People tend to think meditation needs to be this gigantic, long process that takes up massive portions of your day, every day, forever and ever. They imagine Buddhist monks that sit in silence for days on end, or people at home sitting cross-legged with their eyes closed as the hours melt away from around them.
Many of us don’t really have that kind of time, am I right?
We work, we play, we have hobbies and relationships and friendships and children that need attending to, and some people don’t even have a quiet space they can have to themselves for that long of a time, let alone a few minutes.
So what do you do? How do you reap the benefits of meditation when you don’t have the kind of hours your imagination tells you that meditation requires?
Meditation isn’t necessarily that image I described before. Meditation is simply re-training your focus to pay attention to the current moment in a non-analytical way, and learning to observe thought instead of ruminating in it.
Okay...what does that mean?
Take mindful meditation for example, where you sit quietly and focus on your breath. Your focal point is your breath, the air as you inhale it into your body, then your exhale. As your mind wanders, which the human mind often does, you gently bring your focus back to your breath. You observe those thoughts instead of stopping them (because let’s face it, the brain is a reflexive organ that has some 60,000 thoughts a day; go ahead, try to “stop” that).
The more you practice, the easier keeping your attention on the desired focal point becomes, and you learn to simply be in the moment, whatever you are doing.
Meditation, at its simplest, is just being present in the current moment. When you are driving, you can meditate. When you are cooking, you can meditate. You can even meditate as you work.
Here are some small places in your day that you can find meditation. This may be particularly helpful if you have kids, a crazy life, a crazy job, or even if you have tried the sit-and-listen-to-your-breath-silently meditation style and it wasn’t quite your jam.
I will note, however, that for some people these may be more advanced techniques. The human brain is easily distractible, meaning you're trying to be mindful, you see something, and your brain runs off on a tangent about that thing, that leads to another thing and another. Practicing meditation silently can help you do these things better.
So for each of these, think about counting ten breaths. If you lose your focus before ten breaths are up, then just gently start again.
It takes practice. That's why it's called a meditation practice, not perfection, because you are always just practicing.
Americans spend on average 26 minutes each way on their commute to work. That’s a total of 52 minutes per day.
What do you usually do on your commute? Listen to faceless voices over the radio? Jam out to music? Ruminate in the negative thoughts about how much you hate your job, your boss, or your life? The music thing isn’t so bad, but IDK about the rest of it.
Try finding meditation on your commute. (Obviously don’t close your eyes for this one).
You can play music, or sit in silence, but just be with the sensation of driving. Watch the road and all the cars around you that are sharing that road. Pay attention to your breath, and the sensations you feel as you turn your car to follow the road’s curves, as you slow down or speed up with traffic or stoplights.
If someone cuts you off, let go of the thoughts of judgment. Don’t think one way or the other about that other driver’s actions, just let it be. If those thoughts come up, let them go, and bring your attention back to the current moment with a smile.
Being present with your food is a great way to be mindful of what you are putting into your body, and the process it takes to get there.
Instead of flipping on the ‘tube as you get dinner ready, turn off the television, turn off the music, and just be present with your cooking.
Feel what each ingredient feels like as you prepare it.
Listen to the sounds that emanate from your pots and pans as the food cooks.
Lose yourself in the smells that fill your kitchen as the meal comes close to being ready.
When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the present moment.
A meditative walk.
Meditation doesn’t have to be done from a stagnant position.
According to Thich Nhat Hanh, walking meditation is a profound way to deepen our connection with our body and the earth. In Buddhism, walking meditation is called kinhin, which is intertwined with periods of sitting meditation (called zazen).
Walking meditation can allow you to feel your body as it moves, connecting with your muscles and joints and strengthening your mind-body connection.
If you have access to a forest, park, or area with abundant nature, you can do a meditation walk there, absorbing the healing energy of the earth. In Japan, the practice of Shinrin-Yoku, or forest bathing, is practiced widely and is basically a quiet, meditative walk in which you take in the atmosphere of the forest.
