How to Practice Mindful Meditation During Regular Life
Religion and I have had our rounds, but it is clear to me that I believe in a morally correct way to live, it mostly involves harming no others and allowing people to have self liberty. In my late teens and early 20’s I explored every major religion and almost converted to Judaism before I started to take what I was learning from Buddhism’s seriously. Today I practice a spiritual path profoundly based on Zen Buddhist teaching and rituals.
Mindfulness is the state of mind that is aware of what is happening in the present without judgement or inference. This can be applied to thoughts, breath, movements or even emotions. One big lesson of buddhism that we won’t get into too much today is the idea of living without judgement, accepting things as fact and moving on. It’s important to remember we are all on a path, who I am today is not who I was yesterday or who I will be tomorrow. Always accept the present as truth, because it is.
Mindfulness happens in seated meditation just as often as it happens in regular life. Being mindful has change my life, but not in a quick detox, card reading sort of way but in steady, slow, life long way. This blog post is here to guide you in the general principles of mindfulness so that you can start using in in meditation as well as your regular day. For each person being mindful is different, start small with a task at a time and one day you will find yourself being mindful without effort.
Mindful meditation is one of the many ways I practice and use meditation, however it is not the only. Meditation can be practiced in other ways such as chanting or bows while you use mindfulness in other aspects of your life; or you can practice mindfulness in both life and meditation.
If I am using mindfulness when in zazen, or seated meditation, to begin I always focus on my breath and getting into an even and steady rhythm. Once that is complete I open my mind and allow any thought to enter and leave without judgement, without trying to find meaning or connection and without attaching to any one idea. If I find myself ruminating on an idea or problem, I return my focus to my breathing until I can allow my mind to open again.
There are 4 pillers of mindfulness meditation and not all sects of Buddhism practice them in seated, if you want to know more you can start here.
As essential to our existence as breathing and thinking is movement. It is the most important and perhaps easiest way to begin the action of being mindful, it takes no extra time and no extra preparation. Knitting, baking bread, making a cup of coffee, weeding in the garden, all can be transformed into moments of mindfulness. The key traits stay the same, become aware of things exactly how they are without judgement, critique or inference.
Remember this is a lifelong practice, the more you do it the better and easier it becomes.
Not just for single activities, there are some easy steps to take to create a mindful day.
- Do one thing at a time
In a world dedicated to multitasking and notifications it can be quite hard to focus ourselves on one task. Even when I am making my morning coffee I am also doing squats and pushups. However, when at all possible focus on just one thing, maybe for you starting with the dishes or morning coffee is just the right place. I think about this with my garden. I never enter and say I am going to weed everything today, I say instead, I am going to weed the tomato bed, or the flowers or under all the trees. This act of focusing the task and thinking about only weeding the tomatos is mindfulness. Just as easy is to turn off the TV while you are eating, you can only do one things at a time anyway, why not start focusing on how you are chewing. This action of mindfulness will help you eat slower and more completely, and may help you reach your recommended 20 chews per bite essential for proper digestion.
- Do it slowly and deliberately
This doesn’t mean in slow motion, but instead without rushing and without thinking about the next task. Doing it deliberately is about focusing your energy, just like in seated meditation. See what you are doing, understand what you are doing but do not judge what you are doing. This is especially important for your morning wake up routine and commute. We can often get into autopilot getting dressed, brushing our teeth, getting out the door. However, I urge you to become aware of the actions you are taking, rushing your teeth, putting on your shoes, aware of driving or walking to the bus stop, aware of arriving, aware of beginning your work. Once at work mindfulness is likely impossible, so allowing your time before work (or directly after) to be mindful will give you more rest and clarity to solve the day’s busy problems.
- Do it completely
This act of mindfulness is really a training for my dreamy, artistic, floating piscean soul. Yet the meaning is clear; if you start something, finish it. I’ve been practicing this step of mindfulness while planning classes, recipes, working in the garden, or even when starting a cleaning project. It is too easy for me to put something down and leave it there for a few weeks. Focusing on doing things completely is helpful for me, however the reality is, I am often not able to do things completely. Remember in mindfulness there is no judgement, if you fail to finish the task be aware of that, accept it as fact, and try to be better next time. Don’t spend time and energy worrying yourself and especially don’t think badly about yourself.
- Do Less
This one is even having a good round in corporation wellness and occupational psychology blogs. The idea of doing less is not a very American value but it is the highest factor in health and wellness outcomes in all segments of the population. We talk about working ourselves to death, and in the ever connected internet world with cellphones and side-gigs in tow we are constantly doing more and more. Once I was recommended to make my daily to do list and to cross one thing off of it. It may sound funny to make a todo list and not do everything, but honestly how often to do finish your whole to do list anyway? Doing less and becoming aware of what you can do has helped me tremendously. Through mindfulness I know how to manage the time and become aware of each activities natural length, so I can make finishible to do list instead of endless ones.
- Put time between things
One friend has taught me that doing less can actually mean doing nothing. They plan into their day an hour or two for wandering or rest when they do absolutely nothing but daydream and wonder (and not about work either, but about new things they learned and the chapter they read before bed last night). I found this such a plainfully simple action with profound consequences. It is when our brains are at rest they can make connections and new ideas. As a creative in the gig-culture doing less will make me more creative and give more potential to what I am able to do. Adding time between things has made me more effective too, with even just 10 minutes of rest I fell better than when I moved directly from teaching to lunch making.
- Develop Rituals
This is one of my favorite mindfulness exercises. I have used it to add sweeping my house into every morning, as well as reading into every night. Developing rituals is how life in monasteries work because of ritual everyday is different yet the same. You wake at the same time to practice meditation, although your style or intention could change that day. You eat meal in the same place, way and time even if the food is different. You work a certain amount of hours, and you rest a certain amount of hours even if the working and resting tasks change. You sleep at the same time every night after completing your final meditations of the day. You may already have rituals without knowing it, the goal is to become mindful of them and aware of what they are and how they fit and help your day. Rituals can also include praying, card reading, lighting candles, etc., but I urge you to keep your rituals private. The act of sharing them makes them a bit less mindful because you took the picture already thinking about the future.
In the end mindfulness is most about being in the present.
Being with your friends without taking out your phone. Reading a goodnight story to your children every night. Breathing deep and focusing on one thing at a time. In the end nobody, not even the monks, are perfect. Do your best and do where you are. Mindfulness is lifelong and doesn’t happen overnight. Today, tomorrow and the weeks to come will all offer you different moments and ways to be mindful, your only job is to decide to see them and accept them and to do one thing at a time.
Thanks for reading.
all images in today’s post are by Francesca Carrpinelli