Awareness and appreciation of the present moment give life its fullness. Training in mindfulness fosters focus, clarity, and gratitude for the goodness of now. But distraction is such a strong habit that even while we are walking, eating and traveling, our minds are usually somewhere else. How can we train in mindfulness and learn to be present?
“As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life.” Attributed to the Buddha.
Benefits of Mindfulness – Discover the Fullness of the Present Moment
In addition to the tried-and-true practice of meditation, there are some very simple ways to bring more mindfulness into our everyday lives. Thanks to our training on the cushion or chair, we can use almost any situation to recognize and observe in-the-moment emotions, experiences, and thoughts without undue effort or judgment. Here are 5 suggested techniques to enhance awareness of the present moment. Buddha would approve.
1. Just Breathe
When you sit in meditation, the focus is often simply being mindful of your breath. Off the cushion as well, paying attention to the sensation of the breath entering and leaving the nostrils, or causing your belly to rise and fall, helps you stay mindful.
You’re always breathing, but how often are you aware of it? Extend your sitting practice into being aware of your respiration while at work, at school or moving from one place to another. Be aware of your breath in the grocery line, while waiting for the bus, in traffic jams, before or after a meal, and so on. Just one purposeful breath brings immediate present moment awareness, and is perhaps the easiest method for improving mindfulness.
2. Go for a Walk
Get up, go outside, and walk with purpose and awareness.
Find an inviting place to walk and spend a few minutes in awareness of every step. Pay attention to the pressure of your feet as they touch the ground and lift up again. Notice how the muscles in your toes and legs work to propel your body forward. If you can, make walking meditation part of your regular practice.
3. Learn to Enjoy Silence
A helpful condition for mindfulness is quiet. Learn to embrace and explore it.
Our lives are anything but quiet. When it isn’t the sound of traffic, airplanes above, co-workers or fellow students chattering busily, or the ping of a phone call or message, it’s the music or program we put on to fill the void.
Take the time to explore quiet. You’ll learn that silence is never silent – even in the remotest of areas there’s wind, leaves rustling, birdsong and animal noises, rain falling, and so on. Use the sounds that emerge from the quiet as part of your awareness practice. Gently explore feelings of anxiousness that may arise when you forgo the usual distractions, then let them go and return to the fine art of mindful listening.
4. Remove the Busy-ness
One of the simplest things to do to improve mindfulness is also one of the most difficult to put into practice: keep your mind on one thing at a time.
See what happens when you stop multitasking, even briefly. Work on one task or project before moving on to the next so that each project benefits from your full attention. Get rid of as many distractions as possible: put your smartphone on airplane mode, delete any mind-numbing apps, and turn off the background noise. Now: focus on one task – just one – whether it’s having breakfast, refinishing furniture or writing an important speech.
Thanks to your regular mindfulness practice, it will be easier for you to notice when your thoughts have wandered. Notice and note them. Bring them back, gently but firmly, just as you do when you meditate, and continue giving your undivided attention to the task at hand.
5. Chores are Golden
You still have to cook, clean, eat, fold the laundry, and brush your teeth. Use every chore wisely.
As you go about your household chores, pour yourself into them wholeheartedly. Not only will you end up with a cleaner bathroom, more organized garage and smudge-free windows, you’ll also experience a good deal of gratitude.
At meals, be mindful of what you are eating – not just the food on the fork, but everything that went into getting that meal on your plate in the first place. An incredible web of interconnectedness is involved in feeding you, from pollinating insects to the hands that cultivated the soil to the manufacturer of the tires that brought your food closer to you and everything in between. Once you start thinking about it, you’ll find that there are limitless reasons to be grateful. In a Mind Talk, the renowned English meditation master and scholar Lama Jampa Thaye explains how gratitude is a powerful practice in and of itself.
So yes, as you walk, eat, travel and generally go about your business, remember to make mindfulness, gratitude and generosity part of your experience. Otherwise, as the Buddha reportedly said some 2,500 years ago, “you will miss most of your life.”