Firstly, one should have a meditation practice where one sits and experiences reality just as it is. So, this is not just sitting and doing nothing. This is sitting with reality (and all the events reality brings) as it arrives in the present moment. With a straight spine, and your chin slightly tucked in, you are practicing being still and with reality as it arises breath by breath. From the occassional car that passes by to the gurgling stomach that may sound into silence, one embraces the ever-changing moments of our lives with mindfulness, energy, interest, investgiation that leads to calmness, focus and equanimity. One uses the breath and the tactical sensations of the belly to anchor the mind in the here and now. The mistake many practitioners make is that this practice is just about concentration. This is incorrect. This practice is about approach reality with wakefulness and the seven factors of awakening stated in the Mahasatipatthana Sutta should shine during your sitting meditation. Meditating either at the start of the day or in evening are two options. Meditation can be as long as 5 minutes per session and increase them to an hour as you become more comfortable with sitting.
However, a centering practice should not just be on the cushion. We can cultivated this practice throughout the day. A practice that one can perform repeatedly throughout the day becomes an important and complimentary practice for being calm and clear when you need it. It is a practice which nourish one’s mental-emotional condition and repeatedly uplifts their mental attitude serving as a “centering mechanism” when your mind and body condition is less than ideal. This wisdom roots in the Buddha’s teaching on Right Effort, one of the limbs from the Eightfold Path, which teaches that the practitioner should foster and maintain positive states while reducing and eliminate negative states of mind as an aspect of cultivating more freedom in our lives. Interestingly, this teaching fails widespread acceptance in the modern Buddhist community especially in the Mahayana movement of Chan,Son, and Zen. I find it a crucial teaching that assists the adherent to walk the path of liberation more effectively.
So, for example, my repeated daily practice, in the past, was kirtan chanting. I am a lover of Kirtan chanting and I am a fan of spiritual artists such Krishna Das and Premal Deva. I recount the situation with a co-worker where there was a charge between us from a misunderstanding concerning who will be the emergency contact for the retreat. It was the silent internal chant of Krishna Das’ Shri Ram Jai Ram Jai Ram. throughout the day that cultivated a loving and centered mind that assisted me to accept and clearly respond to that tense situation. It was as if I was priming the pump of clarity and positive regard. This chant fosters a mental focus and an emotional cleansing of disturbances for me and I produced high quality work in the process. By shifting my mind towards positivity, it was easier to become more centered. Presently, I have the simple practice of walking a path that occurs many times during the day. This path is the time when I rest my mind in my centering practice. This, for me, is the example of applying the dharma and from its application, seeing the results of this wisdom. This is not only why my confidence in this dharma increases, but where the enjoyment and happiness blossoms from the practice. My enjoyment of the path solidifies as my intention towards personal freedom from reactivity (as Batchelor puts it) fuels my wish for societal freedom from reactivity.
When embarking on adopting a centering practice, the first step is to know thyself. What do you enjoy that can be ubiquitously embraced throughout the day? Let us say, for example, that you are a foodie and you happen to be a chef. A meal for you is not just an activity. It is a sacrament. You are the kind of person who will travel 60 minutes to try out a new restaurant which had an outstanding review in the New Yorker. You love to cook and shop for ingredients for dishes. If food holds a place in your heart then you have found your centering practice. Each time you think and/or touch food, you could think about the farmers, producers, shippers, carriers inspectors, etc who facilitate this product to be in your hands. The key is that the activity should have a powerful affective influence on your mind and body as well as it should be a practice that can be accessed regardless of time or place.
So, as a good framing tool for this kind of practice, I came across Arnold Lazarus’ B.A.S.I.C I.D. model when I studied for my Masters Degree in Psychology years ago. It provides a good frame to investigate and create this kind of practice: The acronym comprises of the following:
(A) Affect or Emotion
(D) Drug or Biology
So, for example, cleaning (Behavior) is a joy (Affect) for you which is done many times randomly throughout the day. It is easy to imagine (Imagery) that the wiping away of a dirty surface, that you are wiping away the defilements of craving, aversion, laziness, restless or worry, and doubt or indecision from the mind. You love the smell (Sensation) of cleaning scents and you even create your own cleaning product that uses the lotus flower scent to remind you of the Buddha’s Lotus Flower sermon. Finally, a mental mantra (Cognition) could be “Be Here Now” as you wipe mindfully the surface.
The practitioner can use many aspects of the BASIC ID model with the important consideration that whichever activity they choose, it provides a powerful positive resonance which can be accessed without restriction throughout the day.
Another tip: Some practices are more conducive to times of solitude versus times than engaging people. When you are alone walking or engaged in an activity, practices like chanting or contemplating a koan are possible. However, if you are interacting with people, then awareness contemplations from the Mahasatipatthana sutta, for example or thumbing wrist mala beads during the conversation maybe less intrusive to your engagement with that individual. These practices assist in centering the mind while down regulating an excited limbic system if the situation causes a reaction from the practitioner.