06/29/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Living Meditation: Bringing the Benefits to Daily Life

Just over a year ago, I posted my first column for Huffington Post called Putting Life on Pause:Three Mini-Meditations for People Who Don't Have Time to Meditate. It addressed ways to incorporate some aspects of stress reduction and meditation practice into small moments of our lives. Here are some other ways for those of you who are curious about the benefits of meditation but haven't taken the plunge into daily practice or who would like to further explore how your practice can benefit your daily life.

Many students are simply not in a place where a daily thirty minute practice works for them. In fact, the experience of sitting even for 10 minutes, because they have not learned how to quiet the mind, can range from frustrating to torturous -- not exactly a reinforcing activity. And yet, they are prime candidates to benefit the most from learning to meditate.

The dilemma became clear to me as I observed one student. He was overworked, stressed, and had done enough inner work to know that meditation might be a good thing for him. He also knew to approach any new routine carefully so as to not add to his work load. Overall, here was a person who was sensitive, caring, accomplished and facing the normal afflictions of anxiety and stress engendered by the need to achieve, maintain good relationships and just getting through the day in a complex environment.

After several weekly classes it was clear that he was not doing a lot of outside practice. There was a time when I might have badgered him into more practice time. But as I listened to him I heard that in fact, he was learning to apply a certain level of awareness and mindfulness to his work that was in fact creating the beginnings of his own path.

His story goes like this. One afternoon, as he sat to write, he was acutely aware of all the negative voices telling him how and what to write, suggesting ways that he was not measuring up, and nearly paralyzing his flow of words. These voices were quite familiar to him, but this time he maintained a certain detachment as he noted their presence. He didn't fight with them or resist. He even found some of the voices humorous. He then suddenly heard another new voice from deep within that said, "Just write about what you really love". That message opened a new door, set an intention for his work and provided internal direction and flow that not only reduced his stress, but also fed and nurtured his being. He happily wrote for several hours, immersed in a joyful experience. This was a kind of meditation in itself -- a living example. I encouraged him to continue this as his practice.

His experience paralleled formal meditation practice in the following ways:
  • Full attention was brought to the process
  • An intention was set
  • Everything was allowed and observed in the present moment without judgment- both the negative voices AND the feelings engendered by doing what he loves.
  • Expectation of outcome was set aside
  • There was surrender to the process, not a control of it.
When these elements are engaged in virtually any activity, there is an automatic reduction of stress and the ability to access our most creative and energetic self. We get into "the zone", time disappears, our mind, body and soul are altered. I have often seen students who are gardeners, cooks, athletes, musicians or artists who have similar methods for connecting to themselves and allowing their work and play become a form of practice. Surely even the most time-challenged of us can find something to bring the light of our intention and awareness to- even if it is washing the dishes or walking the dog.

Does this mean that there is no need for formal, disciplined practice of meditation? Absolutely not. But practice ultimately should expand the possibilities of our daily human life and consciousness. Formal meditation practice can begin by removing ourselves to a quiet place and focusing on a specific technique so that we become familiar with the process and ourselves. Doing this in a class or community helps us feel supported and increases our learning. But living meditation or mindfulness begins by immersing ourselves where we already are and using our present moment and circumstances as our focal point. We do not then ruminate about "what ifs" and " if onlys". We do not waste our energies or clutter our minds.

There is no right or wrong way for each of us to expand our awareness. Perhaps for those of you who are curious about meditation but have not yet begun, or those of you who wish to expand on the benefits of your practice, you can begin to observe yourself at work or play. By bringing the sacredness of your attention, intention and awareness to the present task at hand, you can bless and be blessed in your daily life.

Kay Goldstein, MA teaches individual and group meditation classes and writes poetry, fiction and articles addressing the challenges and joys of daily living and spiritual practice. See website for more information and to arrange individual phone and video conferencing appointments.