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Momentary Mindfulness

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For years I believed that the only way I could manage stress and stay spiritually grounded was to run three miles a day and meditate for an hour in the morning and an hour at night. That's about three hours a day -- more if you count getting dressed to run, showering, organizing the kids and the household so I could disappear to meditate. I've never had that much time to focus on personal activities -- not when my kids were young, and not now.

At best I can do one thing a day, and I'll almost always choose running. That's because I like to run more than I like to meditate. It's not easy to admit that, because a lot of people seem to think it's cool to talk about meditation -- whom your teacher is, how long you meditate every day, which meditation retreats you've signed up for. Actually, that's what really drove me away from the temples I frequented for a while, complete with "masters" who thought they were really quite special. I don't like that stuff. Gurus and guru-seekers bother me, and bragging about your meditation practice just seems wrong. It all turns me off, and then I even use that as an excuse not to meditate. I could find a million more reasons without much trouble.

But if I don't meditate, I don't get the physical, psychological and (for me) spiritual benefits that are very real. Every spiritual tradition on earth has some sort of reflective practice that slows us down and helps us to tune in to consciousness and god, however defined. Recent neuropsychology research on the effects of meditation on physiological processes shows us that it does, in fact, affect us positively. Meditation affects the brain, health, resilience, and our capacity for creativity, cognitive flexibility and learning.

In my work, I advise leaders to cultivate mindfulness practices as a way to manage stress. I advise them on how to sustain resonance by managing the Cycle of Sacrifice and Renewal -- developing self-awareness and the ability to manage emotions helps with the constant struggle to stay centered and healthy in the midst of our crazy lives. All of that can be helped by meditation. But two hours a day? Even 20 minutes a day is a challenge.

So what to do? I've found a way that works for me and it's easy. I call it momentary mindfulness. A long time ago, when I hadn't read anything about meditation and there wasn't any neuroscience to support it, I'd take the odd moment here or there during the day and just breathe. I'd try to focus on calm, positive feelings for a minute or two. I tried to notice fleeting emotions and stop to feel: happiness about a friend's loyalty, joy at the sight of a beautiful sky, even gratefulness that I have the capacity for deep emotions when I've cried over life's tragedies.

Over the now 40 years I've been practicing momentary mindfulness, I've found it to be useful and joyful. Here's what I do: Every so often during the day, I remind myself to tune in to myself, my environment, and others. I don't pick the moments ahead of time, or have any regular times of day. When the thought or mood strikes me, I meditate for 30 seconds, a minute or two. It might be when I'm getting ready to feed my dogs in the morning. Instead of rushing through the task, I slow down a bit, take a few deep breaths, and then call them. That tiny moment of mindfulness opens me up to their crazy, wonderful joy and I can actually feel how much they love me and I love them. I laugh at myself because I love them so much. I open my mind and my senses to the experience. I feel their joy as they bound into the kitchen. I really laugh. That in itself is worth the 30 seconds I spent in mindful meditation before I called them for breakfast. Moments of momentary mindfulness make experiences brighter, fuller. Life's most beautiful little moments, like when I play with my grandbaby Benjamin, come into focus and are amazing, not just good.

Momentary mindfulness helps with things that aren't much fun as well. Say I need to have a difficult conversation with a coworker. When I get scared about the conversation or angry about what I think they've done, I stop for a few seconds and meditate. Instead of hunkering down and avoiding my feelings I tune in to my emotions. I try my best to breathe deeply and take in the other person's experience. It helps. I'm better prepared for the conversation and more grounded. No matter how upset the other person is, I have a reservoir of empathy and compassion to draw on.

Momentary mindfulness is easy to fit into your to daily life. No one has to know you are doing it -- it takes seconds, and you don't even have to close your eyes. Momentary mindfulness is a private, quiet practice that will not take you away from life. It will add to your life.

For more by Annie McKee, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.

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