5 Ways to Find the Mindfulness of Meditation Throughout the Day
In one of my favorite stories about meditation a young monk brags to his teacher that he meditated an hour each day. The teacher told the young monk that it wasn’t nearly enough. The younger monk came back a few days later and told the teacher that he was now meditating for 2 hours a day. The teacher congratulates him on the improvement, but tells him it still isn’t enough. This process repeats itself several times until the younger monk is meditating for 6 hours a day. When he tells his teacher, the response is the same. The young monk gets angry and asks exactly how long he must meditate each day. The teacher responds that he must meditate for every moment that he is awake. The younger monk complains that this amount isn’t reasonable, and left no time for the other parts of life. The teacher then explains to the younger monk that although sitting meditation is essential, it is also necessary to hold on to that meditative state throughout the entire day, so that one is meditating every moment they are awake.
In this spirit I’ve put together a list of 5 ways I have found to find the mindfulness of meditation through otherwise normal activities.
1. Listening to Music
The first time I tried meditating the sensation I got from it was vaguely familiar. It was very similar how I felt while listening to music.
A couple of years back I realized that I didn’t like the way I listened to music. To use terminology I didn’t have at the time, I was not mindful of the music as I listened. I had started to use music as a sort of white noise while doing other things, and didn’t really listen to it.
When I came to this realization I decided to make listening to music special, and resolved that I would try to only listen to music when I was able to devote my full attention to it. I stopped listening to music when I worked, drove, and when I worked out. In turn I would set aside occasional time to sit or lay down, put music on, and really focus on the song. I would listen to the words, try to discern their meaning, try to understand the mind of the artist, and what he or she was trying to convey when they wrote the song.
Looking back I realize that I had discovered a form of light meditation. Focusing concentration on a single subject is the essence of meditation, whether that subject is the breath, the mind, or music. Since I have started traditional meditation, I have continued to put time aside to listen to music, and will even occasionally substitute a daily “traditional meditation” for the equivalent time to listen to music. Although listening to music is much more stimulating for the mind, and not as intense as meditation, I still do find some of the same peace in the experience.
When people attempt to describe what it means to be mindful, they often describe the opposite, a sort of “auto-pilot” feeling where while you are doing some task, you start to day dream and your body completes the task with very little attention from the mind. The first time I read this description I immediately thought of driving. I thought of the several times that I had lost myself in thought while driving and only snapped back to full consciousness on arrival at my destination.
It’s ironic that driving was the best example I could think of for being un-mindful, considering that I also think it is one of the best opportunities for daily meditation we have (or maybe it is because mindfulness is absent in driving that it is well suited for meditation). I mentioned in the previous music section that I stopped listening to music as I drove, when I did so I replaced music with podcasts. This solved my problem of abusing the magic of music, but ultimately denied me the chance to recognize the peace of simply being while driving.
After starting my study of meditation and Zen, I realized that some of my time driving would be better spent practicing mindfulness. Since that realization I have spent at least part of my time driving simply focusing on that practice. I follow my breath, I follow my thoughts, I notice the other cars more consciously, I focus on my hands turning the wheel, and I pay attention to my foot as I push on and off of my clutch.
My work commute is extemely short (literally less than 3 minutes), but it still is a little bit of extra time I can dedicate to mindfulness. Talking to coworkers and friends I have heard multiple remark on how they enjoy driving home, because it is a moment to stop. A break from the day between working and the responsibilities of parenthood. I think that this is the same spirit that I have tried to have more recently while driving — accepting and enjoying a moment of peace where you don’t have to do anything besides drive.
Many Zen and meditation teachers will promote walking meditation alongside traditional sitting meditation. So much so that I think it is necessary to differentiate between traditional walking meditation, and taking moments to meditate as you walk.
In traditional walking meditation you would likely plan a walk, and go through the steps that one would in a traditional sitting meditation. Walking meditation is a wonderful way to meditate, but this post is about finding spare time to meditate where one would usually not. Traditional walking meditation takes just as much time as sitting meditation.
So in promoting the idea of trying to meditate and be mindful as you walk, I mean doing so in an ad hoc, unplanned way. When walking from my apartment to my car, from my car into work, and any other time throughout the day I have to walk somewhere more than minute or so away, I will try and use that time as a chance for meditation. The steps I take to do so are very similar to that I take while driving. I focus on my breath, my steps, the air or wind on my face, the sun, etc.
I have a really hard time working out. I have always found myself bored as I do — but even so it has great potential to be used as meditation.
In meditation you start by focusing on your physical sensations. The feeling of the ground or chair beneath you, the feeling of the air on your skin, the sounds of your environment, and most importantly your breath. You also spend some time being aware of your body, taking a minute or two to notice how each part of the body feels — if it is tense, relaxed, sore, etc.
It is this sort of awareness of body that is very easy to achieve while working out especially when doing weight exercises. Focusing on the “burn” feeling achieves the same sort of concentration that is sought after by focusing on the breath. Focusing the different ways the body hurts while working out is in itself a form of meditation.
The idea of using eating as a meditative tool is especially interesting to me because of it’s connection to Christianity. The sacrament of Christian tradition is at its root a meditative practice. The Bible indicates in several passages that Jesus loved eating with his disciples. From him turning water to wine so that a feast could continue, to the last supper, it is clear that Christ found something special in the experience of eating.
When I first learned of mindfulness and of the idea that time not spent mindfully is time wasted, eating was one of the first things I recognized that I regularly let go to waste. I have always had a hard time paying attention and am easily distracted, and eating isn’t an exception. After I learned what it was to be mindful I realized I often would enjoy the first few bites of food, and then become disctacted after that and mindlessly continue to eat the rest of my food without the full enjoyment I would receive if I was mindful.
Trying to eat mindfully has suprisingly been the hardest thing for me to do on this list. Since trying I’ve learned that I have a strong habitual energy to let my mind wonder as I eat. That being said I can tell I am slowly getting better. In the book Waking Up by Toni Bernhard, the author recommends a simple practice before eating to help maintain mindfulness during the meal.
I choose a meal that contains some of my favorie food. Instead of picking up my utensil and diving right in, I stop for three to five minutes and notice everything I can about the food — how it looks, how it smells, how I feel about it. Recognizing that desire for sense pleaseure has arisen, I label it: “Wanting this food; desire has arisen for this food.”
I have only tried this practice a few times as I only read about it recently, but so far it has helped me enjoy my meals much more. In addition to focusing on food in this practice before eating, continuing the practice throughout the meal provides a new experience. When I eat I try to focus intently on the taste of the food itself, what ingredients are in the food, where those ingredients come from, what was neccesary to bring those ingredients to me, as well as the feeling of swallowing. It is a way to truly experience your food.