Gathas are short, simple practice poems that help bring mindfulness, concentration, and insight to daily activities.
The word Gāthā is Sanskrit for "song" or verse." Gathas are often recited mentally, rather than aloud, in rhythm with the breath.
I was so fortunate to be introduced to the practice by my teacher Thich Nhat Hahn, who said:
"Dwelling in the present moment, we can see so many beauties and wonders right before our eyes — a child’s smile, the sun rising, the autumn leaves. We can be happy just by being aware of what is in front of us. Practicing with a gatha can help us return to ourselves and to what is going on in the present moment."
Practicing gatha verses is a lighthearted, accessible way to meditate while engaged in any activity in our daily life.
When we take time to unite the breath, the mind, and the body's activities, we guide ourselves into a deeper, more direct experience of our surroundings and our selves.
Ready to try it yourself?
Step One: Recite the Gatha
Simply pause what you are doing (this can be a challenge in itself!) and notice what's around you. Then create a mental pause by reciting — silently or out loud — the entire gatha:
As I put on my mask
Aware of my connection to all people
Aware of my slight discomfort
My compassion flourishes for everyone
We allow the meaning to touch our hearts. We're not just having a pleasant thought. We are embodying the compassion and connection with every cell of our being.
Step Two: Synchronize with the Breath
A gatha is intended to be practiced in alignment with the breath. Once we have a feel for the gatha, we can correlate each line with an in-breath or an out-breath.
As we say or think, “As I put on my mask,” we breathe in, bringing our full awareness to the moment of our arrival to the present moment.
Next, we say or think, “Aware of my connection to all people” while we breathe out, entering a direct communion with all human beings and inviting deeper compassion.
Then we say or think, “Aware of this slight discomfort,” as we breathe in, we are aware that our minor discomfort is impermanent and will be of great benefit to everyone.
Finally, as we say or think, “My compassion flourishes,” we breathe out, resting with our hearts filled with compassion, remembering our beautiful inescapable connection to all life, and the joy of being alive in this present moment.
Step Three: Shorten the Gatha (when we are ready)
Once we've practiced with the gatha for a good while and have truly internalized it, we can shorten it.
For example, breathing in, we say or think, “Mask.” Breathing out, we say or think, “Connection.”
Breathing in, we say or think, “Sacrifice” and lastly, breathing out, we say or think, “Compassion.”
When we have sincerely internalized a gatha, just a few words will be enough to generate awareness of the whole gatha.
Think of gathas as meditation in motion. They loosen the tangled web of our thoughts, opening us to experience the magnificent present moment.
They help us remember our connection with all of life as we mindfully engage in the activity before us.
When the mind drops into the heart, joining in communion with the breath and our physical actions, we see life as it is, and ourselves as an integral part of it.
Here are a few simple examples of gathas that might come in handy throughout the course of your day:
While writing an email:
As I place my hands on the keyboard
I let my mind settle and my body relax
Aware my words and actions are my only true belongings
Allowing my words to be true and express kindness and compassion
I sense the flow, of my words, of my pains sometimes,
I bring to it my sweetness and good humor.
Returning to the office after COVID:
As I leave the safety of my working from home
Human beings have overcome many epidemics
Change is unavoidable
We are all in this together
Opening my heart to change
Relaxing and not resisting what comes next
Meeting with the boss:
Aware of the stress bubbling up in me
Relaxing any tension in my body
Aware of any anxiety manifesting
Remembering my breath will calm me down
Washing my hands:
Water flows over my hands
Grateful to have clean water whenever I need it
Feeling refreshed and clean
I can begin again
The aroma of coffee
Many the earth and much hard work by many people
Sipping my coffee
Gratitude for this refreshing pause in my day
Savoring my coffee
Feeling the connection to the earth and all it provides for me
Sanitizing your hands:
Lifting the bottle of hand sanitizer
I am alive & so free
As the liquid drips onto my hand
My heart softens to all suffering during the pandemic
I see you
Guest post by studio BE faculty member Sid Montz.
Sid Montz was introduced to Buddhist meditation and yoga in 1987 in La Jolla, CA while studying at University of California San Diego. From that time on, yoga and Buddhism have been an integral part of his life.
Through all of the twists and turns in life, Sid practiced many styles of yoga and multiple lineages of Buddhism. Eventually, he was certified to teach at Yogaworks LA, where he became a RYT-500 YACEP yoga teacher. He's been fortunate to study and train with many senior yoga teachers over the years, in a variety of disciplines.
Sid's specialties are yin, restorative and yoga nidra classes, in which he blends mindfulness practices with a lighthearted atmosphere where all are welcome.
While Sid has trained, practiced, and taught in many Buddhist traditions over the years, his primary teacher for over a decade has been Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn. Thich Nhat Hanh is a global spiritual leader, poet, and peace activist, revered around the world for his pioneering teachings onmindfulness, global ethics and peace. Sid is ordained into the Order of Interbeing of this lineage.
Sid also taught 6th-12th graders meditation and yoga for two years at Tree Academy for Creative Arts, New Technology and Social Justice in West Hollywood, CA.
Feature image via fizkes/Adobe Stock