There is no question that these are stressful times.
Our society places a huge premium on multitasking and, as a result, most of us are juggling so much that we find ourselves in a state of perpetual busyness.
We’ve been sold a bill of goods that says we should be able to do it all, all the time. For me, when I don’t live up to this ideal (and let’s be honest, it is hard for any of us to do), I find myself believing there must be something wrong with me.
If I do not take the time to focus on my well-being and still that chatter of self-doubt in my mind, before very long I find myself tired and worn down, because I haven’t taken the time to recharge my batteries.
While taking time out to regenerate through self-care is immensely important, there is also a way we can make time for ourselves that won’t take any time out of an already busy schedule. Implementing a very basic tool called “mindfulness” has consistently improved my well-being and my life.
When I was first introduced to the practice of mindfulness, it was explained to me like this: when you’re cooking, you are aware that you are cooking and when you’re eating, you are aware that you are eating—just the task at hand and nothing else.
Using a daily mindfulness practice, I have sharpened my awareness and increasingly tapped into deep dimensions within myself that were always there, although stress and a busy schedule had covered the gold of my inner Buddha with a thick layer of clay.
This deep dimension of awareness has created space in my life that actually expands time and allows me to recharge. Mindfulness has been practiced in Eastern traditions for thousands of years and is so effective in reducing stress and stress-related illness that it has been used in mainstream medicine for over 30 years. It is so beneficial in fact that it is one of the first practices I share with clients who are interested in learning about meditation.
Bringing one’s mind fully into the present moment is the practice of mindfulness. It is simple, and yet it also takes commitment and daily practice. Thoughts will wander, and the mind will stray. After 15 years of daily practice, it still happens to me. The practice is simply bringing awareness back into the present moment over and over again, without judgment.
This process of bringing awareness back to the present moment again and again will eventually create a sense of sacred space and an expanded sense of time. Within weeks, the perception of being pressed for time will dissolve. Because time is a human construct and, as Einstein pointed out, relative, residing in the present moment allows for an expansion of the perception of time as it unfolds moment by moment.
Finding time throughout the day to practice the art of mindfulness is easy because it doesn’t require any additional time or commitment. I have reached the point in my practice where it happens almost automatically. In the past, I would get anxious and, instead of making time, I wound up wasting it. I was stressed about being stressed!
With practice, however, I can create the sacred space that gives me the time I need. All that is necessary is bringing full awareness to the tasks I already perform. Here are four mindfulness practices that easily assimilate into my day:
Mindful Eating. Because so many social activities revolve around food, eating mindfully isn’t always possible, but as often as I am able, I take time to bring my full awareness to every detail as I eat. How does the food look? How does it smell? I dwell in that awareness for a few moments before bringing the food to my mouth. How does my body respond just before I place the food into my mouth? I chew slowly and deliberately, taking time to notice how the food feels and tastes, observing every detail as I swallow and prepare to take another bite. Afterward, I sit quietly and notice how my body feels as it begins the delicate process of digestion. ~
Mindful Preparation. A natural companion with the practice of mindful eating is mindful preparation. I do this while cooking as I carefully select, cut, measure, and prepare food. When my mind wanders, I bring it back to the task at hand. I also apply this practice to any task in which I am creating or preparing something. Bringing my awareness to every detail as I comb my hair and brush my teeth in the morning are other ways I practice mindful preparation. ~
Mindful Walking. Focusing full attention to placing my feet on the ground one in front of the other is a meditation practice all its own. Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh puts it this way: “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” As I walk, I bring my full attention to every step and the way that my body feels as I move. I notice the sky, the grass, the birds, and the air as it moves across my skin. I engage all five of my primary senses as I take in everything and give it my complete focus and attention. ~
Mindful Driving. It goes without saying that we should find ourselves being mindful as we are driving. However, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit this is not always the case. Because driving becomes automatic, after time we no longer have to give our full attention to the process. We are able to listen to music, have a conversation, or sink into deep thought while driving. As I drive, I bring my full awareness to the experience: the way my body feels in the seat, and how the steering wheel feels in my hands. I focus on the sky, the road, the buildings, the signs on the buildings, the other cars, and the drivers in the other cars. No music, no getting lost in thoughts not related to driving—just noticing what I’m seeing and doing. Not from an automated place of noticing, but from a fully focused and aware state of mind.
Like anything, mindfulness is a habit that takes time to cultivate; however, finding moments each day in which I can allow myself to feel fully present has brought me many benefits, and I rarely ever find myself feeling rushed or stressed about time.