The point of meditating is to bring about a greater degree of mindfulness, so that your entire life can be transformed. To some extent this can happen naturally; the mindfulness we develop in meditation simply spills over into our daily lives, and we find ourselves being more aware of how our mind and emotions function in everyday encounters with the world, leading to an increased freedom from reactive emotional and mental habits.
But we don’t have to simply hope that our meditation will have an effect on the rest of our lives. We can consciously choose to use everyday activities as opportunities to practice mindfulness. It’s good to take a few daily activities and make a point of doing them with more awareness than usual. You may like to check our blog from time to time, because we publish gathas which can be used as a tool for Mindfulness in daily activities.
When you shower mindfully, you can be aware of the physical actions, such as rubbing soap onto your body, or the way you shampoo your hair. You can be aware of the water hitting your skin and running down your body. You can be aware of how your mind tends to think about what you’re going to be doing next, and get into the habit of bringing your awareness back to your physical experience. (Remember that the point in being mindful is not to think about your experience but simply to notice it.)
One attribute of mindfulness has been described by Japanese Zen Master Suzuki Roshi as “Beginners’ Mind”. Beginners’ Mind arises when we let go of the “been there, done that” attitude that we normally carry in to everyday activities. When we let go of the assumption that there’s no point paying attention to this experience since we’ve done it a million times already, we’re free to fully experience those sensations. Having let go of comparisons with previous experiences, we really can feel almost as if we’re brushing our teeth for the first time.
You may also find that brushing your teeth more mindfully and carefully leads to fewer cavities.
Try eating breakfast without reading. See what it’s like when you really pay attention to the food you’re eating. Notice your mind wandering and bring it back to the experience of eating.
Developing mindfulness triggers
A mindfulness trigger is something that will remind you to break out of “automatic pilot” so that you can be mindful, spontaneous, calm, and free.
The Vietnamese Buddhist Teacher Thich Nhat Hanh suggests posting little notes that will remind you to smile and relax. You can post notes so you will see them first thing in the morning, helping to set the tone for the day. You can stick a note to your computer screen or wherever you work, in order to remind you to detach yourself from the flow of habitual thoughts and emotions for a few breaths.
Mindfulness triggers can also be ordinary actions or objects in your environment. You can learn to associate those actions and objects with being mindful, so that they act as reminders to be aware. What might be called “transitional events” can make the best mindfulness triggers. A transitional event is an action that involves changing from doing one thing to doing another. So walking through a door can be a transitional event that acts as a mindfulness trigger, as can getting into your car, or stepping onto a train or bus or tram, hearing your phone ring, or putting down a briefcase.
You can cultivate mindfulness triggers by choosing a particular transitional event, and consciously reminding yourself to be mindful whenever that event occurs. For example, when the phone rings, you can remind yourself to take our awareness to your breathing, and to smile, and to breathe deeply three times before we reach for the phone.
Mindfulness triggers can be very powerful “wake up calls”. We might be in the habit of grabbing habitually for the phone as soon as it rings. This tends to add to stress, since the compulsive nature of the grabbing suggests that the phone is in charge of our lives — since we can’t control when the phone rings we’re not in charge of our own lives, which is inherently stressful. That small gap that we produce after the phone rings and before we pick it up reminds us that we have choices. We can choose to calm ourselves by consciously taking a few deep breaths, and we can choose to pick up the phone in a friendly state of mind by smiling.
Any other mindfulness trigger can be used in a similar way. We use mindfulness triggers as opportunities to wake up from automatic pilot and to be more fully alive in the present moment. We let go of thoughts of past and future, and in doing so we let go of some of the emotional turmoil that those thoughts engender.
You can even associate a phrase or image with a trigger – for example you could say to yourself “opening my heart” as you open the door to your house, and take your awareness to your emotions as you do so.