You don’t have to do walking meditation in a forest, however, you can do it around your own neighborhood.
Take twenty minutes in the morning. Instead of sitting in your kitchen, sipping coffee, and scrolling social media, take a calm walk up and down your street.
Unify your steps with your breath. Walk slowly, and see how many steps it takes to inhale, then exhale the same amount.
For me, I do three steps for an inhale, hold for a step, and three breaths for an exhale.
Connect with each step and each breath, and be present with the atmosphere, the noises, and all going on around you. If you feel your mind wandering off in judgment of someone or something you just passed, gently bring it back to the present moment.
Your morning coffee.
This has been my favorite space of mindfulness for the past couple of years of my life.
When I pour my morning cup of joe, I find a space on my comfy barrel chair next to the living room sliding glass door, and sit in quiet contemplation as I drink it and awaken my body for the day.
I keep my eyes open on this one and gaze out the window as the sun rises and the light fills the space between the leaves of the trees outside, and across my neighbor’s roof onto our own deck. My dog sits next to me watching for squirrels in his own meditative space, and we enjoy a few moments of mindful silence together.
My mind gets busy in the morning sometimes, as thoughts about yesterday and what I need to do today come up, so sometimes it’s a little more challenging to be fully present, but that's why meditation is called a practice: Because you are constantly practicing it, there is no finish line or perfection you are striving for, and even the most experienced meditators can succumb to periods of distraction once in a while.
Each time my mind wanders to my day’s to-do list or to the activities of yesterday, I gently bring it back to the present moment, my cup of coffee, my dog watching the squirrels, and the sunlight waking up the world outside.
Moments at work.
I know, work can be draining sometimes, and when you have a monotonous job, it can be difficult to not let your mind wander as boredom sets in.
Being present in your work can help with efficiency if you do one thing at a time mindfully instead of attempting to multitask, and if you find a flow state, the day can seem to melt away as work becomes a source of joy instead of pain.
It’s tough that most people don’t enjoy their jobs that much, and even when you do love your job, there are probably days where you’d rather be somewhere else, and that’s totally normal.
Especially if you’re having one of those days, try to find small moments in your work to bring your mind to the present.
Take a pause from what’s in front of you.
Take ten deep breaths, where you only focus on the air going in and out of your lungs and count each breath. When your mind wanders, bring it back to the present.
Ten breaths may be a minute or two, give or take, and it can be a minute away from a stressful job or a mundane task, a minute where you can just go inside and be, without judgment of what’s in front of you or what you need to do with the rest of your day.
A body scan before bed.
As you lie down at the end of the day, put down your phone, turn off your screens.
Take a few minutes to breathe deeply and gently, filling your lungs to capacity then exhaling slowly.
Starting at your toes, with each breath, and work your way up your body.
Bring your awareness to each part of your body, working your way up to your legs, your torso, up to your back and down your arms, up your stomach and chest, into your neck and head, and out the top of your crown.
Do this slowly and mindfully, becoming aware without judgment of any aches, pains, or fatigued areas. Send those areas calm, relaxing energy.
You may not make it to the top of your head before you drift off to sleep. That can be the challenge with lying down meditations, which is that it’s an invitation for the body to fall asleep.
If your day is a cluster of work, family, home, and other commitments, finding this moment before you go to bed can be a small step towards learning meditation. It can be a moment to yourself, as at some point or another, we all lie down to go to sleep.
Meditation doesn’t have to be a big, fancy commitment. Just because your friend did a 10-day meditation retreat, doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing to start meditating.
Meditation simply means being aware of the present moment without judgement. Learning to retrain your focus, observe your thoughts instead of dwell in them, and be present in the moment is meditation at it’s finest, and doing it in small increments throughout your day, whenever or wherever you can find a moment or two, will help you grow in this practice.
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