Mindfulness and meditation go together like muscles and strength-training. Mindfulness is an attribute we exercise during meditation, and meditation is a practice (I believe the best practice) to cultivate mindfulness. However the rubber really meets the road when we can bring that mindfulness off the meditation cushion and into our everyday lives. Mindfulness doesn’t have to be limited just to the times we can set aside to meditate at home or at the local meditation center. We can start to blur the boundary between our practice and our lives, living more and more in the present moment and appreciating the richness in the world around us.
So how do we do that? We can actually bring mindfulness to EVERYTHING we do, but it can be tough to remember to stay mindful every second. So we can try setting our intention to do a few specific activities mindfully, and to use them as reminders to come back to ourselves, to come home. Below are my favorite activities to practice mindfulness with.
- Eating. Admittedly this is probably #1 because eating is one of my favorite things to do. It involves all 5 senses, and the senses are great really simple tools to help us tune in to what’s going on now rather than getting lost in the past or worrying about the future. Eating gives us smells, textures, and tastes to play with, to bring us back to our bodies. It’s also something we often do with other people, so if we can be mindful when we’re eating, maybe we can bring some of that mindfulness into our interactions with other people. Eating is something many of us do automatically and mindlessly, so bringing mindfulness to this activity can truly enrich our eating experience and our everyday lives.
- Walking. At Shambhala, every session of meditation alternates sitting meditation with walking meditation. When we stand up off the cushion and start to move through the room as part of our meditation, we take a step closer to bringing our meditation into our everyday lives. If you like, you can try bringing your attention to the soles of your feet as you take each step, again bringing yourself back to the present moment through your body and senses. Try this when any time you’re walking – you don’t even have to slow down your pace, you can just flash on the bottoms of your feet!
- Looking at the sky. Our connection to the earth and nature can make us feel small and infinite at the same time. Whether we’re looking at a sky full of stars or at the clouds on a grey day, looking up, even just for a minute, can connect us to something larger than ourselves and help us approach our situation from another view that is expansive and open.
- Washing dishes. I’m not joking. This is actually an amazing one and is similar to eating mindfully in that there are many senses at play when we wash the dishes – we can feel the warmth of the water, the smell of the soap, the sound of the running water. These are all ways to come back to our bodies and to bring some space and relaxation to a normally mundane task. It’s also a great lesson in impermanence – how soon after we wash the dishes are they dirty again? How often do situations that we thought we fixed shift again? Maybe there’s a theme here 😉
- Transitions. I recently attended a meditation retreat where the teacher reminded us to be mindful as we stood up from the meditation cushion. This was a great practice because it created a fresh start of sorts when we reached standing, and from there it was easier to maintain that sense of mindfulness as we walked out of the meditation hall and into our lives. Every time we make a transition, from sitting to standing, from standing to walking, from walking to running, we’re giving ourselves a chance for a fresh start!
- Rolling out of bed. This is our first transition of the day and doesn’t require any additional work! We’re gonna roll out of bed no matter what, right? So why not pay attention to our bodies as we do? Many bodyworkers advise rolling onto your side then swinging your legs out of bed first, instead of sitting upright in bed then getting out. The rolling way is much easier on your back, and it just feels more gentle and easy. So as you remind yourself to roll, I invite you to just flash on your entire body and check in with how you’re feeling before you rush into your day.
- Creative endeavors. Creativity isn’t just for art (although art is a wonderful direct way to experience creativity) – you can exercise creativity in business, in parenting, even in driving. To me, the common thread is a sense of space and getting out of your own way to allow outside-the-box experiences to arise. When we’re being creative, we have an opportunity let go and to tune into what’s going on right now in our environment, rather than being stuck inside our own heads.
- Waiting, waiting, waiting. In line at the grocery store, in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, on the freeway in traffic. When we’re “stuck” in one of these situations, we can use this as an opportunity to practice. We can notice what our minds automatically start to do – do we get fidgety, impatient, start to make lists or complaint letters in our heads? As soon as you notice, you can then come back to the connection between your body and the earth – if you’re standing in line it’s through your feet, if you’re sitting it’s your bottom on the chair.
- Drinking coffee or tea. There is something oddly calming and nourishing about drinking hot drinks, even if you’re drinking them to wake up. And because they’re hot, you HAVE to be mindful as you take your first sip to make sure you don’t burn your tongue! So use it as an opportunity to slow down, back up, and just breathe.
- Confrontations. This one may be the most interesting one to wrap your head around. When we encounter difficult situations with other people, whether it’s a sig-o, co-worker or even a stranger, the emotions that follow usually jolt us awake, right? Well what if we could use that jolt to our advantage? What if we could use it to remind ourselves to check in with what we’re feeling or fearing underneath the knee-jerk reaction? What if we could use it to remind ourselves that we’re all just doing our best at this being human thing?
I was recently in a car accident (don’t worry, I’m ok, although my car isn’t so much), and if you’ve ever been in one, you know you get shocked out of your mind when it happens, even if it’s a minor accident. Rather than resorting to my initial reaction of wanting to blame the other party (it was in fact her fault) and make sure she admitted it, my mind and heart went to checking if she was ok and connecting with her as this other person who had experienced the same shock I just had. I don’t think that would have happened without my meditation practice and being on this path of mindfulness.
You really can apply mindfulness to everything you do in your life. The list above is just my favorites that you can use as specific reminders. If you’re new to this type of thing, I suggest you start with 1 or 2 of your favorites and commit to them, then you can add on. Let me know how it goes in the comments below!