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Establishing a formal meditation practice is a powerful way to tap into stillness, manage stress, enhance your overall well-being, and explore the spiritual layers of life. Dedicating time daily to practice meditation creates a habitual retreat into stillness that can serve as an anchor to a deeper level of awareness and keep you from drifting too far out to sea in the turbulent and chaotic activity of daily life. A regular, daily practice is ideal, but with busy lives it can sometimes be challenging to make the time to sit down and meditate.
Fortunately, with some minor tweaks to your attention, everyday activities can become a fertile field for cultivating awareness and present-moment witnessing. It becomes a matter not of what activity you’re engaged in, but rather the quality of attention you bring to that activity. When you begin to shift out of your repetitive thought stream, any activity can become a more conscious and profound experience. Let’s explore the following steps as tools to make everyday experiences more mindful.
Think of anything you do on a daily basis and ask yourself how often you set a clear intention prior to beginning that task. Your intention is an almost subconscious autopilot that runs behind the scenes. However, if you bring forth a conscious intention for the activity you’re engaging in, it will activate additional attention on what it is you’re doing. Better yet is to have the intention for increased attention on the task at hand. Begin your activity with the following affirmation: I am awake and aware; I choose to be fully present as I ___________.
One of the reasons so many meditation traditions focus on the breath is because it is always with you; as long as you live, you breathe. The breath, therefore, is an ever-present anchor to the present moment. By bringing your awareness into the fullness of each breath, you ground yourself in the here and now. Deep, full breathing calms the mind, soothes the body, and takes you into the timelessness eternity of each moment. In the middle of any activity that is pulling your mind into the past or the future, settle into your breath and come home to the now.
It’s important to remember that you don’t have a body and a mind—you have a body-mind. The body-mind is a unified, inseparable whole being that is in a state of constant communication with itself at every level. Described by the yogic sage Patanjali as the Annamaya Kosha, the physical body is the sheath or layer of life made of food that serves as your most intimate instrument for experiencing the physical world. When you shift your attention to your body, you begin to eavesdrop on a symphony of sensations, textures, pressures, temperatures, and movements. Think about it, nearly all of your waking energy is directed outward. When you turn your awareness inward (as you do during the practice of yoga), you begin to have a genuine in-body experience. Feeling the body during any activity or experience helps you to be more mindful and aware of the here and now.
Your sense organs are gateways through which the external world is metabolized into your own subjective experience. Each sense is a wonder to behold, a universe in itself. By shifting all your attention to the input received by one specific sense, you become aware of all the subtle nuances, vibrations, and levels contained within just one small sliver of your perceptual apparatus. You also begin to recognize the sheer magnitude of information pouring into your senses at any given moment. This blend of sensory impressions is totally unique, moment by moment. It has never been before and will never come again, so be sure to give it your most precious resource—attention.
Look around you. What do you see? At first glance you may see objects or people in your environment, the large ‟stuff” of the material universe. But look deeper. Everything you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel is made up of molecules, atoms, vibration of energy within an infinite field of consciousness. Details stacked upon details organized in hierarchies from the invisibly small to mind-bogglingly large, all governed by the laws of nature. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, let your awareness penetrate deeply into everything you notice. A vast universe of amazing complexity and fascinating detail lies in front of you, waiting to be unmasked.
A version of the profound soul question, “Who am I?” this question shifts your attention away from the experience itself to who is having it. In the middle of any activity, put your attention on who it is that is experiencing the activity. In doing this, you cultivate the witness—not just as a function of your consciousness, but as an actual presence, your soul. In this experience, known as Atma Darshan or “glimpsing the soul,” all your roles, titles, labels, positions, and possessions fall away and you know yourself simply as the ever-present witness to the awareness at the core of your being, all beings, and the entire universe.
Metacognition means thinking about thinking, knowing about knowing, or becoming aware of your awareness. It is essentially the act of putting your attention on your thinking process and understanding the manner in which your mind generates and perpetuates your moment-by-moment thought stream.
Ask yourself another question—how often do you watch or pay attention to the activity of your mind? Unless you’re trained in some form of contemplative practice, it is unlikely that you do this very often. Instead, you often are led around by your mind, the repetitive thoughts you have day to day, and the karmic programming that hums along in the background. When you put your attention on the content of your thoughts, however—where the thoughts came from, their associations, or how they make you feel when you think them, for example—you step out of the thought stream and are able to witness those thoughts without judgment. As the philosopher Krishnamurti once said, “Observation without judgment is the highest form of intelligence.” In mindfulness traditions, this state is also known as open monitoring. This practice can be performed during any activity and will bring a meditative quality to any experience.
Now that you have the tools to enliven awareness during activity, think of the following everyday activities as a playground for mindfulness. On the surface they may appear mundane, or even boring, but if you look closer you see that each contains a bounty of present-moment opportunities, just waiting to be embraced.
Although these are common examples of everyday mindfulness, these tools can be applied to any activity. When you make everyday experiences mindful, you take the ordinary ‟stuff” of your life and transform it into a pathway toward enlightenment.
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