Monday, May 21, 2012
Five Ideas for Practicing Mindfulness in Daily Life
During dathun our teacher shared ideas about how to bring mindfulness into our daily lives, and I've continued to ponder this. This list includes some of my own ideas, but also borrows from Cara Thornley, who led the dathun I attended, and from Ani Pema Chodron.
1. Walking with the senses
Whether you are walking your dog or walking to work, this can be a good opportunity to practice. One way to do this is to pick one sense perception and to focus your mind on that sense. For example, as I'm going for a walk in the neighborhood, I may choose to place my attention on sounds. I can pay attention to the cars driving by, the birds chirping, the joggers running past me, people opening doors, etc.
2. Food prep
You could be mindful about handling food while cooking. In How to Cook Your Life, Zen Priest Edward Espe Brown suggests that you handle food as if you were handling your own eyeballs. Be gentle with food and put as much TLC as you can into preparing a meal.
Chopping vegetables is an activity that I find easy to be mindful about. I have really sharp knives and I've heard that Japanese master-blacksmiths believe a blade has its own soul. I'm not so sure about the notion of a soul in a knife, but respecting a blade is a good idea from the point of view of mindfulness and trying not to chop your finger-tips off. I like to focus on making the chops as uniform as possible. Sometimes I try to chop vegetables as finely as possible just for sake of being mindful and the satisfaction of thinly sliced carrots.
Any time you touch water, you could work with this sense perception. In most day to day situations, water brings relaxation, so this is an easy one to start with. Feel the warmth of water all over your body in the shower. Feel its slipperiness when you are washing your hands. Feel the sensations while washing dishes. Just feel feel feel and focus the attention on it. Have confidence in the fact that feeling inside your body brings you into a the present moment, which is always the place where you should be.
4. Using the Internet and watching television
Both the internet and television can help spread profound wisdom, but more often they seduce us into mindlessly vegging out. We could change this for ourselves, by being very intentional about how we use computers or television.
Approach TV and internet differently by having a plan before you turn them on. If you open a web browser, have a plan for looking something up or checking email and then leave it alone. If you find yourself thinking, "hmm, what could I look up," then try to catch yourself before you surf the overwhelming flood of information.
Obviously sites like Facebook are entirely predicated on the idea of tuning in just to see what is up. If you aren't ready to give up Facebook browsing (which i'm not), then you might consider having a plan for how long you are going to use Facebook. For example, you might login with a plan to use it for some amount of time that you think is reasonable.
5. Looking in the mirror
Mirrors are powerful symbols in Tantric Buddhism. They reflect an object without ego, but the twist is that the reflection is not actually the object. Now chew on that riddle for a while!
We could use mirrors to remind us to be gentle with ourselves and to be curious about our state of mind. Every time you look in the mirror, you could ask yourself how you are feeling. You could then apply mindfulness to recognize feeling, whether it is during a bathroom break at work, in a changing room, or when brushing your teeth.
The purpose of meditation is to learn to be present for our lives. The practice strengthens our ability to be mindful in our daily lives, which in turns leads to increased insight and better communication (just for starters). When we apply mindfulness to our daily lives, suddenly tasks like folding laundry or cleaning dishes become less of a chore. We begin to dissolve the separation between stuff we do that is fun, and stuff we do that we don't like. With this kind of practice and outlook, the path of mindfulness leads to a more fulfilling, joyful life.
When I started my month-long meditation, I immediately noticed that I was having trouble trusting the present moment. The idea that focusing 100% of my attention on what was going on at the moment seemed like a good idea, but some part of me was still attached to the idea that mentally, I needed to be doing other things. I spent the first couple of days composing blogs and working out spreadsheets in my head. Then I started to trust the present and let go of the discursive thoughts. I realized that whatever I need to do, I'm much more effective if I just set time aside to focus on it 100%.
By applying the five techniques above, we can practice being present for our lives. These moments will become meditation sessions in themselves. Eventually, you may find yourself "meditating" in some way for much of your life. Try these out and see what else you can add as your own personal mindfulness practices.