My ideal beginner’s practice is this: noticing how you open and close doors.
Go through a door now and notice how you do it. That is the entirety of the instruction. No, seriously, if you don’t stop reading this and go and do it at least once, there is very little point in you reading the rest of this article, or this blog for that matter. Lots of contemplative teachers recommend this one.
Ok, so you’ve done it. What did you notice?
Did you recall the whole process? Did your mind wander even during? Did you crash through or step through daintily? What did the handle feel like? What sounds did the door make? What were you looking at during the movement? How did your body feel? How did you feel about the whole process?
Movement practices are superb to begin with (and to carry on with), because they encourage awareness of the body- something obvious, concrete, and close to your heart to examine. But this practice also encourages awareness of your surroundings too, and your interaction with them.
Your interaction with your surroundings is important. Opening a door carefully can be an act of kindness to the person you’re avoiding slamming it into. You could avoid waking up someone next door by slamming it. It’s a humble act, showing concern, showing you are aware that other people exist and matter. On the other hand, maybe you opened it timidly: worried about what was on the other side, afraid of disturbing anyone on the other side, as if you’re the one who doesn’t matter.
It’s a heedful act, too. You open possibly a hundred doors every day, but where was your mind while you were opening each? Every little one, an opportunity to enjoy your surroundings. If that sounds stupid, then what is fun other than lots of little moments of joy? Appreciation of those is another underpinning for a full life. Doors can be pretty beautiful, you know.
Without getting too philosophical, there’s a change involved, too. You go from one realm into another. There can be a very different world in one room to another. One could be filled with your favourite people, and another could be where the worst thing in your life happened to you. What does that feel like, in your bones?
If you want to get ultra technical about it, you can do some Mahasi noting practice and really deconstruct the whole experience. Here’s an exercise from Bhante Bodhidhamma: reach for the door at one tenth normal speed, feeling your arm, labelling it ‘reaching’. Touch the handle, noting ‘touching’ (slowly). Turn the handle, feel the pressure of the spring, the weight of it, the texture of it (slowly, darn it), labelling each tiny experience.
There are a zillion things going on here, and that’s what your life is made up of. You might find yourself approaching that door a little differently next time.