Why is it important to meditate anytime, anywhere?
The meditation that we do sitting on our cushion or our chair is the bedrock of our practice. We try to build up a regular practice which we do every day. However, it is easy to get up from our meditation session and carry on with ‘life’— we tend to separate our meditation from the things we do all day long. The more we can bring our meditation into our every activity, the more we are learning to truly make meditation part of our lives. If you have watched the short video here, then you see that Mingyur Rinpoche is saying that it is perfectly possible to meditate anytime, anywhere.
Creating a Spacious Mind
Our natural mind is spacious; it is as limitless as the sky. Our thoughts and emotions are just like the clouds that come and go across the sky. The sky is not made smaller by the clouds, nor do the clouds damage the sky. In the same way, we are not our thoughts and emotions but have this same tremendous potential as clear sky. As we learn to meditate, we can have occasional glimpses of how our minds actually are and manage to bring that perspective into our everyday lives. We can begin to rely on our natural awareness to help us to navigate our world.
Since the discovery of neuroplasticity, there is an increasing amount of research being done that shows that meditation can actually change our brains and increase our well-being. Richard Davidson has collaborated with the Dalai Lama to study the brains of experienced meditators in order to understand how this works.
The results of this research are encouraging for anyone who is trying to build a habit of meditation. Research shows that after as little as two weeks of online instruction in meditation, peoples’ brains begin to change in ways that promote peace of mind and compassion. An important side-effect of the meditation research is that it is finding scientific proof for the benefits of meditation that have been experienced for the last two and a half thousand years in the wisdom cultures of the east.
The photo below shows how the activity in the brain quietens during a session of meditation.
How do we learn to meditate anytime, anywhere?
The key is to be open to and curious about what is going on with us, our environment, and our world. We can use anything as a support for our meditation. We just need to remember to meditate in the middle of activity. When we are busy, it is harder to come back to awareness, but we can look for ways to support us as we try. Remember, our natural mind is always spacious and without limits. Our spacious mind is always there for us to tap into.
1. Our breath is always with Us
Watching the breath is a common meditation practice. You might think of doing this meditation with the eyes closed while sitting on a cushion. However, we can also use it as a support in whatever we are doing. I call these STOP MOMENTS— moments when I simply pause with what I am doing and bring my attention lightly to my breath. Sometimes I take one or two deep breaths to settle. Then I just watch my breath for a few moments before returning to activity. This is a way of interrupting my busyness and it helps me to stay connected.
2. Our Bodies can Ground Us
If we feel a bit stirred up or agitated, then we can use the body to help stabilize our attention. We can do a simple version of a body scan meditation. We let our attention travel slowly upwards from our toes to the top of our head. As you move the attention up, notice any sensations or feelings in the body without judging them. We can do this standing in line at the supermarket or while sitting on a bus. Body scans help settle our mind and connect us to our body and environment.
3. Thoughts and Emotions can Become Good Friends
Our thoughts and emotions are always with us. We tend to spend a lot of time thinking about things that have already happened or worrying about things that might happen in the future. We are rarely aware of our thoughts as passing phenomena moving through our minds. Remember the clouds passing across the sky from earlier? Instead of following after each thought and getting lost in it, we can learn to notice our thoughts. We can become aware of thoughts rising and then let them go. We can apply the same awareness to our emotions. Notice emotions without judgement and let them pass away naturally.
4. Our Environment can Wake Us Up
When you think of having fun standing in line at the supermarket probably does not make the list of fun things to do. However, it can be a great time to do a reflection-style meditation. As you stand there waiting to check out, take a moment to look around the supermarket. Notice all the different kinds of food and the different places the food came from. Think of the numerous people involved in bringing the food from its point of origin to your local supermarket. You might consider the farmers, the truck drivers, the harvesters, the people who design and make the packaging, the haulage people, and even all their families! This is a way of reminding us of how we all depend on one another.
5. The People Around Us can Act as Reminders
When life is busy it is easy to get lost in our own concerns and to forget to pay attention to the people we meet. We has human beings are interconnected in many ways, so let the people around you become part of your meditation. Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist who has come up with the term elevation to describe the feeling of well-being we experience when we see someone doing something kind for another person.
We don’t even have to be involved in the kind interaction ourselves. We feel better just for witnessing the kindness of others. As human beings we have so much on common, we all want to be happy and to avoid pain and suffering. However, inevitably we all have pain and suffering to deal with. As we go about doing the things we need to do, we can take a moment to notice the people around us. We can acknowledge our common humanity and silently wish others happiness, peace of mind, and well-being.
What Gets in the Way and What Can We do About it?
While we learning to mediate anytime, anywhere it is a good idea to be aware of some of the reasons we can find it hard. Here are three of the main reasons it’s hard to practice mindfulness. You might take a moment at the end to reflect on any others that are particular challenges for you.
1. We are Distracted
In 2010 Harvard psychologists Gilbert and Killingsworth conducted research into the connection between your mind wandering and happiness. Their findings were extraordinary. They found that almost 50% of our waking hours are spent thinking about something different to what we are doing. Generally, this does not make us happy. One of the most common times people find that their mind is wandering is during their commute. We are so distracted during commutes can be hard to remember to use the activity for meditation. The good news is that every time we do remember it becomes easier to build the habit.
Be kind with yourself about your distraction. You know it’s there, you know it gets in the way of meditation, but getting too worked up about it is not going to help. The best thing to do is to accept that our mind wanders but gently try to keep our attention focused on the present moment and drop all the stories that take us far away from it.
2. We Don’t Have a Meditation Routine
Meditation is still relatively new in the western world. Although things are slowly changing, our society does little to remind us about meditation or encourage us to do it. Those of us who do meditate usually have lots of friends and family who don’t. All this means that as we learn meditation, we are also learning a new habit and that takes time and practice.
Award winning journalist, Charles Duhigg’ fascinating book, The Power of Habit has this simple formula for understanding our habits. If the routine we are looking for is regular meditation, then according to this formula we need a trigger that points us towards our session and a reward for completing it. In my case, I like to do my main session in the morning. I take a shower and get dressed— that is my trigger. Then I meditate and my reward is having breakfast before settling into work.
3. We’re so Busy
All of us are familiar with the pressure and stress of the constant stream of things we need to do, people we need to see, and deadlines that won’t wait. Our lives can be busy and even frantic. We wonder how we can ever find the time for meditation.
We need to keep remembering why we wanted to meditate in the first place and it’s important to keep re-inspiring our practice. Each time we practice sitting meditation or bring mediation into our activity is a chance to celebrate. Instead of thinking of how hard it is, we can appreciate the meditation we do manage to do.
Guest post courtesy of Maureen Cooper
Maureen Cooper is the founding director of Awareness in Action, an organization dedicated to showing people how to combine well-being and excellence in the work environment, by integrating meditation and compassion as part of their response to everyday situations. Drawing on more than twenty-five years of experience she leads workshops and training programs in the UK and Europe.Her book, The Compassionate Mind Guide to Reducing Stress, is a ground-breaking effort that brings together the best of modern science and the wisdom of the world’s ancient contemplative traditions.