2018 was a banner year for me. I turned 40 in October and spent time in Southern California at Deer Park Monastery tucked away in the chaparral mountains at a retreat among Buddhist monks. During my week’s stay I turned my attention inward and learned what it meant to truly come home to myself in a way I’d not experienced prior.
It was 30 minutes of blissful bell tolls at the beginning and end of each day that helped bring me home to myself, to my heart center. The monks took turns ringing a giant golden bell to bring us into a meditative state during which the only goal was to be present to your breath. For the monks, the bell chimes were routine. For me, they were sacred.
We also followed Thich Nhat Hahn’s bell practice throughout the day, pausing whenever we heard a bell of any kind as an invitation to come home to ourselves. We certainly observed the morning and evening bells, but we also took pause for seemingly mundane tones too–like the bell on the toaster oven, washer/dryer or a telephone ring.
This can be a little funny at first, before you understand the practice, but it’s truly a brilliant, effortless way to work meditation and mindfulness into your daily life. Thich Nhat Hahn calls this Engaged Buddhism. He says that one breath mindfully taken can be as powerful as an hour of meditation.
Since I’ve been home from the Deer Park Monastery retreat, I’ve aligned my spiritual practices with my daily schedule. While I was away, every time the morning and evening bells rang I felt a wave of euphoria wash over me like the undulating waves of the ocean. It was as easy as breathing, and that’s exactly what I focused on during those brilliant 30 minutes.
I’ve compiled 3 added practices derived from the Deer Park Monastery’s teachings. Easily implement these practices into your daily life for greater self-awareness, more meaningful meditation and spiritual awakening.
Spiritual Practice 1–Set an hourly alarm on your phone
Set an hourly alarm to remind you to stop and take a breath–or two or three. Make sure the alarm tone is something pleasant and enjoyable to hear. When my personal bell goes off, I stop whatever I’m doing and take 3 deep, cleansing breaths.
I remember my ex-fiance once set up a daily alarm for me in my phone that said, I love you. It was such a beautiful and sweet reminder to have pop into my world. This was amazing until I was shooting a TV show for the OWN network in this beautiful house in Los Angeles. My phone was in my purse in the back room of the house. The alarm went off, the audio guys could hear it and it completely blew a take. I still feel mortified when I hear that ringtone, but I love the gesture so much.
Spiritual Practice 2–Write out Gathas and place them strategically around the house
Gathas are little verses or poems that can be used as part of your daily mindfulness practice. It’s helpful to learn the Gathas and recite them silently during any activity of your choice, from making the bed to doing the laundry or even while cooking. Reciting the Gathas helps you focus and really concentrate on what you’re doing, on your awareness, on your breathing.
Thich Nhat Hahn has a beautiful book called Present Moment, Wonderful Moment that I just happened to bring with me to the monastery by “accident.” It’s filled with his gathas for mindful living. The book felt like a guiding light that led me to mindfulness at every moment during my stay at the monastery.
I loved Thich Nhat Hahn’s gathas so much that I came home and used my label maker to put gathas all around the house to help bring me home to myself during the day. One of my favorite gathas is for washing your feet (I use it when I’m taking a shower):
The peace and joy of one toe is peace and joy for my whole body.
This reminds me to be loving, kind and mindful of every part of my body. It’s also a powerful reminder that the health and happiness of one body part is a wonderful force for good across the entire body. There is meaning on a global level too, feeding the philosophy that world peace starts from within–or perhaps with my baby toe.
I love seeing these sweet, thoughtful reminders every day. But you don’t want to go too far with hanging up visual cues. Remember that if everything is important then nothing is important. Mindfully choose what you want to see regularly in your space for your own personal happiness and presence. I like to change the gathas in my home often to keep them feeling very alive and current.
Spiritual Practice 3–Find a community
I was able to track down a community of Thich Nhat Hanh followers in Santa Cruz called Sangha. It’s quite a distance from my house, but I do my best to schedule work in Santa Cruz on one of the meeting days each month to be around like minded, spiritually centered people. We gather mostly in silence and practice open hearted meditation. We perform walking meditation, sitting meditation and enjoy a Dharma talk before the day is over. It is absolutely magical.
Don’t underestimate the power of community. Most every human I know–single, married, with kids–experiences feelings of loneliness at one time or another. Sometimes we even feel lonely next to our partner or in a room full of people. We all need contact with others, especially those who share similar beliefs and values.
These spiritual practices have made a world of difference not only in my daily life and wellbeing, but also in my overall sense of wholeness, joy and peace. I hope you will consider adopting one or more of these practices as a way to enhance your already beautiful life and spiritual journey.
Read more about how the principles I preach and practice are deeply connected to the psychology behind why we accumulate Buried Treasure, or rather, clutter.