Simple Sensory Rituals

Morning Teatime

Morning Teatime

The ordinary is the extraordinary
Gustav Flaubert

Simple sensory rituals bring comfort and grounding to daily living. They nourish the soul. To observe the ordinary and become mindful of the sacredness of life itself, whether handling daily chores or taking time out for small innocent pleasures, is a statement of profound spiritual power. You wed Heaven and Earth as you focus on the beauty and meaning of even the most mundane task. 

There are many routine activities where I can focus on mindful awareness and a sense of the sacred. Some are simple chores like dishes, laundry, cleaning, and preparing food where I can consciously practice the Presence of God. Others, like emails, writing, financials, and things that take focus and concentration, just have to be made sacred by setting an intention and then doing the work. I don’t make a big deal of rituals for most of these things, though I do love to make time for some kind of ritual in my life.

One of the tasks that can feel like a cleansing ritual is doing the laundry. From dumping the soiled clothing into the washer, and adding soap and warm water, the alchemy of cleansing begins as the soil, stains, and dirt are released and washed away. Drying the clothing is an act of returning to form as the twisted wet cloth relaxes and releases back to a soft and original shape. Then the ceremony of returning the garments to their proper places in closet and drawer makes the clothing accessible, returning them to beauty and usefulness once again. 

Bring the muse into the kitchen.
Walt Whitman

The very commonplaces of life are components of its eternal mystery.
Gertrude Atherton

You are to gather up the joys and sorrows, the struggles, the beauty, love, dreams, and hopes of every hour that they may be consecrated at the altar of daily life.
Macrina Wiederkehr

Some other sensory rituals that lead me to a sense of safety and expansion:

• Cleaning the planters on the first warm day after a long cold winter (or planting, or trimming back, or digging my fingers in good brown dirt).
• A bouquet of roses—and when the timing is right, sunlight and a digital camera to photograph their glorious beauty
• Writing poetry or a song lyric
• Beeswax candles lighting the room and scenting it with honey sweetness
• Essential oils of desert sage, pinon pine, and spruce releasing a high desert fragrance in my home
• Early bed for much needed rest
• Meditation, especially helpful when I’m feeling overwhelmed
• Bells, chimes, rattles, drums
• Colored pens or pencils, a notebook/ crayons and a coloring book
• Singing, especially singing my own songs
• A cup of hot jasmine oolong tea in my hands as watch a sunset 

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn offers many ideas for ways to be mindful and aware in his books and writings. Here is one suggestion:

Prepare a pot of tea to sit and drink in mindfulness. Allow yourself a good length of time to do this. Don’t drink your tea like someone who gulps down a cup of coffee during a workbreak. Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the whole earth revolves—slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment. Only this actual moment is life.
Thich Nhat Hahn, The Miracle of Mindfulness

The Wisdom of Silence

Spring Beauties

Spring Beauties

To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.
Lao Tzu

Silence enriches and changes us. Learning to be in silence on a regular basis brings a greater flow and ease to life. We access body wisdom as well as inner wisdom. We find rest, refreshment, and an expanded awareness that is more sensitive to life. We discover a new playfulness and childlike receptivity. We become more at home in the universe and in our own bodies. 

The time spent in silence spreads its influence beyond our practice of silence and stillness. The moments of silence radiate out into our days, gradually transforming our experiences of life. Drawing on the deep wisdom of the timeless and eternal, we discover that our daily round of errands, laundry, meetings, work, relationships, and social obligations begin to partake of the attributes of timelessness, peace, and even eternal bliss. The living listening presence that is at the core of who we really are as human beings becomes the center around which all the rest of life orbits.

• Exercise: Share silence intentionally with others. Setting aside silent time as a group is a powerful way to be together. Be silent with others consciously, setting aside an agreed upon time and place to be in quiet together. Enjoy a discussion afterward about how it felt and what you learned. Or leave in silence, connected to the energy of the group without needing words. 


Inviting Sacred Silence

Heart of Gold 

Heart of Gold 

Just remaining quietly in the presence of God, listening to Him, being attentive to Him, requires a lot of courage and know-how. 
Thomas Merton

Sometimes we fear silence. Mesmerized by our own noise, inner and outer, we stay remote and try to convince ourselves that we are in control as we flip from channel to channel, surfing through variations of the same theme: I am not enough. I must have all this stuff to validate my existence and prove my importance. I must fill my ears with others’ opinions and the noise of media madness, otherwise I will be out of touch—and therefore I will not really exist. Whether it is the misery of the inner monologues of self-defeat and victimhood or the toxic streams of criticism, anger, fear, gossip, and the belief that we are dependent on outer circumstances, we stay frozen in place, in a trance. We turn up the volume and lull ourselves to sleep, forgetting who we are and why we are here.

We enter the silence only to find that the silence is also entering us. Make no mistake, choosing silence means a life change—a death of the old, a birth of the new. It is a death to our old definitions of self and the defenses we used to protect our old beliefs. It is a birth into a new self that is open, receptive, and believes that anything is possible, for our potential arises from the vastness within. We are able to hear something new, think more expansively, and become a place where greater consciousness develops.

