So, you’ve heard all the hype about meditation. You’ve heard about the health benefits. You’ve heard it will make you happier, lower your stress, and help you sleep better. But here’s the only problem… You hate meditation. I get it.
But I’ve got good news for you. A lot of the evidence in support of meditation isn’t necessarily about meditation. It’s about mindfulness. So, what’s the difference?
Mindfulness is noticing each thought, feeling, body sensation, and surrounding environment in the moment as you’re experiencing it without judging it as good or bad. Meditation is a mindfulness practice, but it is not the only way to experience or practice mindfulness.
How else can you practice mindfulness? Here are 7 ideas, but don’t limit yourself to this list. This is just to get you thinking about what it means to be mindful and notice the opportunities all around you.
The Raisin Meditation
In “The Mindful Way Through Depression”, John Kabat Zinn writes about a raisin meditation where you notice as much as possible about this raisin. If you want to try this at home, get a raisin (or any small edible item will do) and hold this raisin in your hand. Imagine where it all began— a flower on a far off vine. Imagine the sun and water nurturing it to maturity. Imagine it being plucked from the vine and drying out in sun. Imagine the many hands it went through before ending up here in your hand. Observe it closely. What does it look like? Describe it in detail including size, shape, color, and imperfections. What does is smell like? What does it feel like? If you squeeze it, does it make any noise? Now, place it in your mouth. What do you notice? How is your body responding to food? How is your mind responding? Chew the raisin- SLOWLY. What do you notice? How does it taste? What is the texture? What does it feel like to swallow the raisin? Isn’t that an incredibly different experience than sticking your hand into the raisin container, grabbing a handful, and popping them into your mouth on your way back to the computer?
Washing a Bowl
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, suggests practicing mindfulness on simple, every day events– even something as simple as washing a bowl. After your morning cereal, take your bowl to the sink and focus all your attention on the action of washing the bowl. Pay attention as your hand turns the water on. If you bring your hand under the faucet to test the temperature, notice the feel of the water against your skin. Feel the texture of the sponge in your hand. Hear the water falling against the sponge. Hear the squish as the soap is squeezed in the sponge and begins to foam. Smell the scent of soap. Bring the sponge to the bowl and feel the pressure of the bowl pressing into one hand while you wipe with the other. You can practice mindfulness by experiencing each moment of an action as you take it.
You can practice mindfulness while you’re eating. Mindful eating happens to be a useful strategy for people who struggle with an eating disorder, because it helps you become more aware of your physical and emotional relationship with food. To eat mindfully, turn off the TV, walk away from the computer, put down your phone. Just eat. Observe. What does the food look like on your plate? What colors and textures do you notice? How hungry are you right now? How do you feel about the food you’re about to eat? What do you want this food to do for you? Focus on each bite. After taking a bite, put your fork down. What is the sensation of food in your mouth? Hot, cold, heavy, smooth? What is the flavor? Sweet, salty, spicy, tangy, sour, savory? Can you identify any of the individual ingredients? Does it make any noise when you chew it? Do you like what you’re eating or not? Don’t judge if liking or not liking it is good or bad. Just notice that you do. Before you take another bite, ask yourself if your level of hunger has changed at all, if your emotional state has changed, and if you want to eat another bite.
Before each meal is an opportunity to practice mindfulness by saying grace. The fact that we have food to eat everyday is a miraculous collaboration that involved the entire planet. It took people, technology, good weather, good soil, and an absence of disease. Before a meal, pause. Reflect on the people, places, and things that made your meal possible. Feel the weight of the reality that your life is made possible at the expense of other living creatures. Understand that this bounty is not guaranteed and many people did not receive the same bounty as you. Rejoice in the magical ability of food to bring people together despite our difference. If you feel so moved, you can use words from your religious tradition or from your heart to express, vocally or silently, your gratitude for your food.
An easy and quick mindfulness practice can happen at the end of the day. Before falling asleep, grab a journal, and list 5 things you are grateful. Did someone do something for you today? Did you learn something new today? Did you have an opportunity to do something today? Did you laugh today? Did you enjoy something today? Did you accomplish a goal? Did you make someone feel special? What are you proud of? What surprised you? What do you want to remember? Capturing these moments brings a bit more mindfulness into your life.
Who says mindfulness can only happen in stillness? Bring mindfulness to your movement. You can take a walk where you are paying very close attention to your surroundings and how your emotions respond to those surrounding. You can be mindful while you’re exercising. Turn the music or tv off. Notice how your body feels. Is it tense? Is anything sore? How is your breathing changing as you accelerate your movement? Do you feel your muscles contracting? Does anything feel strained? Should you make some changes to how you’re working out? And then there are practices that naturally combine movement and mindfulness, and if you’re interested, you can take classes in QiGong, Karate, Aikido, Tai Chi, or sacred dancing.
Mindfulness can be as simple as sitting on a park bench. You can sit outside and notice the sights, sounds, and sensations. As you sit there, you may notice right away the sound of the wind in the trees, but if you keep sitting there, you’ll pick up other sounds you didn’t notice before. There may be a chain occasionally connecting with a metal fence or a dog barking far away. You may notice right away the people playing Frisbee, but if you keep sitting there, you’ll notice less obvious sights like the small birds flitting among the tree tops or ants marching along their ant highway. You may notice right away the feeling of the sun on your face, but if you keep sitting there, you’ll notice other sensations like the light breeze on your cheek or the pressure of the bench on your thighs.
The opportunity to practice mindfulness is all around you, so even if you don’t like meditating, you can still benefit from mindfulness.
And if you want some help, my new book walks you through slowly, gently, easily, consistently creating more mindfulness in your life. You can buy it on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2gUZMHa