Sometimes meditation feels like it just happens when we are on the cushion. My teacher is constantly reminding me that I am actually practicing all the time. Every moment that we are conscious, no matter where we are or what we are doing, is an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Here is a list of eight ways that I have integrated my formal practice into my daily life.
1. Pick an Awareness Trigger
One way to bring meditation into daily life is by picking a trigger that will bring you back to awareness and mindfulness. There are external and internal stimuli you can use to refocus your attention. One example of an external stimulus is every time you walk through a door take a breath and come back to the present moment. Or pick an event that happens throughout the day and give total attention to it. For example, make a decision to devote complete attention to driving. This might mean turning off the radio and leaving the cell phone out of reach. Instead of paying attention to the countless distractions, pay full attention to the road, the sounds, and the feelings you have while driving. Some people choose to devote complete attention to washing the dishes or other household chores. Whatever you pick have it be something that happens with some frequency throughout the day.
Another way to pick an attention trigger is by picking an internal stimulus. This can be harder than picking an external one, but can work just as well. For example, you might decide to come back to the present moment whenever worry arises. I have tried this before by noticing worry or anxiety and simply offering myself the phrase “I love you, keep going”. Another way of using an internal trigger is to decide that every time you feel angry you will take three deep breaths before doing anything else. The key to this is to pick something that will be easily recognizable and to stick with it.
2. Pay Attention to the Body
A great way to bring meditation and mindfulness into daily life is by paying attention to your body. For some people this might mean incorporating a movement practice into daily life, or just picking triggers to help you feel your body. If you chose to incorporate a movement practice it doesn’t need to be as structured as a formal walking meditation or yoga. Instead, while walking to your car or even to the bathroom, try feeling your footsteps on the ground and paying attention to how your body moves through space. While doing this you might notice tension in one leg, or a particular feeling of ease in your foot.
Another way to pay attention to your body is to pick a trigger and decide to pay attention to the body whenever that trigger is present. You can use either the internal or external triggers discussed above. For example, you might chose to do a brief body scan every time you walk through a door. This could be lightly sweeping the attention over the body, starting at the head or toes, and noticing what is present. Another example would be whenever worry arises to notice how it feels in the body. Often extreme emotions can be felt in the chest, stomach, or throat. Whatever you choose, pick a way to pay attention to what is happening in your body.
3. Notice Impermanence
The mind often likes to trick us into thinking that every unpleasant event or sensation is permanent, when it definitely is not. One of the teachings of Buddhist meditation is that everything will pass or change. No feeling or event is permanent. A great way to bring this teaching into daily life is by noticing the impermanence in events and feelings. For example, you might decide to notice the impermanence in an emotion such as worry or anger. While experiencing the feeling notice how it feels in the body and what thoughts you have about the feeling. If you pay attention for even a few minutes you will feel it change. It might get worse, or better, or even subside. The point is to see the ever changing nature of experience, without pushing away the unpleasant or clinging to the pleasant. You may even notice the impermanent nature of pleasant and neutral experience as well!
4. Notice Feeling Tones
The mind is drawn to extremes, so sometimes without meaning to we pay attention to things that are very unpleasant and things that are very pleasant. However, we forget about all of the neutral feelings in between. In daily life it is important to pay attention to the feeling tones that are present whether they are pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. One way to pay attention to feeling tones is to pick an attention trigger and when that attention trigger happens, notice the feeling tone of your experience. For example, if you chose to come back to the present while walking through a door you can pay notice the sensation in the body, a sound, or a smell. Once you notice the experience simply label it pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.
5. Pay Attention to the Mind’s Reaction
Another great way to practice mindfulness is to pay attention to how you react. This can be both how you react internally and externally. For example, if you have a conflict with someone notice how you speak to them and the thoughts you are having. Are you averting from the unpleasant experience? When you pay close attention to how the mind reacts you can start to resolve the conflict rather than escalating it. You can also add this practice to our door example. If you pay attention while walking through the door and you notice a pleasant smell in the room then see if your mind reacts by clinging to that nice experience. Whenever your attention trigger is present you can notice the feeling tone and then notice your reaction to that feeling tone. This can also be combined with any of the above tips.
6. Practice Wise Speech
If you want to bring meditation practice into daily life, try practicing wise speech. Wise speech is speech that is timely, necessary, and true. This can be much more difficult than it sounds! When I first heard the teaching of wise speech it was recommended that you start by not gossiping about anyone. Essentially, there is no time when it is necessary to gossip about anyone, so try cutting it out altogether. It might sound easy but there were many times I found myself feeling left out of conversations and wanting to indulge in gossip. However, as I persisted I started to feel better about my communication. As a practice, start by cutting out gossip and begin to notice when your speech is timely, necessary, and true.
7. Practice Not Harming
Non-harming can seem obvious and obligatory, but sometimes we don’t realize the extent of the harm we cause in daily life. You don’t need to be a vegan in order to begin practice non-harming. For me non-harming started small. I began but simply deciding to not harm any spiders. All other bugs were fair game, but not spiders. As time went on with me practicing non-harming in this fashion I found myself caring about bugs in general and wound up deciding not to kill any bugs I found in the apartment. Start small, decide not to kill bugs in one room, or not to kill one kind of bug and notice how your relationship changed to the bugs that live with you.
Another way to practice non-harming is to practice with people. We usually think of non-harming as not killing, but the practice is broader than that. We undertake the practice to not intentionally harm any living being. In order to practice this in daily life start with how you communicate with people. Often in arguments we want to win and be right which involves intentionally putting another person down or harming them. Try undertaking the training to not intentionally harm any people, even when you’re having a serious argument.
8. Practice Wise Effort
Wise effort is the training that we have to put in enough effort in order to get something done, but not so much that we exhaust ourselves. In meditation this might mean having enough effort to sit through the whole meditation even though it’s unpleasant. In daily life, effort shows up in all sorts of ways. The way that I find most helpful to practice wise effort is to notice how much effort is being put into work. I tend to be someone who puts in way too much effort for the task at hand. I want everything to be perfect and so I end up exhausting myself with effort. It is my practice to approach a task and see how much effort I reasonably need to put in to do the task well. This also means paying attention to triggers that indicate I might be pushing myself too far. In order to bring wise effort into your daily life, first notice which way you lean. Do you tend to put in too much effort or not enough? Then investigate what some triggers are for you. This might mean noticing fatigue or boredom.
Any of these eight way can be used in combination with any other. It can feel difficult at first to bring your practice into daily life but the important part is to let your practice evolve and stick with it. Have any other tips for how you bring your practice into daily life? Is there one here that sticks out to you? We would love to hear from you below!