It would be great if we could go about our whole day completely mindful, bringing our full attention to whatever we’re doing, while we’re doing it, and not getting carried away by distractions or thoughts of the past or about the future. But although mindfulness sounds simple, it does require effort. It takes a continual effort to notice when our mind’s started to wander and keep bringing it back to the present, and it’s not something most of us can do all day long.
So instead of striving go about the entire day mindfully, it’s good to start with some small steps, and find ways to gradually add more mindfulness into your activities throughout the day. Below are some ways you can start bringing mindfulness into your days on a regular basis.
Choose One Routine Activity to Do Mindfully Every Day
In a previous post, we looked at how you can start being more mindful throughout the day by: a) doing on thing at a time; and b) paying attention to your senses while you’re doing it.
For example, you can take a shower mindfully, by feeling the water hitting your skin; listening to the sound of the water; smelling the scent of the soap or the shampoo; feeling the sensations of lathering soap onto your skin or massaging shampoo into your hair.
Or you can eat a meal with mindfulness, savouring the tastes and aromas; consciously chewing every bite; feeling the sensations of the food against your tongue, noticing when you’re about to swallow, and then swallowing intentionally, and feeling the food move down the back of your mouth and into your esophagus. Noticing any sensations of hunger, or anticipation and watering of your, or of feeling full.
Each day for the next week, choose one routing activity, be it showering, driving to work, cooking, eating, cleaning, etc, do only that one thing at a time, and be as mindful as you can the whole time you’re doing it.
In my tradition, we use the temple bells to remind us to come back to the present moment. Every time we hear the bell, we stop talking, stop our thinking, and return to ourselves, breathing in and out, and smiling. Whatever we are doing, we pause for a moment and just enjoy our breathing. Sometimes we also recite this verse:Listen, listen.
This wonderful sound brings me back to my true self.
But this practice doesn’t have to be limited to temple bells. He suggests we can use things like the ringing of our telephone, the cry of a baby, the honking of a horn, the bell on an elevator, or even the sound of fire engines and ambulances as our bells of mindfulness.
When we hear the sound, we stop talking and stop moving. We relax our body and become aware of our breathing. With just three conscious breaths we can release the tensions in our body and mind and return to a cool, clear state of being.
Any sound we hear throughout the day can act as a mindfulness bell calling us back to the present.
Sprinkle Moments of Mindfulness Throughout Your Day
In earlier posts, we’ve looked at a few ways to take quick breaks throughout your day to relax and stop stress and anxiety from accumulating, give yourself a time out, or take a 3-minute breathing space. Often when we’re feeling stressed, we don’t have the luxury of stopping what we’re doing for a few minutes and going off by ourselves to rejuvenate. But even at these times, we can find moments to practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness can be as simple as coming back to the present, and paying attention as you mindfully open a door on you way in or out of a room instead of just rushing through the door. Or to take a few breaths while waiting at a red light instead of cursing the traffic and how you’re missing every light. Or pausing for a moment as you turn on or off a light or your computer. Or walking mindfully from your desk to the restroom, noticing the sights and sounds around you, and the feeling of your feet touching and leaving the floor. There are endless ways we can find to be mindful for a few moments, instead of plowing ahead mindlessly from one thing to another all day long.
Here is a handout from the UCSF Osher Center with tips to help you integrate mindfulness into your daily life. There are examples of daily activities to do mindfully, mindfulness bells, and moments of mindfulness.
As you learn to weave these periods of mindfulness into your day, you’ll find yourself approaching more of your day mindfully, and that mindfulness starts coming more naturally. And by taking the time to practice mindfulness throughout your day, you’ll find yourself better able to avoid the pitfalls of mindlessness that can cause such stress, and lead to anxiety, depression and anger. It can be easier than you think. These days you can even practice mindfulness from your computer or smartphone.