How (and Why) to Bring Mindfulness Into Your Daily Life
Good morning, sun! What a lovely day! What’s for breakfast? What’s for lunch? Did I forget to wash my favourite shirt yesterday? Shit, I did. I suck! My lucky shirt is dirty and now my presentation is ruined! My career is ruined! My life is ruined!
You’re not even out of bed and already your mind is jabbering, jumping from subject to subject, rehashing past actions, fantasising (or prophesising doom) about future ones, rarely pausing in the present moment. In yoga, we call this the monkey mind: active, buzzing, restless, unfocused, zig-zagging constantly from tree to tree. It’s totally normal, but sometimes you need a break from that crazy monkey! Practicing mindfulness is one way to stop the chatter.
What Is Mindfulness Again?
I’m glad you asked, because ‘mindfulness’ has become a bit of a catch-all for good vibes, being nice, and taking care of yourself. However, it doesn’t really mean thoughtfulness or doing things in a loving way or counting your breaths. It means bringing your full attention to something. It’s not a narration of what you’re doing. It’s a really narrow focus on the present moment, which is, by nature, a moving target. When doing mindfulness meditation, you continually disengage from thinking by bringing your attention back to right now. The breath often works well as your anchor to the present, although the sensations of touch and sound can be effective alternatives.
Sitting for a formal meditation session establishes a time when there’s nothing else to do but practice mindfulness. However, it’s also possible to bring mindfulness into your daily life. Just as you can to sit on a zafu and let your mind wander all over the map, it’s also possible to wash your face and be fully aware and attentive to each sensation in the process. When you find a moment of pure attention, that’s a type of meditation. There are actually lots of opportunities throughout your day to send your brain to mindfulness training camp, so that when you do come to sit, you’re ready.
In her book “How to Meditate,” revered Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön describes how simple rituals like cleaning your teeth can be treated as opportunities to practice mindfulness. Usually, when you’re brushing your teeth, your mind is on about a thousand other things: How long has this kale been there? Why didn’t anyone tell me? Have I no true friends? You can quickly spiral from a basic act of hygiene to an existential crisis.
Instead, give your brain a break. Keep your attention on the actions of putting the toothpaste on the brush, how the bristles feel on your gums, the sharp, minty taste on your tongue, the repetitive circular motion of your hand as you move the brush around your mouth.
Other mentally undemanding tasks benefit from the same treatment. Folding laundry, walking the dog, washing dishes. Instead of rehashing everything that went wrong on your last date while you’re dicing an onion, really dice the heck out of that onion. Focus on making all the pieces the same size and shape, the feel of the smooth wooden handle of the knife in your hand, the crisp sound of the blade piercing the onion, the sting of its vapours reaching your eyes. When you’re done, you not only have the beginnings of a perfect mirepoix, but you’ve given yourself a moment’s relief from, well, yourself.
Mindful Vs. Mindless
It’s not that you’re never supposed to think about anything except the present moment. Your brain needs to think thoughts, make plans and decisions, be creative and imaginative. Your memories shape your actions and trigger the moments of humour, sadness, and love that make you human. However, it’s useful to get into the habit of recognising when your mental distraction is interfering with your ability to have an experience. When negative self-talk is bringing you down or fear of the unknown is keeping you from moving forward, mindfulness gets you out of your head so you can get on with your life.