-breath. For example, breathing in I am "calm"; Breathing out I am "smiling".

6. Once your concentration has stabilized a bit, you can try releasing the words, and simply letting your awareness settle on the breath.

7. When you start to think of something else or you start to feel something else, just observe this and return to the Gatha.

8. If all of a sudden you notice twinkling in your body, or relaxation reactions in your muscles, that is fine….. observe and go back to the Gatha.

9. Now slowly bring your thoughts back to the rest of your body and into the room.

Sitting for Meditation (By Andrew Weiss)

Sitting in the present moment, I breathe mindfully.

Each in-breath nourishes love,

Each out-breath, compassion.

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