Informal practices for increasing mindfulness during the day
We don’t have to schedule a trip to the monastery to enjoy the benefits of stopping for bells of mindfulness. We can use many ‘ordinary’ events in our daily lives to call us back to ourselves and to the present moment. The ringing of the telephone, for example: many of my students pause to breathe in and out mindfully three times before they pick up the phone, in order to be fully present to themselves and to the person calling them. Or when we are driving, a red light can be a wonderful friend reminding us to stop, relax, let go of discouraging thought patterns and feel more space inside.
Thich Nhat Hahn
One way of developing a more conscious approach to life is to create gaps during the day, mini-holidays or short moments where we pause and pay more deliberate attention to what we are doing. This “informal mindfulness” practice reduces the mind’s tendency to over-analyze and compliments the formal practice we do when we are in sitting meditation.
One of the most effective means for working with that moment when we see the gathering storm of our habitual tendencies is the practice of pausing, or creating a gap. We can stop and take three conscious breaths, and the world has a chance to open up to us in that gap. We can allow space into our state of mind.
One practice we can develop is to pay greater attention to familiar, habitual activities. It is good to choose a repetitive simple task which you perform on a regular basis. One possibility is taking a shower. While having the shower practice bringing your full attention to the sensations of what you are doing – touch, taste, smell, sound, sight – and stay close to being fully present at that level.
So. for example, you can attend to the sound of the water, as it comes out from the shower, or the touch of it as it hits your body, the temperature of the water. You can be aware of the smell of the soap or shampoo, and the sight of the water drops on the walls or as it goes down the drain. You can focus on the steam rising. Finally, you can be as fully present as possible with the movement of the body and the arms.
As in formal practices, thoughts will arise. When you notice then, gently, without judging, let them go, coming back to the awareness of sensations, strengthening your capacity to distinguish between a sensation and a thought.
Peace is something that we can bring about if we can actually learn to wake up a bit more as individuals and a lot more as a species; if we can learn to be fully what we actually already are; to reside in the inherent potential of what is possible for us, being human.
Another, very simple way, of strengthening this capacity for awareness is to draw attention to your sense of touch:
During the day see if you can find different ways to increase your awareness of your sense of touch. For example, you can bring a conscious noticing to the warmth of a cup of coffee or tea, pausing briefly to hold your awareness there for a second. At work you can feel your fingers touching the computer keyboard, or bring your awareness back into the present moment while driving by noticing your hands on the steering wheel of the car at a red light. When you wash your hands really notice the touch of the water, and the softness of the soap. If you are having a drink of water feel the touch of the glass, the coldness or warmth of the contents. Finally, when eating, use your senses to notice the colours of the food, their aroma, the taste of the different elements, staying with the sensations of the food rather than thoughts about it.
Mindfulness meditation is a wonderful tool for making each day, each moment of our life count. Paradoxically this is achieved by not doing more, but by doing less. We may feel that we need to do the things have to be done faster so that we have time for doing more things. Mindfulness practice goes the other way. I may need to go to the store to get a carton of milk. The way to make the experience more satisfying is not doing it as fast as possible while thinking of other things, but to enjoy the walk to the store by paying attention. This way, we make every moment count. We are not sacrificing the means for the goal., Otherwise, our day becomes a series of dry chores.
Joseph Emet, Buddha’s Book of Sleep