• Exercise: Do nothing for five minutes. Don’t get up and adjust anything. Don’t write ideas down. Just sit and be present, right here, right now, for five minutes. This sounds simple, but it is harder than you think. The temptation to get up to do something or be distracted is very powerful. It helps to keep a pencil and paper handy so you can take notes to be acted upon later. I find this a great exercise when I want to update my list of things to do—I remember in the silence what was forgotten in the rush of daily living. 

Affirmative Prayer
Today I wait in God's Presence, listening for wisdom from within. Today I visualize light, love, and healing for those in my life who are experiencing difficulties, and for those who are on the other side of the world who are facing challenges and tragedies. I know that the very nature of God is expressed in each person. The nature of God is love, courage, kindness, and joy. Where there is unrest, I speak peace. Where there is joy, I offer gratitude. And where there is faith, I know that love and light are there in response. 

I am also offering a special prayer for Christchurch, New Zealand, Japan, the coasts affected by tsunamis, and all who have been touched by the recent earthquakes. (note: November 2013: I met someone who lives in Christchurch who says the earthquake totally devastated the center of the city, including most of the old stone buildings, which had to be torn down. So very sad. Still, there is rebuilding, though debate continues on what will be saved, and what must be part of a new design. Many in the creative arts community moved to other places in New Zealand. Kiwis have a strong pioneer spirit. I know that the old cannot be recaptured, but there are so many stories of creative reinvention and Christchurch is recovering. )

Meditation as Medicine

To meditate does not mean to fight with a problem.
To meditate means to observe.
Your smile proves it.
It proves that you are being gentle with yourself,
that the sun of awareness is shining in you,
that you have control of your situation.
You are yourself,
and you have acquired some peace.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

It is our nature to harmonize with the natural rhythms of the universe, yet we have for the most part forgotten how to do this. In a world in crisis, it is vitally important to regain this lost art, and to attune our lives to the silent pulse that lies beneath all forms and manifestations. To develop a quality of listening presence in our lives, we must begin by stilling the disjointed judgments and chatter of our minds, calming our emotions so we are free to move from conventional thinking into our deeper, more intuitive perceptions. We can choose to move beyond the time-bound limitations of a stressed-out lifestyle to enter into the timeless and eternal. Meditation is one way to help us do this. 

Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh calls meditation medicine, and I find it is so with me. I may come to meditation thinking I'm fairly calm, but soon realize how much tension and inner pain I am carrying. I learn that my life has great potential be sweet and sane, if I recognize the sweetness and sanity in the present moment. I also see that I carry pain and fear, telling myself mental stories about past disappointments or future dread. Meditation is a safe place to stop, listen, and become fully present, teaching my monkey mind to let go of its chatter and settle into peace and awareness. Sitting in meditation acts like medicine, calming my mind, centering me in my body, placing me in the sacred abundance of the here and now. 

My time of meditation reminds me that becoming conscious doesn't necessarily change the conditions (at least at the beginning) but it can help me be more able to bless whatever comes, whether I consider it "good" or "bad." In meditation we let go of defining “good” or “bad” and simply observe what “is.” This is a radical acceptance that removes resistance to change, allowing a deeper perspective to emerge.

Sometimes change feels like a death, for it is always death to the small self/ego to be out of control and unable to predict what is going to happen. Yet if the larger life, the better self, is to be known and appreciated in my life, then I will sometimes feel as if I am less in control of the situation/person/my own reactions. Releasing judgment and control allows openness where I can receive the nourishment of the Presence of God, which teaches me that this moment, here and now, just as I am, is good. Doing this also helps me open to new possibilities, wider perspectives, and fresh ways of being one with life. 

Openness and receptivity create a space for something new to enter. You'd think I would embrace this. Instead I feel ambivalent. A time of mindful meditation helps me observe the ambivalence and remove myself from the judgments of good/bad. It creates space for even a small seed of insight, the merest seedling that breaks through into the sunlight of a passionate life. All that stillness and observing creates room in me for passion, awareness, awakening.

As I practice meditation, I feel less need for talking or explanations. I’m finding that I don’t want to talk away the energy that is working like yeast of transformation within. Change is happening, but not in any way that can be fully described to others. I’m tapping into a source of inner power I’ve only tasted before. I’m also consciously choosing to replace the fear thoughts with faith thoughts, sometimes calmly, sometimes in spite of the emotional turbulence as the old ego way attempts to gain ascendancy over me again.

Change that others can see is beginning to appear in subtle ways. I have had unexpected compliments from others that tell me I’m glowing like a woman in love, or have become beautiful as my energy has shifted. If I’m in love, it is with life lived from the quiet center of my being. If I have brighter and more beautiful energy, it is because I’m connecting to an inner power and peace. I used to think something “big” had to happen: a giant career leap, a thrilling romance, a sudden change of fortune. Now I’m learning that the silent pulse of a deeper change takes place before any dramatic outer changes occur. I sense that inner changes are preparing me, moving me into the expanded consciousness that makes all other change possible. 

