It was 10:30 a.m., and I found myself guzzling down the last half of my morning green smoothie, wondering why my stomach hurt. Then it hit me: My stomach hurt because I was guzzling down my breakfast while frantically rushing from one place to the next. My head hurt too. No wonder.
Such is the course of modern life. It seems like we are always rushing from one place to the next, barely noticing where we've been, let alone where we are going or what happened in between. Have you ever found yourself arriving at your destination with no real memory for how you got there? Which road did you take? Was there any traffic? Did you notice the two squirrels playing by the side of the road? Of course not. Like me, you were probably rehashing the argument you had with your boss or thinking about how you need to talk to your husband about XYZ (fill in the blank) when you get home.
But let me share a secret with you: By rushing through life, trying to cram everything in, you are missing the very best moments of your life -- the way a fresh picked tomato tastes right from the garden, the way the sun reflects golden light off of your daughter's hair, the way the birds joyously chirp in your backyard. These are the moments that matter -- the ones where you find stillness, the moments that take your breath away.
I know what you're thinking: "But I don't have time to live a mindful life." I think it's more appropriate to say that you don't have time not to. We only have this one chance, this one life to live. Don't you want to live it to your fullest? I know I do.
So how can you live a more mindful life? Don't worry -- I'm not asking you to move to a monastery or convert to Zen Buddhism. What I am asking is for you to start taking a little time each day -- moments, seconds really -- where you become aware of what you are doing. Being more fully present in your life will allow you to bring more joy into each moment. And we can all use a little more joy in our lives.
Don't know where to start? Try these tips:
1) Eating mindfully -- Have you ever had something that tasted so good that you wanted to savor every bite? That's mindful eating. How do you achieve that state with every meal? Here's a hint: Put down your iPad, stop the car, and quit yelling at your husband. Instead, savor the flavor of each bite. You'll find the meal much more satisfying and satiating if you actually take time to taste it and chew your food. Closing your eyes the first few times you do this exercise can help you focus as well. And if mindfully eating an entire meal seems like too much at first, just try to eat the first bite mindfully. Then the second. Then the third. There. Isn't that better?
2) Doing housework -- This is a great exercise to try while washing dishes. It's something many of us do every day without really paying attention to what we're doing. Instead, try this: Fill a sink with warm soapy water and plop all of the dishes that need to be washed into that sink (except the knives or anything else sharp -- we're going by feel here and I don't want you to cut yourself). Take a deep breath and center yourself. Grab your sponge or dish brush and reach into the bubbly water. Feel the bubbles tickling your skin. Pick up the first dish and feel the texture of the plate. Notice the smell of the dish soap (again, it helps to do this eyes closed the first time). Feel the sponge in your hand and begin to wash the dish in your other hand. Notice the different sensations the sponge and the plate give you. If you feel like exploring, feel the texture of whatever food is still stuck on the plate and feel how it changes as it gets soaped and scrubbed. Once the plate is sufficiently clean, turn on the water and feel it move over your hands as you allow the water to clean the soap from the plate. Once clean, put the plate on a dish dryer or better yet, grab a dish towel and feel how that texture feels on your skin as you dry the dish off. I bet you never thought doing dishes could be so much fun!
3) On your commute -- This exercise can be done in the car, on your bike, or on a walk -- however you get to work in the morning. Your job is simply to notice. Notice the other cars on the road. Notice the feeling of the steering wheel (or bike handlebars) beneath your hands (or the ground beneath your feet). Notice where the sun (or moon) is if it is directly visible without having to crane your head and risk getting in a wreck! If the weather is right, turn off the radio and roll down the windows. Notice the feel of the breeze against your skin, the sounds of the birds or traffic around you. You might be tempted to make judgments about what you see or hear; try to avoid doing that and just notice instead. See if you can keep that up for the whole commute. It may take a while, but over time, if you can stay mindful during your entire commute, I guarantee you'll arrive at your destination much more relaxed and in a much better mood!
I hope these tips have given you some ideas on how to bring mindful awareness into your everyday life. It's not difficult, you just have to put your mind to it (pun intended). How can you bring mindfulness into your life today?
For more by Mary Pritchard, Ph.D., click here.
For more on mindfulness, click here.