Excerpted from "Beginning Mindfulness: Learning the Way of Awareness" by Andrew Weiss. Published by New World Library.

Gathas are small poems designed to help us in meditation practice, whether we are sitting, walking, or slicing potatoes. A gatha accomplishes several aims: It occupies our thinking; it sets a direction for our practice at that moment; and, if used correctly, it helps us to be mindful of our breathing.


Unlike a mantra, which is the same for all occasions, we can have specific gathas for specific activities. We can have gathas for waking up in the morning, for turning on the light, for using the toilet, for turning on the television, for answering the telephone, for driving the car. The list of gathas can be as long as there are activities. For example, here is a gatha for driving a car:

This car is my legs.
It goes where I choose.
When I drive with awareness,
Everyone lives in safety.

If we use this gatha when we get into the car or while we are driving it, we will have an aid to keep our attention on our driving. The gatha also directs our attention to-ward the interbeing nature of ourselves and the car ("This car is my legs"). Each gatha encourages mindfulness and also seeks to awaken us to the true nature of the world as it is contained in that action.

Gathas are best used in coordination with our breath. As we breathe in, we can say the first line to ourselves; as we breathe out, the second line; and so forth. In this way, we touch the act we are performing with the gatha, and we touch our breathing too. As we become more grounded in our breathing, mindfulness of breathing will assist mindfulness of the action, and so breathing, action, and gatha go together. Each reinforces the other, and our ability to be in the moment is increased.

Some people find it difficult to remember an entire gatha. It may be easier and simpler to remember one or two key words from each line, words that will remind you of the rest of the line. For example, here is a gatha for sitting meditation:

Sitting in the present moment,
I breathe mindfully.
Each in-breath nourishes love,
each out-breath, compassion.

Here the key words could be present moment, mindfully, love, and compassion.

What do you do if you are breathing in and you feel anything but love, or your mind is running riot? When using gathas, encourage your true feelings to surface rather than suppressing them. For example, you might be saying, "Each in-breath nourishes love" but thinking, "It certainly does not. I'm tired and miserable!" The gatha is doing its work, pointing you in the direction of being more loving and compassionate toyour aching back while you allow your feelings and thoughts to arise by being fully present.

Here are some gathas for daily use. Notice how each gatha sets a direction for mindfulness. You can make up your own for any activity of which you particularly want to be mindful during your day.

Waking Up
As I wake up, I welcome a new day,
A mindful smile with every breath.
May I live each moment
With compassion and awareness.

First Steps of the Day
As I take my first step,
My foot kisses the floor.
With gratitude to the earth,
I walk in liberation.

Turning on the Water
As I turn on the water,
My body's essence pours before me.
Clouds, oceans, rivers, and deep wells
All support my life.

Washing Dishes
Each dish I wash
Is my most cherished child.
Each movement contains
Boundless love.

Flushing the Toilet
My body's waste is compost.
Down the hopper it goes,
Returning to the earth.

Walking Meditation
My mind can go in a thousand directions.
Now I walk in peace.
Each step creates a warm breeze.
With each step, a lotus blooms.

Sitting Down for Meditation
Sitting in the present moment,
I breathe mindfully.
Each in-breath nourishes love,
Each out-breath, compassion.

Sitting Meditation
Each thought, each feeling
Creates the world.
I hold joy and suffering
Tenderly in each breath.

Calming the Mind
Chasing after the world
Brings chaos.
Allowing it all to come to me
Brings peace.

Turning on the Television
Mind and television
Receive what I choose.
I select well-being
And nourish joy.

Preparing Food
Earth, water, sun, and air,
All live in this food I prepare.
turning on an electric light
Ancient trees, water, and wind
Join my hand to bring light
To this moment.

Problems at Work (by Robert Aitkin, Roshi)
When things fall apart on the job
I vow with all beings
To use this regretful energy
And pick up the pieces with care.

Hugging (by Thich Nhat Hanh)
I am so happy to hug my dear ____ .
I know (s)he is real in my arms.

Going to Sleep (by Robert Aitkin, Roshi)
Falling asleep at last
I vow with all beings
To enjoy the dark and the silence
And rest in the vast unknown.

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