Jan Chozen Bays is a pediatrician, a meditation teacher, and the author of Mindful Eating. She is also the abbess of Great Vow Zen Monastery in Oregon where the mindfulness exercises in this book were developed and refined. For more information, visit www.greatvow.org/teachers.htm.
Just so there is clarity about mindfulness, Bays offers the following definition: "It is deliberately paying full attention to what is happening around and within you — in your body, heart, and mind. Mindfulness is awareness without criticism or judgment." This practice offers ample benefits to those who adhere to it over a lifetime: it trains and strengthens the body; it is good for the environment; it creates intimacy; it stops our struggling and conquers fear; and it supports our spiritual life.
In this paperback, Jan Chozen Bays has put together a set of mindfulness tools that can be used to deepen and enrich your everyday spirituality. For example, here is Bays' "Leave No Trace" exercise:
"Choose one room of your house and for one week try leaving no trace that you've used that space. The bathroom or kitchen works best for most people. If you've been doing something in that room, cooking a meal or taking a shower, clean up in such a way that you leave no signs that you've been there, except perhaps the odor of food or fragrance of soap."
In her exposition, the author writes: "In Zen paintings turtles symbolize this practice of leaving no traces, because they sweep the sand with their tails as they creep along, wiping out their footprints." Whenever we are tempted to leave a stack of dirty dishes in the kitchen sink or a pile of clothes on the floor of the bedroom, it would be helpful to bring into our minds an image of a turtle as a spur to clean up our messes and leave no trace.
Here's another mindfulness practice: "Use loving hands and a loving touch, even with inanimate objects." Bays recounts how in Japan objects are often personified: tea whisks are given personal names and broken sewing needles are given funerals and laid to rest. She quotes Zen master Dogen who put this in perspective: "When you handle rice, water, or anything else, have the affectionate and caring concern of a parent raising a child."
Other mindfulness practices which we found helpful and healing are: Bottoms of the Feet, Notice Dislike, Signs of Aging, Be on Time, Impatience, Study Suffering, and Leave Things Better Than You Found Them. Bays has delivered a treasure trove of down-to-earth spiritual practices. We are so grateful for all the mindfulness which went into this project.