Last week, I promised you more of the how-to re: really practicing your practice in everyday life.
Though the formal discipline piece is absolutely fundamental (how will we ever get the skills unless we show up to baseball practice), it’s vital that we actually implement whatever we are training in the ‘game time’ of our lives. Off-the-mat, as it were.
How do we bring something that seems so absolutely antithetical to our slammed, insanely busy hours, days and weeks, into that very same space?
The following are some of the techniques I teach in my clinical practice. Choose ONE of these and commit to practicing it every day for a week, a month, whatever.
1. Attention to Everyday Actions:
Take an activity that is habitual, repeated daily or multiple times daily (brushing your teeth, brushing your hair, washing your face, showering, etc.). Take note of how, normally, we perform these actions whilst thinking of a million other things. Our goals for the day, that appointment we have to remember to make, how many minutes we have left before rushing to work, etc. Choose just one daily action. See if you can bring your full attention to this item either every time you perform it or at least once daily. You are to make a conscious effort to be with that activity with all your senses, both body and mind. If you’ve chosen washing your face, for example, you remind yourself before beginning that this is your daily mindful action. Pause. Begin the activity as usual, this time paying attention to the sensory feelings you are experiencing, the actions of your hands and fingers, the scent of the soap or face wash, the temperature of the water. Watch your mind. If it begins to dart every which way, bring it back to what is going on right in that moment. If your mind is very busy, it can be helpful to quietly repeat to yourself in-brain, “I’m washing my face, I’m washing my face…” It’s a very short action, but you’ll be surprised at how difficult it can be to do 1-2 minutes of mindfulness, unbroken.
(P.S. It doesn’t matter if you ‘break’ it. It’s not a failure. You’re doing it right. It’s just another thing to non-judgmentally notice.)
2. Notice Your Transitions:
Pay close attention to all of the same things I’ve just described above (every one of your senses, temperature, emotion, thought pattern, etc.) in the moments of your day where you move from one activity to the next. Every time you reach for your phone, or get up to use the washroom or get a glass of water, every time you are about to sit down to eat or leave the house or car. The moments of shifting out of one action into a different one. These will be much shorter than the actions described in the first technique above, but will happen much more frequently. It may be as short as 1-2 seconds where you consciously become aware, take pause, notice…then move on.
3. Mindful Meals:
Spend at least one meal daily eating in silence. No digital devices allowed, nor books nor newspapers/magazines. A meal where you are not doing anything other than paying attention to the flavours, sensations and textures of the food you are eating. This is usually best if eating outside facing nature or inside facing a window. Pay attention to the number of times you have to chew one bite before it becomes liquified. Try to allow for this attention and time between each bite, and see if you can stop yourself from loading another forkful before you have swallowed the last one. Notice if your enjoyment of each food changes by merely paying attention in the moment.
There are infinite ways to practice your practice. Mindfulness, actually used (even if in short-lived moments), is the way we improve our lives.