Mindfulness in Everyday Life
Updated: Apr 22, 2019
"The only way to live is by accepting each minute as an unrepeatable miracle." Jack Kornfield
When I learned about Mindfulness thirteen years ago, I dove into Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living book that is basically the structure for the popular 8-week Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Program (includes 45-minute/day of Mindfulness meditation). From him I learned that "Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally".
I went all in and the experience and trajectory of my life was forever changed.
Now, as I am on the cusp of graduating from Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield’s Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program and have significantly expanded my experiences teaching others about Mindfulness and Compassion, I’ve realized that not everyone is willing or ready to commit themselves to daily formal meditation like I was. While there's no doubt that committing extended periods of time for daily meditation is incredibly beneficial ('The more you put in, the more you get out' certainly applies here), I also know that formal meditation is not required to live a more awakened and conscious life.
People are curious about Mindfulness. The buzz has long begun and many a blog written that describes the burgeoning research studies citing Mindfulness Meditation as a practice that can help you harness greater focus and concentration, emotional resilience, decrease stress and symptoms of anxiety and depression, and live a more satisfying and healthy life.
My own experience with Mindfulness practice has shown me that there is a choice that we all have – we don’t have to be hijacked by our mental habits (thoughts) or dysregulating emotions. With Mindfulness, we are able to slow down enough with our attention to notice the space – to reflect, investigate our experience with open awareness and choose our next response. With this enhanced clarity of mind, we tend to take actions in our life that are more wise, gracious and aligned with our values, goals, and needs for happiness (i.e. in alignment with our True Self). We become less reactive and more intentional in our life. We can direct our life with greater empowerment instead of regularly being swept away by the currents of the mind and emotions.
Most of the time we are not consciously choosing. We spend most of our moments in auto-pilot mode, mentally running from one thing to the next, lost in the future or the past in our mind. Rehearsing, remembering, daydreaming, planning, judging, stewing…. For some people these incessant thoughts literally keep them up at night. In our daytime hours, this mental detraction keeps us from enjoying, appreciating and really living the life we have around us – which is only in the Now, only really available to us in the present moment.
This is the benefit of Mindfulness - Being awake and alive to enjoy the precious moments in life. After all, none of us knows exactly how many more minutes, hours, or days we have, so it’s in our best interest to be as awake and present for them as we can. At some level we all know this to be true. And it’s ‘normal’ to have difficulty keeping our attention in the present moment, with kindness and without judgment.
Studies on Mindfulness have shown that with practice, we can improve our capacity to be present, to have greater control over what we pay attention to. Like a muscle that strengthens with repetitions, we get better at shifting away from what is not so helpful and intentionally adjusting our attention to things that bring more joy, peace, and keep us aligned with our values, wishes and purpose….what we really care about in this life. In my experiences integrating Mindfulness practice in my therapy work with clients, I've witnessed clients learn how to slow down, intentionally focus their awareness in difficult moments and consciously break out of old unhealthy habit patterns of the mind that would previously cause destruction, disconnection, and suffering. The expressed relief and sense of hope and exuberance I see in their faces as they become more conscious, more compassionate and more Mindful in their life is inspiring and ever-affirming of the power of these practices.
Certainly, taking time out each day to pause and sit (or stand or lay down) and practice meditation will help build your capacity to be more fully present. More and more people are integrating meditation into their life, as noted in the popularity of Apps like Headspace and Insight Timer (find my guided meditations there!). Even just 10 minutes/day shows benefits. I encourage people to start there. Once you begin to take these brief pauses to focus on your breath (a common starting practice), you begin to notice the benefits of these moments of stillness, of quieting the mind even if only briefly. For us humans, once we tune into something that feels good, we’re more likely to add more of it in our life.
You can also bring in Mindfulness in your daily life – in the micro moments of your day.
5 Ways to Bring Mindfulness into Your Everyday Life:
1. Morning Stretch: When you wake in the morning, take a moment to sit up out of the bed with mindful awareness of the movements of your body. Move slowly, with intention and awareness of each sensation. Raising your hands up along your sides in the shape of an arc as you breathe in and then gently and mindfully lowering them back down as you exhale can be a lovely practice to center your attention to your body and collect your mind first thing. You may try this once or three times. You can do this practice sitting on the bed or standing up. Notice how the body feels as you gently and kindly stretch, guiding your attention to rest on the felt sensations in the body.
2. Mindful Shower: I find my mind commonly wandering through the routines of the day. Noticing the felt sensations in the shower can be a pleasant way to practice Mindfulness. When the mind pulls you away from the present, from the sensations of being in the shower – gently let go of whatever thoughts are taking you out of the moment (planning your day/thinking about what comes next, random thoughts about yesterday, etc.), and come back into awareness of the body, the feeling of the water as it warmly cleanses and covers you as you wash. Notice the scent of soap and use every sensory modality active as an anchor of your focus when your mind pulls you away from the present moment.
3. Red Light Practice: If driving is a part of your day, when you find yourself stopped at a red light, take this short moment to pause, track your breath in and out as you notice your surroundings. Be as fully awake and aware in the moment as you’re able.
4. "Where is my Breath?": Regularly checking in with your breath is a good way to be more present, as your body is always breathing – always in the present moment. Without judging what you notice when you pay attention, use the breath as an anchor to the Now. You might invite a gentle deepening of the breath (take a slow and deep breath into the lungs) to feel it even more and to ‘drop into’ your body with awareness. See where you most notice the breath in your body (e.g., in the chest rising, the belly expanding and deflating, the sensations in the upper lip or nostril, etc.). This practice is particularly helpful when you’re pulled out of Presence by the mind. Guiding the attention out of the future/past thoughts and into the body through the breath is a wonderful way to cultivate more mindful presence throughout your day.
5. A Mindful Interaction: See if you can bring about an attitude of interest, curiosity and openness to a brief interaction in your day. Use the moment of communication with a person (e.g., a server at the café, a co-worker or a family member) to see if you can truly listen with an open mind and heart. It’s much more difficult to hear others when we’re lost in our thoughts (e.g., planning what to say next). There is far more room for listening, connection and compassion when we are truly present and available with our full attention for another person. Observe this person without judgment (if you notice judging thoughts arise, gently let them go). See if you can engage with this person – particularly if it is someone you know well - as if anew. Notice also what arises in your as you communicate (what thoughts, feelings, and sensations are present).
Practicing Mindfulness is certainly that – a practice. We benefit from carving out time each day to sit with our Self and just Be. Like learning any skill, the more we practice, the more able we become. The more we practice Mindfulness in small micro moments that are typical, neutral or ordinary, the more likely we will be able to tolerate and stay present for the moments that we experience as more unpleasant or challenging.
Any movement away from automaticity is a step out of unconscious habit-mind and closer to your True Self.
Each time we catch ourselves lost in thought – out of touch with the Present moment – is a moment of Mindfulness. This moment allows us to see with more clarity, approach ourselves and others with greater compassion, and to be more deeply connected with who we really are and what we really want. We have the potential to live our lives more fully, more wholeheartedly, moment by moment. Thankfully, each day – each moment - gives us another opportunity to try.