To cultivate mindfulness in our daily activities is to re-engage with the present moment. To wake up to what is going on within and around us in the here and now. The practice of mindfulness allows us to switch off auto-pilot and turn on conscious living. There are many ways to integrate mindfulness into our day-to-day schedule – here are some of the ones I personally enjoy:
1. Sitting Meditation. Soon after I wake up in the morning I practice sitting meditation for 20 minutes. I find that starting off my morning with meditation enables me to have a strong foundation for the unfolding of the rest of the day.
2. Bowing to the Earth. I end my sitting meditation with three bows to the earth. I consider these to be a practice in offering gratitude. In my first bow I always say the same thing: I bow to the earth in gratitude for this one precious life. My second and third bows vary from day to day. Sometimes I offer gratitude to my parents and ancestors, my friends and community, or my husband and son. Sometimes I offer gratitude for joy, abundance, the luxuries of electricity, housing, food, or clean water. And sometimes I offer gratitude for the earth, sky, waters, air, sun, and moon. Offering gratitude is important. And I find bowing to be important as well. While kneeling I bend over and prostrate to the earth, resting my forehead down on my meditation cushion, with my hands on the floor, palms facing upwards. Prostrating to the earth is a practice of humbling oneself, of letting go of the ego, of connecting, and of offering reverence.
3. Meal Gratitude. Before each meal I take a moment to stop and connect with the food in front of me and the many conditions present that brought it to my plate I and say a few words of gratitude. If I’m eating with my family at home we take turns saying them aloud but when that isn’t the case (which is much of the time) I simply say them to myself silently. I have a long and short version that I often recite.
Short version: This food is the gift of the whole universe, the earth, the sky, and much hard work.
Long version: This food is the gift of the whole universe, the earth, the sky, and much hard work. May I keep my compassion alive by remembering that there are many people who don’t have enough food to eat or access to clean water, who will die of starvation and malnutrition today. I accept this food with gratitude and reverence for the life I am afforded.
4. Looking Up. It’s as simple as it sounds. I practice looking up – at trees, buildings, roof tops, ceilings, lights, the sky, birds, and telephone wires. Why? Looking up allows us to change our perspective, to shift our attention from ourselves in our own little universe to our surroundings in the bigger picture of life, and to connect with the present physical moment around us. We’re often too self-focused throughout the day and looking up can unglue us from ourselves.
5. Mindfulness Bells. Anything that can help us to come back to our breath in the present moment is a bell of mindfulness. When we encounter a bell of mindfulness we stop what we’re doing and breathe in and out 1-3 times. Common ones include a telephone ringing, a red light or stop sign while driving or biking, or anytime you take a drink of water or encounter stairs. I have a bell chime that goes off every hour in my house and I use that as a mindfulness bell. I also have a tree that I affectionately call The Breathing Tree that resides out front of our local organic grocery store that I frequent often. Whenever I see it I practice to stop and breathe and smile, if even only for a brief moment. Mindfulness bells aren’t designed to be fancy and take up a lot of time, they’re designed to be a consistent way for us to remember to breathe. Be creative – bells of mindfulness abound everywhere we go!
6. Taking Notice of Beauty. Beauty also abounds everywhere we go and I practice to take notice of it and sometimes even stop to appreciate it. There are many types of beauty in the world both seen and unseen: natural beauty, manmade beauty, artistic, abstract, industrial, movement oriented, action inspired, functional, and communal beauty. When we begin to train ourselves to see beauty, and not simply pass it by in our hurried, distracted states, it starts to multiply and grow and soon we’ll be able to find it even in the most unlikely places.
These six practices can be whittled down to a few key words: Gratitude, Stopping/Stillness, Connection. When we cultivate gratitude, stopping/stillness, and connection our seeds of mindfulness are watered. As we become more diligent over time in continuing these practices we begin to see the many fruits of developing the ever unfolding art of mindfulness.