Many of our day-to-day moments in life can feel like a routine if we are not careful. We tend to do the same things over and over again. Wake up, do hygiene, walk the dog, go to work, come home, eat, spend time with family and then go to bed. Rinse and repeat day after day, week after week, month after month…. Life can continue like that for years until one day you wake up and realize, “wow, more than a decade have passed by stuck in a mind-numbing hamster wheel.” The question then becomes, “how did I allow myself to get stuck into that pattern?”
However, the above – even if it sounds like reality for many – it is in fact just an illusion. Yes, it might seem like most days are exactly similar, yet each day can be a new adventure. We may always take the same way home, but each time home is not the same trip. The weather isn’t always the same; the people you meet are often different, acting differently; wildlife around you will be different – running around one day, resting on the other, etc.
Our ability to perceive the nuances of each day is often limited, but that does not change the truth of the matter that nothing is the same day to day. Change is ever-present, whether we realize it or not. The key is to raise our awareness of these changes.
The goal for those who meditate then is to bring the “sitting on the cushion into daily life.” That means the practice of mindfulness meditation (Vipassana-Buddhist term translated as “insight”) into everyday being. One does not need to be a Buddhist to practice mindfulness meditation; Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn developed mindfulness-based stress reduction in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts, which has popularized this ancient practice in the west.
One of the simplest definitions of mindfulness is as follows: “… it entails observing sights, sounds, and other sensations, including internal bodily sensations and thoughts, without being carried away by them” (Ricard, Lutz & Davidson, 2014).
Living a life heightened by mindfulness does not necessarily require one to sit in meditative positions for hours – it can start by simply taking a conscious effort daily to slow down just a little and notice the moment – notice what is exactly going on around you: the sounds closest to you, furthest from you, your muscle tension, your emotional state… You’ll notice things you’ve never noticed before.
Once you experience mindful moments, you’ll start experiencing life at another level and might want to take it a notch up and perhaps even start some Mindful Meditation.
How does one practice mindfulness meditation?
Commit about 3 to 5 minutes of quiet time. Assume a body position where your spine is straight, and your body relaxed – this can be in the traditional meditation sitting posture, sitting on a chair, or laying flat on the floor, yoga mat, or cushion. Allow your mind to rest for a few minutes, letting whatever happens or doesn’t happen to be part of the experience. You may notice things like physical discomfort, awareness of sounds, awareness of smells, your mind is a total blank, or your mind is angry or agitated. Just relax with whatever arises in your attention. Once you end the practice, ask yourself, ”How was that?” Don’t judge or try to explain. Review what happened and how you felt.
The idea behind this practice is not to relax, which it can do, but to observe and gain awareness about how you respond. How do I feel at this moment? What is the mind doing?
What sensations are occurring in the body? This “observation” gives you awareness of your actual state of being, something most people never get to experience.
Here is an example of how this practice blended in one instance into my life. Years ago, I developed some anxiety around public speaking. I never really paid attention to the nervousness that led up to the event until one day, fifteen minutes before I was to go on stage, I became “aware” of how my body was responding. I would get on stage all the previous occasions, and eventually, the feeling would go away as I became more comfortable. This time I observed the anxiousness and said to myself, “I’m doing it again.” I immediately gained more control when I became aware and thought, “I’ve done this multiple times before and survived; why continue feeling this way?” At that moment, my anxiety dissipated, and I have not had much of an issue since. The awareness and the understanding that this time was not the same, gave me the control necessary to mitigate the anxiety.
Developing routines is a powerful way of the brain to simplify our lives and allow us to do many mundane things without much thought. As a result it is impossible and unnecessary to have complete awareness 100% percent of the time. Our evolutionary process which got us to this point cannot be overcome with the flip of a switch. One helpful tool is recognizing the contrast between our autopilot times versus mindful moments and feeling that difference can bring us more awareness of the fullness of our lives. Looking at the moments of our lives in totality and not sleepwalking, only to wake up one moment and recognize so much time has passed.
Time will wait for none of us. Whether you enjoy, hate, or discard the moments, the hours will continue to pass. Regularly choosing to stay in the moment for as long as possible will help us have less anxiety about the future or painful memories related to the past.
After practicing mindfulness for a while, you’ll be able to enjoy life more fully and not be controlled by routines that snuck up on you, nor be constantly affected by past hurts. We cannot change the past and are unable to control our future completely, so ruminating about them will cause you unnecessary pain. Far better to stay in the moment and enjoy the subtle minute details of life. Those moments with family and friends that we take for granted today are not guaranteed to any of us tomorrow. Ask yourself, “do you want to miss the best days of your life and the people you love because you were on autopilot?”
Vertis Williams is a Positive Habits Life Coach and a Mindfulness Trainer. He is a regular presenter at employee and team-development events. Contact him to request more info on his Workshops or on his Coaching Services! Click HERE to Request a Complimentary Habit Coaching Session!