I am involved in end of life care for someone I dearly love, whom many other people love dearly as well. My loved one has lived a long life and has touched those around her with her kind and open heart. It's not easy to watch her preparing to leave us. We all have her best interests at heart, but right now, the best action is inaction, according to her doctor and her own wishes. As her primary caregiver at the moment, I'm facing the challenges of insisting on her right to these wishes; others don't agree and I don't always respond with my best yogic compassion.
It's been my experience that lifelines come when I need them, sometimes in unexpected ways. I happened to pick up a copy of the September issue of Shambhala Sun the other day. I'm not a Buddhist, but there is much in Buddhist philosophy which interests me. This issue contains several articles on meditation, among them how to find the time to meditate, especially when facing challenges. So it was that I came across a lovely and simple practice for those of us who tend to slough off our meditation, especially when other events seem more pressing. It's called "The Ten Breaths Practice." (You can click on the practice name for more information.) It's based on the knowledge that beautiful things-a dragonfly, a child's laugh, a piece of cloth-pass through our lives every day, but in our rush to be somewhere else, we fail to pay attention. This practice challenges us to stop, to notice these wonders for the length of ten breaths.
Everyone has ten breaths in them (and if you don't, you don't need help in meditating), so this removes the excuse that we have no time to practice. It challenges us to pay attention to what is happening now, several times a day. We can practice anywhere, any time, without fuss. There's no need to sit, no requirement to practice in a particular space, on a special cushion or to ignore whatever else may be going on with us.
If you're a fibre artist with a more practical inclination, you can apply this practice to your work. The next time you're knitting a sock, for example, take the time to observe the beauty of the yarn, the clever shaping of the object, the wonder of your hands, just for the time it takes to knit one round. My guesstimate is that one round of sock knitting requires between one and five minutes to complete, depending on the speed of the knitter and the complexity of the sock. You're knitting anyway, so why not truly pay attention? The same effort can be applied to spinning; once in a while, rather than spinning mindlessly, bring your attention to what is happening as you spin an arm's length of yarn. (It's not our goal, but I'm betting that your knitting and spinning will improve from the extra attention.)
We can apply this care for detail and the moment with anything we do. If our attention insists on wandering, we can bring it back to that ten breath period and breathe in the beauty of Now. We may find beauty in the cheerfulness of a bird singing; it may manifest itself in the grace of someone's departure from the planet. No matter where it appears, pay attention, for the ten breaths that are in us all, until they are no more.