Updated: Apr 11
Being present, practicing mindfulness, meditating - however we may wish to call it, the act of consciously sustaining one’s attention on a given object or sensation has a myriad of benefits for body and mind. This one-pointedness of mind, whether the focus be on the breath, the eyebrow-centre, a mantra or an activity, is calming for the nervous system, improves mood, instills a sense of peace and even changes the stress-response in the brain.
Scientific research shows that regular practice of meditation or mindfulness techniques changes the way brain responds to a stressful event or situation. When we encounter something stressful - whether this be physical or emotional - there is a reaction in the prefrontal cortex of the brain producing a feeling of anxiety, fear or unease. A regular meditation practice has been found to weaken this neural connection, so the reaction to a stressful incident is lessened, meaning a reduction in those uncomfortable feelings.
Now, meditation does not have to mean sitting cross-legged, eyes closed, thumb and first finger touching in chin mudra - although personally I very much enjoy meditating in this way, and believe there is great value and benefit in this more introspective style of meditation. Yet, carrying out any task mindfully can become a meditation in itself, and it may be this approach that is more accessible to most people. Meditation is not a one-size-fits-all affair and whilst carving out a very traditional meditation practice, sitting on a cushion for X number of minutes focussing on the point between the eyebrows, maybe mentally repeating a mantra, or just witnessing the colours appearing and disappearing in the third-eye-centre, may work for a lot of people, perhaps this will not become a daily habit that sticks for everyone. My dear old mum, for example, would not really embed this style of practice in her everyday life.
When one sees mindfulness as a form of meditation, then it perhaps begins to become more accessible, and this form of meditation can be applied to pretty much most activity you might carry out in a regular day. Activities ranging from making the bed, to having a cup of tea, to watering the plants can be carried out in a very mindful and grounding way. As the practice becomes more and more of a habit, every activity becomes an opportunity to practice mindfulness, presence and within that, gratitude. Personally, I have found that the more I engage in this approach to the daily routine the more peace, contentment and joy I experience.
Joy is the default state, and often with the fast-paced, get-things-done style of modern life, these everyday opportunities are over-looked; often carried out as means-to-an-end tasks. Whereas if instead, these activities are carried out as means in themselves, there is a heightened sense of meaning and purpose. Living in this way, these activities carried out mindfully become blessings in themselves, and every opportunity gives rise to expressions of peace, love and gratitude.
Finding mindfulness in the every day
So, here’s my guide to getting the most out of this practice. A great place to start is by listing as many daily activities as you can think of in a few minutes. Think of things that need to be done on a daily basis, but also things you might do to alleviate boredom, acts of self-care, activities you might think of as chores, and generally things you enjoy to do when you are relaxing at home. This might include anything from tidying up and making the bed, to reading a book, to exercising and stretching, having a cup of tea, watering the plants. Write down this list in a diary or weekly planner, something that will stay relatively close to hand.
Next, each day, find time within the daily structure to have half an hour of dedicated Mindfulness Time. Maybe this is to break up the day if working from home, maybe it’s a grounding way to start the day if stuck at home with little to do, maybe it’s a nice way to re-focus in the afternoon. Look at your list of Daily Opportunities and choose an activity you will carry out with intention and complete awareness. Consciously choose to be completely focused on every detail of the activity at hand, absolute awareness, being mindful of every facet of the task.
For example, a mindful tea-break, even from boiling the kettle and preparing the tea, notice all the sensory details, the sound as the kettle heats the water, the steams which rise from the spout, the feeling of the mug, the weight, the coolness, the physical appearance, the sound of the teaspoon clinking as it stirs, the way the liquid moves in the cup, the way the colours change, swirling into one another, the warmth of the mug between the hands, the steam, the aroma, how it feels inside the mouth and on the tongue, hot, warm, sweet, bitter, creamy, whatever the taste may be, immerse your self in every detail. Next, expand this sensory awareness, explore what you can see out of the window, what you can hear, explore the textures and sensations of the armchair, sofa, whatever supports you as you sit, take your awareness to the points of contact, sitting bones on the chair, maybe the soles of the feet connecting to the floor. Whilst you are doing all of this, connect with the breath, breathing slightly more deeply, feel the breath in the nostrils as you inhale, and the expulsion of air as you exhale, feel the chest expand as you breath in, deflating as you breath out, breathing in peace on the inhalation, and surrendering to the relaxation on the exhalation. Notice the mind beginning to calm, observe the feeling of relaxation in the body, become aware of the sense of stillness emanating from within. Maybe you can feel the heart beating, maybe even the blood pumping. Complete awareness. Hold on to this feeling of peace and stillness as you move on from the activity and go about your day. Imagine it as a bubble, your bubble of stillness, how long until the noise of the day bursts it?
You can apply this exact process to any activity and make it one of mindfulness and presence. The central idea is to practice absolute awareness, focusing your attention on all the small sensory details of the task, rather than just remaining on auto-pilot, mind relentless drifting from one thought to the next, as you mindless carry out a given activity. When you practice having sustained attention in this way, you may begin to notice that you are more in control of the mind, rather than the mind running away with itself. As your efficiency develops in applying these simple mindfulness techniques to every day situations, hopefully you should feel more grounded, less anxious, be filled with more peace and contentment, and ultimately feel more calm. Calm really is a super-power and stillness is the best gift you can give yourself. So give it a go now, pick an activity, and immerse yourself completely, exploring all the details you can notice and begin to live in a more considered, present, mindful way.
Don’t just reserve these mindfulness techniques for passive activities, remember you can apply mindfulness to techniques to literally anything, from cooking or baking, pampering oneself, drawing or painting, journalling, listening to music, creating a playlist, writing lyrics or poetry, organising wardrobe, getting rid of stuff you no longer use, being creative and making stuff, make a homemade card for someone, learn a new hobby, just immerse yourself in the details, connect to the breath, and practice sustaining your complete attention on the task at hand.