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.
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.
Some examples of gathas:
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.
Going to Sleep
Falling asleep at last
I vow with all beings
To enjoy the dark and the silence
And rest in the vast unknown.