Your life's hidden gateways into awakening
There is a Buddhist practice called Gatha Practice that has inspired me to walk the dharma like it was my own. Gatha Practice takes the mundane activities we engage in every day, and turns them into gentle nudges awakening us to our true nature. This article in Lion’s Roar by Zachiah Murray does a wonderful job of unpacking the practice.
When I decided to try this in my own life, it was incredibly illuminating. I had to begin by asking myself what my particular gathas would be? What do I do automatically, without thinking about it? This act alone, this decision to notice my mindless activities, automatically made me more present to my life. The act of then creating a deeper relationship with those activities became fulfilling in an unexpected way.
Here are some of the things I’ve started using as gathas every day.
Checking the weather.
Early in the morning, one of the things I do unconsciously is tap the little weather icon on my phone. I do this before getting dressed. Fleece jacket or tank top? This unconscious tap is a habit I can turn into a gatha:
As I click the icon, I can silently affirm:
(Inhaling) As I breathe in, I notice the temperature. (Exhaling) As I breathe out, I practice loving what is.
Right away, this short circuits all the preferences (shit, it’s going to rain, or when is this hot (or cold) spell going to let up?) and for just a moment, I’m invited to embrace everything exactly as it is. A profound sense of peace can develop over time when working with this simple gatha every day.
Check Instagram or Facebook.
If possible, before clicking the icon, I try to take a breath and observe my state. So often, it’s just a show-me-something-cool thing. More often, it’s the drug of choice for my inner narcissist. (How many likes/follows/etc.? And for which posts, so I can see what works and milk it). At the pre-clicking-of-the-icon stage, my only job is to observe.To see whatever’s going on and then, (this is crucial), to notice my judgments about it.
If you’re doing this, spend an extra half-second here. Then click.
(Inhaling) As I breathe in, I notice my thoughts. (Exhaling) As I breathe out, I practice making space for all of it.
Making space for every thought, judgment, opinion, wish, regret, and resentment…this requires us to refrain from getting hooked by those things. Making space puts us back in the driver’s seat, brings us out of our heads and back into our bodies. At the pre-clicking-of-the-icon stage, my only job is to observe. To see whatever’s going on and then, (this is crucial), to notice my judgments about it.
Try it right now. Think of something that routinely kicks you into a reactive place. Then try on the thought of making space for it. Just back up a little and give it some room to be whatever it is. Notice your throat, your belly, your jaw, your feet. What happens?
Taking a shower.
Since starting this experiment, I’ve realized how many things I do by rote. The shower is a perfect example. I always do it the same way, cleaning various parts of my body in the same order. At the end, I always brush off the water with my hands in exactly the same way before getting out and drying off. I do it all without thinking.
Taking a shower as a Gatha Practice turns this robotic moment into a time of deep gratitude.
(Inhaling) As I breathe in, I feel the blessing of cleansing, hot water and a safe place to shower. (Exhaling) As I breathe out, I practice gratitude for all the blessings I may have overlooked before.
You 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 start.
So what is it for you? Opening your front door? Starting the car? Swiping the metro card? Stairs? Elevator ride? Opening the laptop? Brushing your teeth? Anything. Anything we do without thinking can be the seed for our own spiritual transformation.
Working in this way, we create our own personal dharma. These gathas help us deepen and love our life right where it is. And eventually, the practice can transmute all our rote activities into the thousand little gateways toward an awakened mind.
May all beings benefit.