I am quietly, peacefully surrendered right now, doing the hidden work that no eye can see. I’m no one special, no longer needing to be in front of people performing and proving how amazing and wonderful I am (or wish I was). Now I’m just being, watching the seasons breathe around me, feeling life stirring deep within, but not knowing how it will unfold. It is enough that I am in this place of peace, rooted in the inner Source. I sit on my meditation cushion, quietly allowing the medicine of mindfulness to work its mystery in me. 


People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes. All is a miracle.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

Your work really begins when you release the struggle.
To let go of struggle initiates a change of vibration within you.
This change puts you in touch with the flow of Life Itself,
which is essentially what you are. 
To cultivate your awareness of this flow is your real work.
— Swami Chetanananananda

There are unknown forces within nature; when we give ourselves wholly to her, without reserve, she leads them to us; she shows us those forms which our watching eyes do not see, which our intelligence does not understand or suspect.
— Auguste Rodin

The ancient Hebrews saw their beginnings moving ahead of them carrying them along, with their future following behind, also moving at the same time. One could in this sense feel both the past and the future actively part of one’s life and, in a state of intense meditation, unite all moments in one. For the person who could access it, the power of creation could be brought into the present.
— Neil Douglas-Klotz

There are beautiful and wild forces within us.
— Saint Francis of Assisi 

Listen, my children, with the ear of your heart.
— Saint Benedict

Absolute unmixed attention is prayer.
— Simone Weil

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
— Max Planck

To reach cosmic understanding, it is necessary to unite our feeling with that infinite feeling that penetrates everything.
— Rabindranath Tagore

The extraordinary thing is that the insight of the heart is the magic that unleashes talents and potentialities within people that have been blocked as a result of their suffering.
— Pir Vilayet Inayat Khan

All nature is alive, awake, and aware with the divine presence,
and everything in life responds to the song of the heart. 
— Ernest Holmes 

True spirituality is not religion—it is a state of being. 
— Mary Hession 

There is only one time when it is essential to awaken.
That time is now. 
— Buddha

Keep practicing, even when you seem to be getting nowhere.
— George Leonard

We must make choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves.
—Thomas Merton

I see life in terms of transformation:
matter being transformed into life, life into consciousness,
consciousness into Divine Experience.
— Bede Griffiths

Drink your tea slowly and reverently,
as if it is the axis
on which the world earth revolves
slowly, evenly, without
rushing toward the future.
Live the actual moment.
Only this moment is life.
—Thich Nhat Hanh

Affirmative prayer

I am deeply connected with the Infinite Mind in this sacred moment. This Infinite Power is within me and I now choose to nurture the God-given gifts which wait like seeds within my heart. I dare to dream a larger dream for my life, because my dreams come from God. I have the power to create great abundance. I now claim that power, sense it growing and expanding within. I know that this power is the Life Force wishing to express itself through me. I welcome this living, loving energy into my life and know that I am being transformed in this moment. I choose to nurture this seed of faith within and to cultivate spiritual fruit in my life. Before I prayed, God has already answered, and I rejoice in the flow of energy, passion, goodness, and joy that overflows in my heart. I thank God for this clean, clear, fresh awareness. I now sense that being leads to doing, that presence and practice lead to effortless transformation. 

Sources of inspiration you might enjoy 

I began practicing regular group meditation at the Nashville Mindfulness Center late last year. It has become a lifeline during stressful and challenging days. The practice of meditation offers a way to integrate mindfulness with other spiritual practices and traditions. I find that meditating with an experienced leader and group is helping me go more deeply into practice than I could on my own. 

The Nashville Mindfulness Center] (NMC) is a Buddhist meditation center located in Nashville, Tennessee. Founded in March 2006 by ordained Tiếp Hiện (Order of Interbeing) member Skip Ewing, the NMC is dedicated to the practice of mindful meditation in the tradition of Zen master and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Thich Nhat Hanh.

One of the best known and most respected Zen masters in the world today, Thich Nhat Hanh (called Thây by his students) has led an extraordinary life. A Vietnamese Buddhist monk, a poet, a scholar, and a peace activist, his lifelong efforts to generate peace and reconciliation moved Martin Luther King, Jr. to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. His community of practice in France is usually referred to as the Plum Village Sangha. For more about the work of Thich Nhat Hanh visit the Plum Village website.

I also attend Nashville Center for Spiritual Living and have been taking classes there for many years. Though I have often called myself a Lutheteryfourpalian (Lutheran, Presbyterian, Four Square, Episcopalian) I now draw from the richness of many spiritual traditions, discovering a common thread in the kaleidoscope of images, cultures, and language of different faiths. I have not thrown the Christ Child out with the bathwater, but I have learned to see Christ in the faces of those whose beliefs differ from mine. NCSL offers a safe place to explore spiritual questions while honoring all paths to God.