In the middle of an interview with bestselling author, Sarah Susanka, an alarm beeped.  She’d just come out with her book, The Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters which focuses on time and self-transformation.  She pulled the alarm off of her belt and reset it.  “This is my fifteen minute exercise,” she said.  The alarm exercise helps to cultivate awareness and draw the mind to pay attention to the present moment, she explained.  It acts in the same way that meditation functions, but the buzz or vibration reminds the practitioner to stop and pay attention to how she feels, what’s going on around, what’s happening inside on deeper levels.

Meditation is one of the best ways I’ve found to develop awareness.  My experience with meditation began with training at Lerab Ling in the chilly air of the mountains in the South of France under the gentle instruction of Tibetan Lama, Sogyal Rinpoche.  We sat under a large white tent as the Mistral wind whipped around and Rinpoche reminded us to bring the mind home.  This meant to be right here in this damp, cool place and not let my mind wander off to craving for chocolate croissants and espresso.  Someone struck a bell and the meditation period started.  I squirmed and so did many of the hundred or more people until the bell rang out again.  It took many years of practice before I realized that bringing the mind home simply meant being here, now.  Easy to say, not easy to do.
At first meditation seems more like a struggle than a pleasure.  But a wise teacher suggested I treat the mind like a little child and gently prompt it back to the candle flame I aimed to focus on.  After some time and a good bit of patience, the mental chatter lessened and the sense of expansion grew.  The real challenge is how to maintain this expansive, openness throughout the day.  I’ve heard teachers say that real meditation begins when we become fully conscious of each and every moment – that is when we pay full attention to each luscious fork full of food and we fully concentrated on the muscles, aware if the surroundings when we walk or exercise.  This kind of meditation in action is the desirable state of joyful being where peace spontaneously arises.  Bringing conscious awareness into conversations, looking into the other person’s eyes, and thinking before speaking help to integrate awareness into each instant.  Perhaps being conscious of what we say and do might transform both of these and create a better environment and a better world.

Back at Susanka’s the beep buzzed again.  We both paused and enjoyed being silent for just a moment.  In the rush of daily life it was a pleasant gift.  As Susanka continued to experiment with the alarm and awareness, she developed new ways to use it.  “You start to notice that you get conditioned and you can literally turn this thing off without being aware you’re doing it,” she said.  The automatic gestures, the repetitions that we tune out are a way of tuning out to life itself and not being awake. “You can start to be aware of how frequently you have not noticed and turned it off automatically,” she said.  But the real aim is to be conscious now.  “Now it’s like the day is perforated with moments of real presence.  It’s amazing how much more you really start to show up.  That’s the real key to this exercise,” she said.  Susanka’s exercise takes me back to the tent in France and rings a bell as a constant reminder to wake up and deeply appreciate the only time we have – the present.

Bio: Debra Moffitt is the award winning author of Awake in the World: 108 Practices to Live a Divinely Inspired Life. A visionary, dreamer and teacher, she’s devoted to nurturing the spiritual in everyday life. She leads workshops on spiritual practices at the Sophia Institute and other venues in the U.S. and Europe. Her mind/body/spirit articles, essays and stories appear in publications around the globe and were broadcast by BBC World Services Radio. She has spent over fifteen years practicing meditation, working with dreams and doing spiritual practices. More at and on Facebook at:

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