You’ve heard the benefits of meditation, and maybe you have a devoted formal practice that gets you up before sunrise. But your ability to connect to the present moment needn’t be limited to the time you are sitting on your zafu or meditation seat. When you soften your expectations of what mindfulness practices look like from the outside, you find that there are many ways you can dip into focused concentration and embodied awareness. Try implementing these habits into your daily routine and before long, mindfulness will become a way of life.
“Wherever you are, that is the entry point.” –Kabir, 15th century Indian poet
1. Listening Meditation
Start where you are. Take a moment while sitting at your desk, taking a break at work, or even eating in a restaurant while your tablemate is in the bathroom. Practice experiencing each sound as it happens, without trying to judge it, label it, or push it away. If you find yourself getting irritated by the sounds around you (e.g., “I’m trying to write an article here; why won’t that dog stop barking?”), try using the sounds as a tool for mindfulness. Bind your consciousness to the sounds as an indication of what is happening during the exact moment you are in. Over time, your attitude toward the sounds around you will change from annoyances to opportunities for awareness.
2. Keep a Journal
Start your days or end your nights with an investigation into your thoughts and feelings. You may numb out on alcohol, drugs, television, or other distractions and miss the opportunity to uncover what your feelings are trying to actually tell you. Feelings do not just go away if left unacknowledged, so take a few minutes several times a week to work through what’s going on with you on the inside. Bear witness to how the emotions shift as you shine the light of awareness on them; they always pass. Mindfulness in this way means giving your emotions the attention they deserve, the way you would to a friend or family member.
3. Eye Gazing
Gaze into the eyes of your baby, a pet, or a partner who’s willing. Depending on who you share this experience with, you may find silent eye contact to be awkward at first, but consider the benefits of social connection and truly being seen. Sustained eye contact has the ability to remind you that you are not alone, that you are one with other beings, and are deeper than your external appearances. Eye contact with a baby or small child strengthens the bond you share. Locking eyes with your cat or dog taps you in to the inherent presence of animals in any situation (inspiring, indeed). And if you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, lingering on the reflection of your own eyes can help you to experience self-compassion and self-love.
4. Object Meditation
Yes, this is a meditation that is often done during formal practice, but how many other ways can you merge with the object of your concentration? Try sitting at your kitchen table and look at—really look—at the food on your plate. Notice the colors, the textures, and the arrangement on the plate. The idea is to concentrate on something that perhaps you never fully contemplate—a flickering candle, a small piece of artwork, or even your own hands. You don’t have to stare at it for long, just a few seconds can bring you deeper into the moment you’re in.
5. Be One with Nature
As you walk your dog, stroll to the end of your driveway to pick up the paper, or go for a run in your neighborhood, practice fully embracing the nature around you. The myriad types of trees, the colors of the flowers, the smell of the ocean, and the twinkling of the stars are all invitations to be one with the now. Take a few extra minutes here and there to really receive the healing vibrations of the earth, and you’ll feel an inner settling that will bring you back to center.
6. Switch Up Your Routine
When you become complacent in your routines, it easy to go on autopilot. If you notice yourself arriving to work without remembrance of the commute, take a different route going home and become a tourist in your own city. Want to slow down your eating habits and really savor your food? Try eating with your non-dominant hand. Have you grown attached to the same spot in your group exercise or yoga class? Move to a different part of the room and get a fresh perspective. Simple acts that shake up your routine help you to experience the newness of your familiar activities, thereby calling for an increased sense of presence.
7. Drive in Silence
Speaking of your commute, try experiencing a quiet drive, practicing mouna, or sacred silence in the car. Give yourself time to decompress from your day, or allow yourself to be silent so you can take in the sights around you. When approached this way, your daily commute from here to there becomes a mindfulness act in and of itself; no time is wasted or taken for granted. If you find yourself mindlessly listening to the radio as background noise, switch it up by alternating your audiobooks, podcasts, and playlists with silent drives to slow things down and be alone with yourself.
8. Unplug from Technology
It may seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning that the simple act of disconnecting from your devices can bring you right back to where you are. Anytime you are working on a computer, using a smart phone, watching TV, or checking social media, your attention is pulled outward, away from the moment you are in. In fact, most people feel nervous or flat out incapable of being alone with “nothing to do.”
When was the last time you sat in the waiting room at the doctor’s office without distracting yourself with some form of entertainment? What about sitting in perfect awareness during an airplane flight or a train ride? (Re)train yourself to be tech-free, at the very least for the first and last hour of the day. Better yet, unplug for an entire day every week or month. It can act as a reboot to your hard drive.
9. Create Pauses
Consider the pace of your life and work pauses into your daily rhythm. Before responding to a question, for example, pause and then answer. Before taking another bite of your meal, pause and really taste what is in your mouth. Recognize when things trigger you to become reactive, and challenge yourself to pause amidst the inner conflict. Perhaps it is when a certain person tells you what to do, when you feel judged, or when things feel rushed. Try taking a pause, a purposeful moment of recalibration, and check in with the moment you’re in. A single breath in a moment of pause can create just enough space to notice your tendencies and make more mindful choices.
10. Connect to Your Senses
It only takes a moment, but connecting to your senses will help you make a memory more effectively than taking a picture. When you find yourself in a moment you want to remember (e.g., you child’s first steps, a beautiful hot air balloon floating through the sky, or your first in-person view of the Grand Canyon), take the time to drop in to each of your sensory experiences.
- What is the smell?
- What is the temperature
- What is the taste of the air?
- What are the sounds?
- What are the colors?
- What are the details of what you see?
When you take the time to really honor your experiences by paying attention to the details, you create mental snapshots that can last a lifetime.
Meditation is the natural state of being present with yourself. Meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn says that when you are fully absorbed in the present moment, paying attention to purpose and not having judgment, you are meditating. So try widening your view of meditation and spread it throughout your day. Let go of what you think it should look like or how the circumstances could be better to meditate “perfectly.” When you realize that by simply paying more attention to what is, your view of the world will certainly change for the better.