Practicing Mindfulness During the Day
Got this question today:
‘Hi Roger, do you think a daily meditation is enough to develop mindfulness?’
And my reply:
Put simply, no.
Mindfulness must be actively applied during the course of each day. After all, it’s a habit like everything else, and to build a habit, we need to practice.
But that sounds more onerous than it is. When I say ‘practice’ it doesn’t have to be something formal, which will interfere with our daily life. Rather it’s simply a conscious switch of focus as we go about our daily life – and more importantly, remembering to do it.
Essentially, mindfulness is meditation in motion. Consider what we’re doing when we meditate. We sit down, close our eyes, and pay attention to the breath, following the movement of our belly as we breathe. This anchors our attention to the present moment. As such, with our attention fixed in each moment, we notice when it gets distracted by something else – which then gives us the opportunity to adjust the way it behaves – to let go and return to the breath.
Mindfulness practice is similar.
Difference being, the main object is whatever we’re doing as we’re doing it.
When we practice mindfulness, rather than leave our actions to the robotic machinery of our habits, we practice being aware of what we’re paying attention to, and the habits that are in play, as if we’re learning the actions all over again. In this way we can adjust whatever actions we’re making, and help change the habits behind them.
Basically, mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, anytime – while waiting for a train, walking to the shops, mowing the lawn, cooking, driving – anything done mindfully is good practice.
For example, let’s say you’re walking somewhere.
Instead of daydreaming as you walk, take the opportunity to practice mindfulness. I’ll list a few of the ways:
- Slow down a little – not to a snail’s pace, just enough to remove the ‘rush’ from what you’re doing, so you can walk at a leisurely pace.
- In this instance walking is the main object. Pay attention to the actual experience of walking. Try to follow each movement your body makes as you walk, focusing your attention on the sensations.
- Note any feelings that come up – whether of pleasure, boredom, happiness, anxiety or whatever.
- Note whatever distracts your attention and return to the contemplation of your body as it walks.
- Notice your posture as you walk. Adjust it if it’s not straight and relaxed.
- Re-examine the movement of your feet and each action you make – how you’re using your body, the shifting motion of your muscles.
- You’re still aware of where you’re headed and where you are, but you’re paying active attention to all the actions involved in the act of walking.
Here’s another example, in more detail this time.
You want to drink a glass of water. Usually this seems simple, and we do it mindlessly – grab a glass, turn on the tap, fill it and drink. Our habits automatically take care of all this, delivering the water and drinking it for you while your attention is elsewhere, thinking about other stuff.
But if you’re practising mindfulness, you’ll pay conscious attention to every one of the actions you make to drink the glass of water.
It sounds tedious, but it can be fun.
So let’s break it down and see how a seemingly simple thing as filling a glass with water and drinking is actually a highly complex set of actions (most of them habitual) and sensations.
So let’s begin:
- First there is noticing you’re thirsty.
- Then there is the intention to fill a glass with water and drink.
- Then there is the act of walking to the cupboard.
- Then there is your arm and hand slowly reaching out, opening the cupboard, and reaching for a glass.
- The sensation of touching the glass and the curling of the fingers around the glass.
- Lifting the glass.
- Turning away and going to the tap
- The sensation of reaching for the tap and twisting it to make the water flow.
- Lowering the glass to fill it with water.
- The sound of the flowing water in the ears.
- Turning off the tap when the glass is filled.
- Lifting the glass to drink.
- The sensation of it touching your lips.
- Tipping the glass to drink.
- The coolness of the water flowing into your mouth.
- The sensation of swallowing.
And so on. So you see, any action can be broken into its parts and used as a way of practicing mindfulness. In breaking habits apart in this way, it gives you a chance to re-examine them, and adjust the way you’re acting.
So you see, its just a switch of focus – a choice you make.
You’re choosing whether to be lost in your head, with your body bumbling through the long trail of its habits. Or consciously paying attention to what you’re doing in each moment – and being aware of how it feels, and what kind of reactions you’re having, both mental and physical
I treat it like a game. When I remember, which is as often as possible, I notice when I’m lost in thought while doing something, and I immediately switch focus to what my body is doing.
As they say, ‘be here now’.
With practice, the habit of ‘being here now’ will infuse into your life, and the awareness that comes with it will serve you well.
‘BEING STILL – MEDITATION THAT MAKES SENSE’, Roger’s new book, is available now.
‘BEING STILL’ is available on Amazon as a paperback ……………. AUD $26.40 (incl. GST)
‘BEING STILL’ is also available as a Kindle ebook ………………………………………..AUD $11.99
‘BEING STILL’ the audiobook (including all exercises) ………………………………. AUD $25.00
(The audiobook includes all the exercises, as well as ebooks of Being Still, to fit any device.)
Hi Roger — I agree with everything you said. And I aspire to it. But I also think there is a tremendous value in day dreaming or letting your mind wander. Many of my most treasured and valued thoughts, creations and inspirations have occurred this way. I’m curious how would you describe the role of day dreaming and mind wandering in a healthy mindfulness practice ?
Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone
I totally agree.
I think the issue is one of balance. After all, we’re in a fascinating life, with a mind that is capable of incredible things – why would we resist using it?
The problem I’m addressing isn’t thinking and daydreaming per se – it’s the lack of balance we have between our mind and the moment by moment realty our body lives in.
Because most of us spend so much time in our mind, we lose the ability to have a choice when it comes to thinking. Rather than thinking being a tool for us to use, we become victims of our thoughts. Such that when our thoughts turn against us – when we’re anxious, angry, depressed and whatever – we find it difficult to pull out of the spiraling crisis our thoughts are creating.
All because we don’t have the habit of letting go of mentality when we choose – and simply being in the exquisite moment by moment experience of our body.
So the practice I described is devoted to building an ability to choose when we’re in our mind, and when we’re not – which most of us don’t have.
There is so much more to this – but that’s the gist of it.
Perhaps read my book.
All the best, Roger