Mindfulness has become quite the buzzword these days. Yet there’s still this misconception that it is only sitting quietly, cross legged, attempting to empty your mind. Visions of Buddhist monks dance through our heads while we become increasingly maddened because most of us aren’t Buddhist monks. While there’s certainly benefit from more traditional meditation, meditation is only one form of mindfulness practice. There are as many ways to practice as there are moments in a day since mindfulness is simply purposeful attention to the present moment.
I say simply but we all know (even those Buddhist monks) it’s actually quite difficult. Most of us live hectic, distracted lives surrounded by others living hectic, distracted lives. Which is why we call it a practice. And here are some easy ways to practice it in your daily life without having to change a thing other than your focus.
I know, I know, I said I was going to give you other mindfulness practices. But I think it’s important to share that a more formal meditation practice doesn't need to last for a half hour or longer. If you have interest in cultivating a meditation practice but either think you don’t have the time or patience, start with one minute a day and increase it by one minute each week or every other week or at some pace that feels manageable for you. I promise you’ll notice the difference even with this tiny amount of silence (or attempted silence) and the increase will be so gradual that soon you’ll be doing a half hour without even realizing it (if that’s your intention).
Or running. Or biking. Or yoga. Physical activity is the perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness because we have an action and environment to concentrate on. Just notice how your body moves without judging it. Your feet hitting the ground. Your breath gasping for that elusive air. Sweat pouring into your eyes. Notice the sights, sounds, and smells of your surroundings. The birds singing. The new flowers blooming. The sweaty dude next to you who almost certainly ate a burrito right before class. And then when your mind wanders (as it will) notice that and bring it back again to your body or your surroundings.
This is a Buddhist concept everyone should adopt. All it requires is taking one breath between finishing and beginning any activity. When the phone rings take a breath before answering it. When a stoplight turns green take a breath before you put your foot on the gas (Pay no attention to the miserable blokes honking their horns at you as you do this.). When you realize you aren’t breathing take a breath. We often live at this insane pace where everyone talks without thinking, eats without thinking, does everything else without thinking, and there’s increased misery as a result. Breath for a millisecond folks and life will automatically slow down enough to engage and revel in it.
For those of you who are religious. Sometimes there is also this misconception that mindfulness is at conflict with religious practices; yet, every religion has its own mindfulness practices even if that isn’t the technical term. Focused prayer has been shown to be extremely powerful even for those who are not particularly religious.
I saved the best for last. We all hate them but we have to do them. Yet when we fully engage in them we can transform them into a more pleasant and fulfilling experience. Most chores involve repetitive movements which is perfect for cultivating the peace and calm that we seek from mindfulness. Really concentrate on that soapy dish in your hand or the back and forth of the broom’s bristles. You’ll probably also end up with a cleaner home as a result.
Now get creative. What other easy ways can you think to begin to incorporate mindfulness in your daily life?