All of us need to have a spiritual dimension in our lives. We need spiritual practice. If that practice is regular and solid, we will be able to transform the fear, anger and despair in us, and overcome the difficulties that we all encounter in daily life.
The really good news is that spiritual practice can be done at any time of the day; it isn't necessary to set aside a certain period exclusively for "Spiritual Practice" with a capital "S" and capital "P." Our spiritual practice can be there at any moment, as we cultivate the energy of mindfulness and concentration.
No matter what you're doing, you can choose to do it with your full presence, with mindfulness and concentration; and your action becomes a spiritual practice. With mindfulness, you breathe in, and there you are, well established in the here and the now. Breathing in, touching your full aliveness, is a spiritual practice. Every one of us is capable of breathing in mindfully. I breathe in, and I know I am breathing in -- that's the practice of mindful breathing.
The practice of mindful breathing may be very simple, but the effect can be great. Focusing on our in-breath, we release the past, we release the future, we release our projects. We ride on that breath with all our being. Our mind comes back to our body, and we are truly there, alive, in the present moment. We are home. Just one in-breath, one out-breath can make us fully present and fully alive again, and then the energy of mindfulness is there in us. Mindfulness is the energy that makes us fully present, fully alive in the here and the now.
If we go home to ourselves, and if we notice that our body is carrying some tension and pain, it is mindfulness that lets us know about it. Mindfulness is what brings us back in touch with what's happening in the present moment in our body, in our feelings, in our thinking, and also in our environment. It enables us to be fully present in the here and the now, mind and body together, aware of what's going on inside us and around us. And when you are very mindful of something, you are concentrated on it.
Mindfulness and concentration are the core energies of spiritual practice. We can drink our tea in mindfulness, make our breakfast in mindfulness, and take a shower in mindfulness, and all of that becomes our spiritual practice, and gives us the strength to handle the many difficulties that can arise in our daily life, in our society, and so on.
Wherever you are, simply becoming aware of your body and whatever state of relaxation, tension or pain (or even all of them at once, in different areas) is there, you already are realizing some understanding, some awakening, some awareness -- some enlightenment. And when we know there's some tension and pain in our body, we may like to do something to help relieve it. We can say to ourselves as we breathe in and out: "Breathing in, I am aware of some tension or pain in my body; breathing out, I allow the tension and pain in my body to release." This is the practice of mindfulness of the body.
So spiritual practice is possible for all of us. You cannot say, "I'm just too busy, I have no time for meditation." No. Walking from one building to another, walking from the parking lot to your office, you can always enjoy walking mindfully, and enjoy every one of your steps. Each step you take in mindfulness can help you release the tension in your body, release the tension in your feelings, and bring about healing, joy and transformation.
Excerpted from 'Peace Is Every Breath: A Practice for Our Busy Lives' by Thich Nhat Hanh, reprinted with permission by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.