Waking up this morning I smile knowing there are 24 brand new hours before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment, and look at beings with eyes of compassion.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindfulness not a self-improvement project. It is as much about unlearning as it is about learning. We unlearn our habitual tendencies, while we are learning to be aware of what is actually happening without judgment. It helps us to remove our defenses and habitual patterns so we can see our goodness, our common humanity and our uniqueness. Reflect on these definitions of mindfulness:
“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different. Enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will). Being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” James Baraz
“Mindfulness helps us get better at seeing the difference between what’s happening and the stories we tell ourselves about what’s happening, stories that get in the way of direct experience. Often such stories treat a fleeting state of mind as if it were our entire and permanent self.” Sharon Salzberg
“Like a clear, still pool without ripples, mindfulness mirrors what’s occurring without distortion, so that we can take a more objective perspective on ourselves and our lives.” Chris Germer & Kristin Neff
Mindfulness is about slowing down so we can see what is truly happening. When we are not mindful, we have a tendency to fight against reality. And when we fight against reality, we are bound to lose. For me, the goal is to become mindful throughout the day.
The first step is using our breath to calm our body and quiet our mind. By doing so, our actions are less likely to be born of grasping, anger or fear. We are not looking to add something to ourselves. We are looking to uncover the wisdom and compassion that is already within us. We need to remove our armor of grasping, anger or fear to let the light within us shine. That provides us with confidence in the beauty and goodness within us.
Often our beauty and goodness are hidden underneath the habitual patterns of our busy, worried or spaced-out minds. These patterns can sneak up on us and get so strong it’s difficult to get off the hamster wheel of reactivity. We go around and around with our thoughts. Only by slowing down and practicing awareness can we train ourselves to be alert to our habitual tendencies before they hook us.
“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.” Pema Chodron
The habitual mind can be really strong, I know mine is, I could not just set the intention to be mindful throughout the day and have it become a reality. I needed to train myself to become aware of all the thoughts in my habitual mind. Then I had to learn to examine them to see which were true, which were partially true and which were no longer true. For me, the only way to train my mind was through formal meditation. I need to sit in meditation every day to calm my body and my mind enough to slow down so I can see reality. I need to practice steadying my attention on the present moment, in a kind and non-judgmental way. It has helped me to see the repeating patterns of my mind so I can sometimes get rid of that pesky backseat driver.
But practicing sitting meditation doesn’t automatically make you more mindful throughout the day. To become more mindful throughout the day, I found informal practices beneficial. By practicing mindfulness in our daily lives, we open ourselves to the beauty of the world. This allows the world to nourish and heal us.
Here are some informal practices I use to become more mindful in my everyday life.
24 Brand New Hours
Each morning when I wake up, I think I have 24 brand new hours. This leads me to set an intention for how I want to use those hours.
One way I make mindfulness a part of my daily life is to “staple it” to something that i am already doing. When I was working, I used a specific hallway to practice walking meditation each time I walked down it alone. Instead of swearing that I caught a red light, I take the opportunity to take a few conscious breaths.
Unstick with a Pause
When I feel my chest starting to tighten, I know I am getting stuck. I unstick by taking three conscious breaths. By letting my mind relax for a few breaths, it is easier to drop the storyline going around and around so I can get off the hamster wheel of reactivity.
Taking in the Good
Each morning I go out to my front porch and look or listen for something pleasant. Some mornings take longer than others to find something good. When I find it, I savor it for 20-30 seconds. This practice has helped me to see the good throughout the day, and to remember to take 20 seconds to savor it.
Hands on the Heart or Forearm
When I am feeling upset, I place my hand on my heart (if I’m in public I place it on my forearm) and breath gently. As I breath in, I feel the sense of goodness either within me for from someone who loves me. As I breath out, I let go of the tension in my body. Placing the hand on your heart activates the calming parasympathetic nervous system.
For the past year, I have had a gratitude buddy. Each day we e-mail each other with three to five things we are grateful. (If you prefer, you can write them in a gratitude journal.) Sometimes it’s big things, but most days it’s little things. Some days I really have to force myself to do it, especially when I just started out. But now throughout the day I find myself saying, I have to remember to tell Pat about that.
I have taken to doing eating meditation at breakfast. This means that I don’t read the paper, watch tv or listen to the radio. I simply focus my attention on the look, smell, texture and taste of my oatmeal with yogurt and banana. Some mornings this is really hard to do because I don’t feel I have enough time. But then I remind myself, I am worth it.
Most of my life, my posture has been bad, I have had the tendency to roll my shoulders forward. I always wanted to improve it, but no matter how strong my intention it did not change. So, I designated a specific place to do this practice so I would remember to do it. While I am waiting for the microwave or my tea kettle, I will take stock of my posture. If my shoulders are rounded forward, I take a moment to slide my shoulder blades down my back. If my gut is hanging out, I pull my abs in and up toward my ribs while sliding my tailbone down. Next I stapled this practice to every time I got in the car, then I added when I am brushing my teeth. By repeating this practice, I became more aware of my posture more often throughout the day.
Yesterday I heard a podcast with Ethan Kross from the University of Michigan’s Emotion and Self Control Laboratory. He finds that talking to yourself silently in the third person allows you to distance yourself from the anxiety and make better decisions. While I have not really tried this out, it sounds very promising so I wanted to share it with you.
There are many informal practices, some will work for you and others won’t. To check out more informal practices to encourage mindfulness throughout your day, go to gloriakgreen.com, click on Mindfulness Tools and then Informal Practices.
Science shows that being mindful builds resilience in the face of difficulties. It helps us to reduce stress, strengthens our immune system, and reduces inflammation. Use these practices to strengthen the connections in your brain that are the basis for well-being.
May you increase your well-being through mindfulness