The term “mindfulness” is often used hand in hand with “meditation,” and for good reason: Meditation is one of the longest-standing and most common techniques for practicing mindfulness.
However, it isn’t the only way. In Buddhist teaching, it is said that there are 84,000 doors to enlightenment. Today, I’ll mention just five.
- Eat: We often eat mindlessly, whether we’re doing so while watching television, reading a book, or engaging in conversation. Although enjoying a good meal with friends or family can be a mindful experience, being mindful of the actual experience of eating is easier when done alone — or at least in silence. Try eating slowly and paying attention to the sensations associated with each bite. Also, check out the raisin exercise if you haven’t tried it already.
- Perform: Singing, playing a musical instrument, and other kinds of performing can be excellent vehicles for mindfulness. If you try learning a new song — particularly one that is challenging for you — you may find that the extra degree of concentration required helps you stay mindfully aware of your body and the direct experience from moment to moment.
- Write: The intellectual aspect of writing poses the risk of taking you out of the present moment and placing your focus exclusively on your thoughts, which can impede rather than promote a holistic state of mindfulness. One way to write mindfully is to engage in observational writing: Take note of your present experience and try to accurately describe it as it unfolds. You might find that the act of writing helps keep you focused on your direct experience.
- Move: Many traditional practices, such as walking meditation, yoga, and martial arts, have been developed at least in part as mindfulness practices. However, any kind of movement can be used as part of a mindfulness practice. Some people find simple and repetitive movements to work best, while others find varied and challenging movements most helpful for keeping the mind focused on the present moment.
- Explore: Simply exploring your environment, such as by taking a walk outside and paying attention to your surroundings, can be an excellent exercise in mindfulness. In addition, it’s a way to take a break from work and get some fresh air.
Some might say that these are all forms of meditation. I won’t bother quibbling over semantics. Instead, my goal is to point out how practices other than sitting meditation — which is what many people think of when they hear the word “meditation” — can be useful for supporting a state of mindfulness.
Different people will find different practices useful at different times. I tend to find movement-based practices most helpful to me, but even that varies depending on the time of day and my mood. Anything can aid mindfulness if approached with the right attitude, and the key is to experiment and find what works best for you.
If none of the suggestions in this article fit the bill, don’t despair. There are at least 83,995 more!