A Daily Practice: Take Centering Moments

Adapted from Edwin Lynn, "The Sacred Moment,"
in Scott Alexander, ed., Everyday Spiritual Practice.

Life is precious. Every day is blessed, and living our lives fully doesn't happen automatically. The tasks of the day sometimes require our focus to shift away from simply experiencing our world just as it is, and ourselves in that world.

We can, however, create sacred moments. Several times a day -- at least once every day -- stop and drink in the moment for a minute or two. This practice works especially well outside: pausing during a walk, say, or stepping out your back door for moment. To better remember each phase of this practice, memorize these six “S words":
  • Sight
  • Sky
  • Stance
  • Smell
  • Skin
  • Sound
1. SIGHT: Look around. Note what's in view: trees, grass, the color of buildings, or of the dirt. If you're stopping in a spot where you've stopped before, try to notice new discoveries and be aware of subtle daily changes in the blossoms, leaves, shadows, and colors. If you're by a pond, for instance, you'll notice the water changes moment by moment, depending upon the wind and sun. Water is especially sensitive to light, and the breeze creates a ballet of changing reflections.

Don’t just look. Let the sights sink in. Let them integrate in awareness with your other senses.

2. SKY: Often, we see only what is at eye level, without being aware of the sky. Whether it is cloudy or bright, you'll find that when you are aware of the sky, you are more aware of the day. The sky gives context to the day and reminds us of our physical and spiritual presence in the world.

3. STANCE: As you look out at your surroundings and the sky, become aware of your stance on the ground, your rootedness and connectedness with the earth. Feel this relationship through your legs and feet. Notice the ways you are centered and grounded.

4. SMELL: Smell is the most fundamental of our senses, strongly associated with deep memories. If you've had the experience of returning to a place after being away for some years, you may have noticed the distinctive smells, rather than the landscape, are what you most vividly remember. A delicate sniff can catch the subtle aromas of a pond’s misty moisture of natural flowers or of local vegetation. Attention to aroma heightens the reality of the moment.

5. SKIN: Bring attention to what you're feeling on your skin: the temperature, the movement of air. We usually pay little attention to the wind unless it's very brisk. Most of the time, though, there is at least a slight breeze -- which you'll notice if you train yourself to. Maybe you can feel the breeze differently on different parts of your face? How warm or cold is it? The feeling of warmth from the sun or the damp chill of penetrating cold is also a part of the moment about which your skin can tell you.

6. SOUND: Sound is the crucial focus of a sacred moment: listening is its theme and its essence. Listening keeps us in the moment so our minds don’t wander. The sacred moment intensifies and lengthens our time of seeing into a time of being. To reach a sacred moment, look relatively straight ahead and don't allow yourself to be distracted by any moving sights. Listen to the wind, the leaves, the water, and the birds. With these outer sounds, the chatter of inner thoughts is kept from intruding upon the moment. If you are not listening, you know you are not in the experience, but still trapped in your head, thinking of the past or the future.

See the landscape and sky, feel the ground and the breeze, smell the water. And in particular: listen.

You can certainly also create a sacred, centering moment while you're indoors. In the morning while showering, for example, you can use to time for this practice. The sights are obviously limited, and you cannot see the sky, but stance, sense, and smell are particularly acute. Listening to the water as it splashes on your body throughout the shower is the key. It makes the shower more enjoyable. It also connects you to the larger waters of lakes, rivers, ocean, and skies. To make breakfast another sacred moment, avoid watching television or reading the newspaper; there will be time for those connections later. The morning is an optimal time to let heightened awareness engage the glory of the day.

The difficult part is allowing the extra time. It is very easy to rationalize that one doesn’t have the time. But if you'll take these pauses, you'll probably find you're always glad that you have.

Then, an end-of-the-day walk is a great time not only for the exercise -- with the usual daydreaming -- but for applying the principles of this practice to create a walking meditation. The sights and sounds are richer, though the distractions are more plentiful. Be especially aware of the sky and of the variation in smells from place to place — even of the wind changing direction along the way. Again: listening is key to staying in the moment.

The preciousness of the day is enhanced in direct proportion to its number of sacred, centering moments. Through sacred moments, we can quiet our mind’s inner chatter, and transform our experience of merely seeing into one of more fully being.

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