On Saturday 7th December, 2013, during the usual exchange of questions the students ask each other, Dema Gempo asked Leki Dorji, ''How do you meditate?''
In return, Leki said ''I sit on the cushion, keep my back straight, place my hands on the lap, touch my tongue to the upper palate, lower my gaze and concentrate on my breath.''
Each day, the twenty students with shaved heads and red robes sit on cushions they’ve made out of repurposed plastics, broken umbrella covers and worn out cloth, facing the small shrine and white board. The person in charge of the bell sits in the front of the room, and strike it once, producing a sharp and high note to set the students into the world of sitting practice for three minutes. This moment is cherished for being very silent and aware of each present moment. The beauty of silent sitting is perceptible when we hear the trickling sound of water, the cheeping of tiny birds from the bushes, the whining of exhalation and inhalation, the slapping of the tree leaves, the tapping of footsteps, etc.
One can hear many common sounds when the class atmosphere is dominated with silence, which we usually fail to spot during most of our daily activities. All our senses become receptive and alert to their respective external stimuli. The very gentle air puffing over our cheeks, the pain in our knees, itching in the various parts of our body, back pain, the sensation of the cushions under our buttocks, and sensing the weight of our hands in our laps are some of the negligible feelings that go unrecognized most of the time, but which are recognized when we sit and practice. These are basic foundation which allow us to climb the ladder of mindful practice, and even to realize them at this small level are positive changes in the right direction.
Contemplative practice has been part of our class since the inception of our program. It is a practice that involves looking inside oneself and focusing one's awareness on the present moment. Our students anchor on their inhalation and exhalation while keeping their spines straight, slightly lowered gazes, hands on the knees, and tongues touching the upper palate. Self-awareness of our students begins with paying attention to their senses and nurturing the present moment.
The art of being mindful can be witnessed from the arrangement of slippers and shoes along the entrance door of the class every morning. It looks very neat and well set up. It also reminds one that the same practice can be done with other activities outside our classroom. The arrangement also portrays an end result of mindfulness as attractiveness, and provides a simple opportunity and platform to practice, thus widening the prospect of practices. Whenever student's are not being mindful out of forgetfulness, as a teacher one can always remind them.
The practice of mindfulness has changed our students in some ways, compared to when they first began. When we introduced mindfulness to our students the biggest challenge was not being able to control our student's laughter and giggling. Most of them became easily distracted by their friend's little giggles, and I vividly remember having to restart our mindfulness sessions all the way from the beginning several times. Today, this habit is not common anymore with our students. That the students are now maintaining good physical posture is another positive change I have witnessed in our students. Most of them can sit straight and maintain the required posture. I have also seen a few students taking this same practice into their rooms, and finding time to do it privately. Often I hear students teasing each other for not being mindful when they make simple mistakes in their performances. I feel that the students can now sit and practice for longer durations than in the beginning. These are a few measurable observations and changes I have witnessed with my students.
While the ultimate goals of meditation may remain beyond our imagination, the relative aims that induces us to practice mindfulness are to become aware of daily activities, calm our minds, control our thoughts, develop concentration levels, and to be creative.
Our practice has been positive and helpful to our students. From time to time, we give further instructions, and have also asked the Khenpos to talk about mindfulness and mediation. These help to guide the students’ practice, so that it is done authentically and in the right way.