Mindfulness in Daily Life

Brushing teeth and driving - not mindful!

‘Mindfulness’ is a word we hear a lot when we start to meditate; all the books and teachers talk about it. Essentially, it means just being present for what is happening.

When you’re making a cup of tea and you’re aware of the smooth feel of the tea-cup in your hand, of the weight of the kettle as you lift it, and of the misty steam rising as you pour your cup – then you’re mindful of what’s happening. If, like me, you spend your tea-making time thinking about whether you have the energy to hang the washing, if you can afford to buy a DVD of ‘Glee,’ and what’s going to be on TV tonight (Australia Idol? Blerg…), then, well…that’s not so mindful.

When we do structured meditation, like concentrating on the breath, we’re being mindful of what is happening in our body. Even once we stop this formal meditation, we can keep that sense of mindfulness going – just checking in with ourselves a couple of time during the day to notice what we’re doing, and how our body feels.


If you have an illness, mindfulness can initially be challenging, because what is often noticed is pain, fatigue, and tightness in the body. However, over time, it can be very helpful to bring some gentle awareness to the pain and also to any other sensations that are present. For example, you might be aware of pain in your back as you lie in bed, but also the sight of sunshine through the window, and the sounds of car traffic in the distance. Mindfulness is just an awareness of all these things – there’s no need to try to change anything, or to downplay painful sensations.

The point of mindfulness isn’t to become some delusionally sunny optimist, skipping through life saying, ‘Now I’ve seen sunshine, I realise that the searing pain in my back isn’t important! Tra La-la-la-la…’ All sensations – painful and joyful – can be perceived mindfully; if the urge takes you, you can spend 10 minutes mindfully hurling plates at the wall in rage and frustration!

If you’re interested in developing a mindfulness practice it can be helpful to pick one or two daily activities to bring awareness to. There are hundreds of ways to be mindful in any one day – everything from rolling over in bed, to driving a car. Here are some ideas:

  • Eat one meal a day without any distractions such as TV or radio. Just taste the food,and observe how your mouth, tongue and throat work to swallow food. Which side of your mouth do you chew on? How does the fork feel as it goes into your mouth? Be aware of any feelings or thoughts about the food. Contemplate where the food came from.
  • Brush your teeth mindfully. What colour is your toothbrush and toothpaste? How does the brush feel as it scrubs against your teeth? What sound does the brush make? Do sensations change as the brushing goes from the back of your mouth to the front?
  • Type one e-mail a day mindfully. What is the sensation in your fingertips as you type? What are you feeling as you type words? How do you feel about the person you are writing to? How does your back feel as you sit (or lie) at the computer?
  • Lying in bed, pick a part of my body that feels less painful than other parts and be mindful of the sensations there. Acknowledge the greater pain or other sensations if your attention goes there, then go back to the ‘less-bad-feeing’ part. (Thanks to Ricky for this idea).

It’s helpful to also be aware of any expectations we have about mindfulness. For example, when I started being aware of brushing my teeth I kept thinking, ‘I have to be mindful of every single sensation…oh no!…there are too many!..I’m not keeping up…I’m a terrible mindfulness person…’ Once I put my attention to these thoughts, and became mindful of them as well – ‘OK, I’m panicking, I’m thinking I have to do this perfectly’ – then my tension decreased. I was able to just be aware of whatever sensation was the most prominent without trying to cling frantically to everything. Then I could develop a relaxed sense of curiosity about what was happening; ‘Oh! My toothbrush is purple, and my toothpaste is green. I never noticed that before!’

I hope this article has been useful – please let me know of any creative mindfulness ideas you come up with. I’m off to smash some Royal Doulton plates…mindfully, of course.

The next in this series of short articles will be on Loving Kindness meditation.

Resources:

Jon Kabat-Zin Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life
Vidyamal Burch Living Well with Pain and Illness: The mindful way to free yourself from suffering
Darlene Cohen Turning Suffering Inside Out (A Zen approach to living with physical and emotional pain)

[Photos taken by mikekline and coxy. Used with thanks.]

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