The worst thing about thoughts is that they steal you away the moment. One minute you’re enjoying the cool minty taste of toothpaste on your tongue and the rotating vibrations of your electric toothbrush, and the next, you’re sending a Facebook message to a girl from your bed. You seem to have teleported, that was impressive.
You’ve bounced between activities without even engaging in them and you’ve missed out on some noteworthy physical sensations. And all for what? Thinking about that conversation you had with your boss 10 hours ago or silently repeating that to-do list item over and over in your head. It’s not worth it. This habitual rehearsing and replaying takes over our entire lives and unless we practice catching these thoughts, we’ll continue living that way until we wake up on our death bed.
This is where meditation comes in. In the most basic meditation, we simply sit and concentrate on our breath. We focus on it, calmly and subtly. Then when we drift into thought (almost immediately) we realise that we have done so, and bring our attention back to the breath.
Day dreaming during meditation is completely natural and you should try not to attach negative emotions to it. It’s all part of the practice and you should welcome thoughts with open arms before acknowledging them and returning to the breath.
Meditating this way is a solid exercise in catching habitual thoughts and bringing our awareness back to a point of focus and it can be applied to anything — especially cleaning your teeth!
When to be Mindful
There are of course times when this presence of mind isn’t desired. Often we wish to get lost in thought when solving complex problems, reading, writing or engaging in deep reflection or visualisation. Luckily the mind is very good at getting completely immersed in itself and you wont find yourself accidentally being mindful when you don’t want to be.
I find that during work I’m almost always lost in my project. Hours will flash past without my knowledge and sometimes a whole day will disappear without me being present.
Because I get caught up in my work, I have created multiple ‘presence triggers’. I try and use the ‘pomodoro technique’ to remind me to take regular mini-breaks in which I try and do 1–2 minutes of meditation. I have a few objects on my desk that friends have given me which I have associated with mindfulness. A small stone, three coins and three paper fish will sometimes catch my eye when I glance down at my computer mouse. I will stop for a second, smile and be present for a second, remembering who and where I am.
Other than my mindfulness triggers I try and be present whenever I’m doing daily tasks. Chopping vegetables, cleaning dishes, cycling, eating, drinking, walking and of course cleaning your teeth can all be done mindfully. I try to really enjoy each of these things and explore the sensations of them. It’s amazing how much satisfaction I get out of chopping a carrot when I really pay attention.
If you’ve never experienced mindful chopping, walking or eating, I invite you to try it. Dedicate your entire being to a single task and see what happens. It wont cost you anything and might change the way you see your chores.