There's nothing like formal seated meditation for training the mind in the art of equanimity, but seated meditation can often seem intimidating or time-consuming. I've recently been experimenting with a lightweight form of meditation that is not hard and won't take a single minute out of your day. It may even give you a few minutes back by helping you fall asleep more quickly. I call it the Day in Review, and here's how it works.
Unlike most meditation, you do this one by laying down in bed, with the lights out, at the end of the day. The technique is deceptively simple -- you simply visualize everything you did today, starting from the moment you woke up, right up to the moment you started to review your day, in as much detail as you can remember. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
- Every detail matters. It's not enough to just think, "And then I brushed my teeth." Instead, try to visualize exactly where and how you were standing, what the toothpaste tasted like, what you were thinking about as you did it, where you were looking, what sounds you may have heard, etc. Bring in all five senses, and try to relive the experience. You might be amazed at what you end up remembering -- like the model and color of a car you were following, or the pattern on a colleague's shirt, or even the exact wording of an email you wrote.
- You don't have to relive every second, but if something changed (e.g., you finished brushing and started spitting and rinsing), then you should review the new activity.
- Don't worry about skipping something if you can't remember anything about it.
- Most importantly, keep yourself on track. In other words, when your mind starts to wander off onto future events or things you did some other day, gently remind yourself that you can think about those things some other time, right now is your review time.
- Also, don't cheat and jump ahead to the "juicy" or "important" events. The really juicy stuff is actually all of the other things you did. Try to remain a detached observer of your life, without looping back on the same "good" or "bad" experiences.
- Try to keep it a little challenging. Some of us are much better than others at visualizing and remembering. If that's the case for you, just reach for the next level of detail, the one that makes it a little bit hard to recall.
- There's one basic rule: You must review everything you did today, in the order you did it. It's okay to get sidetracked, and you'll probably want to replay some scenes, but you should always come back to your timeline review wherever you left off as soon as you realize that's happened.
By the way, I rarely make it much past my memories of this morning's breakfast before I fall asleep. And that's okay. In fact, it's a happy side effect!
You may be thinking, "That's not meditation! There's no paying attention to the breath, there's no sitting upright, there's no focus on the third eye or visualizing of lights or mantras!" Indeed, there aren't any of those things, except for the use of visualization. But the core activity of any meditative practice is control of your attention and maintaining your focus on something. That something doesn't have to be your breath -- it can be just about anything, and in this practice it's the story of your day and how you moved through the world in the last 16 or so hours. The practice of always returning to the true story of your day, as an external observer, will help you learn how to view your life with both detachment and acceptance. It may also motivate you to have more awareness during the course of the day, so that your nightly review can be that much more detailed.
I really like this practice for a number of reasons, and not just because it's easy and helps me fall asleep. First of all, it's different every time I do it, so there's no resistance on my part from being worried it may be boring. Second, like some other forms of meditation, it's the re-telling of a story, but this one doesn't involve any memorization and is super personal and relevant. Third, it's a nice way to put "bookends" on the day, closing today's chapter and letting you file away the good, the bad, and the ugly -- resetting your mind to start the next day anew.