Ok, I won’t lie to you. While I like the idea of mindfulness and how zen sitting in a meditative pose will make me look, it’s more a concept to me than a reality. Intellectually, I know it’s good for me. I mean, mindfulness is the in thing. Everywhere you look, there’s books and blogs on being present, sitting still, and bringing mindfulness into your everyday life.
The Gifted Ones
But what does that really mean? And is mindfulness truly attainable? Or is it only for the gifted few who were born with a natural ability to be unaffected by stress, deadlines at work and a continual stream of errands?
The Motivation to Meditate
It’s easy (well actually, even then it’s not) to be able to sit quietly in a room tastefully decorated to support your inner chakras, while a soothing practitioner guides you through a meditation. But I often ask myself how do I get to integrate this practice when I am not in that environment? Or more honestly -how can I find the motivation to take some timeout and to be ‘in the moment’?
Life Was Passing Me By
As a person who always likes to think a few steps ahead, I know I’m rarely ever living in the present. The whole point of efficiency is preempting the next steps, right? It was almost like I was on autopilot mode and by always living in the future, I was letting life pass me by.
I knew I needed an intervention. But how and by whom? I don’t prescribe to any particular thought form and am not connected to any spiritual group. I prefer a more buffet style solution when it comes to living my life.
I pick here and there from different schools of thought on what rings true to me and what helps me be a better version of myself. Not subscribing to only one way, gives me the freedom to let go of something when it doesn’t work for me anymore or if I have grown out of it.
Having said that, I signed up to an 8-day silent retreat in the Northeast of Thailand. I heard about it from a friend, who embodied the same ‘work hard’ – ‘play hard’ mentality as I did. He shared that he does this retreat once a year for the past ten years and it really helped him. “You don’t have to be a Buddhist to do this practice”, he said. “mindfulness is a tool that you can learn and then integrate back into your everyday”. I liked how it sounded.
Bringing Presence into Daily Life
Once at the retreat, I learned that practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to mean solely sitting in a meditation pose. That there are other ways to bring presence into daily life. Everything you do can be turned into a mindfulness practice.
No waaay?! You mean, I can continue being a functional person in the world and achieve blissful status? I thought to myself.
It turns out, that the idea that is meant behind being mindful comes down to bringing attention to your intentions. Whether it’s your thoughts, your speech or your actions. You can choose to do your daily routines on auto-pilot or with active attention. The more we center our mind to what we are doing in the present moment, the richer life becomes.
Daily Routines Became The New Mindfulness Practice
When I let that sink in, I started to think differently about mindfulness and how unrealistic it seemed. During the retreat we learned to turn our meal times into a mindfulness practice. We were asked to bring our attention to the aromas of the food, to the act of chewing and to how it tasted. It was hard at first, because I wasn’t used to not doing something else while I was eating.
When we walked, we were asked to bring our awareness to our body by being mindful of which foot we were lifting and then acknowledging it in our minds by saying right, left, right, left. This was called walking meditation.
Mind And Body
Soooo, after the retreat was over I tried to implement the same tools I learned, to my daily life. I didn’t realize how hard it was to bring my mind in sync with my body. I said left when I was already stepping with my right foot. I swallowed my food, before I even chewed (ok, that’s a different problem).
It was confronting to see how separate my mind and body really were from each other. But as I kept on trying this exercise, even if it was just for a few minutes (ahem, moments) during my day – I noticed a space inside me, that I never knew was there before. It was almost like time seemed to slow down and I experienced a space between my active thoughts and my awareness of those thoughts.
Reaping the Benefits
It was a strange sensation – to say the least. My whole idea of being efficient by always thinking ahead, had me living with a sense of urgency. That there was never enough time. It was one of my main reasons, why I just couldn’t find the logic in taking even just 15 minutes out of my day to ‘do nothing’. To sit and be present. Wouldn’t this mean that I would have even less time in my day this way?
But the irony was that by slowing down my mind so that it was more aligned with my body – gave me the feeling that I had more time. I felt more calm and because of this, the quality of my work improved. Decisions came from a space of clarity rather than a space of reactivity. I was able to communicate more effectively, as the other person could sense my full presence and understanding. There were also times when moments of insight would arise during the day, when I least expected it. Perhaps because I was more in tune with my surroundings.
Rising and Falling
I became hooked. People like me did have a chance to reap the benefits of mindfulness – and the best part was that I could integrate it into my messy un-zen life.
Now, when I walk, even if it’s just for a few moments, I bring my attention to the movements of my body right left right left.
When I cook, I use my attention to the slicing of whatever it is I’m cutting (which is a good thing as I’m horrible with knives).
When I’m in a meeting, I’ll take a few moments to bring my mind to the present by connecting to the movement of my breath rising falling rising falling.
I wish I could say that I do the above a lot and for long stretches of time, but I don’t (yet). I’m still very much exploring this and am already happy if I remember to do it for a few moments throughout my day.
What I am encouraged by, is that I don’t have to be a natural born meditation master. I don’t need to make drastic changes to my life or become a hermit who refrains from the world in order to live a more mindful one. I too can benefit from all the good stuff and live a life that is actively engaged – all it takes is one breath at a time.