I’d like to begin by presenting some exercises that take from ten seconds to a minute to do. These exercises use a practice I’ll call ‘Pause and Ask’. This is a very portable exercise; it’s brief and you can do it just about anywhere, standing up or sitting down. It entails first: the Pause. Stop doing and talking – and as that shift happens, relax. Relax the muscles in your shoulders, your jaw, around your eyes, in your belly and anywhere else where you can feel tension and holding on. As you relax, payattention to the feeling of your body. Widen the ‘lens’ of your attention over this sense of being embodied, here. Focus as if you’re listening. Take ten seconds (or more if you like) to settle into this.
The next step is to float the question: ‘What’s happening for me now?’ You’ll probably find that a train of thoughts arises in your mind. If so, sum up that train in one word – like ‘busy’ or ‘eager’ or ‘irritable’. If, instead of a thought, you experience an emotion or mood, then give it a word that fits. In either case, the question will move through your consciousness where it might contact thoughts, sensations or an impulse to do something. It might eddy around in an air of uncertainty. We can deal with where it goes later. The point right now is that the inquiry shifts attention into conscious space or ‘awareness’.
Relax the muscles … widen the attention …
Float the question ‘What’s happening for me now?’
Acknowledge that. For a moment you’re watching or listening to what the question brought to
light rather than engaging in what you’re thinking or feeling. Avoid judging your thoughts or moods. The main thing is that you have shifted to watching your mind. And with that you can sense what’s happening for you from outside the experience rather than by being engaged or immersed in it.
Once the shift has happened, check in with whatever your question ‘what’s happening for me now?’ reveals, give it a simple label and give yourself a few moments to feel ’ busy’ or ‘eager’ or ‘irritable’ without doing anything about it. Remember to stay in touch with and try to keep your attention spread over the whole of your body. This will help you to stay balanced. Don’t act or react. By avoiding actions and reactions you will allow a fuller and more helpful response to the mood to arise. You may sense calm, acceptance or clarity about what’s happening for you. So this shift into awareness is important; it gives you a chance to get an overview on what you’re feeling or doing, to change direction or to let things pass.
This reflection by Ajahn Sucitto is from the book, Clarity and Calm—for Busy People.