MINDFULNESS AND WHY
Mindfulness is the ability to apply attention to any process of events. With practice, mindfulness can be developed and improved upon just like any other skill.
One popular practice that focuses on the development of mindfulness is anapanasati, a fundamental meditation taught by the Buddha, which means “mindfulness of the breathing.” Essentially: watch the breath rise, watch the breath fall. If your mind drifts – take note – and then bring your attention back to the breath. Continue; notice the complexity of sensations in even something as simple as the breath. The mind seems to get brighter and brighter as slowly more details reveal themselves. Sustain that attention. Keep it clear.
One possible reason that many beginners quit meditating, or simply can’t seem to fall into a groove with their practice, is because they do not feel it is doing anything productive for them. Many do not see any noticeable difference to their lives.
It’s not that they aren’t improving their skill. They just haven’t developed flexibility in using it, meaning they haven’t practiced applying it to their everyday life.
The advantages of having a stronger capacity for attention are almost endless, especially after we get better at applying it to our speech and actions. With better attention we can become better learners with practically anything, whether it is a physical skill (throwing a baseball, playing the guitar) or mental skill (more critical/analytical thinker, greater ability to absorb information). It can even make tedious tasks more engaging.
Basically, we can apply mindfulness to practically all physical and mental activities – almost everything we do consciously.
The main purpose of this article is to touch upon some everyday activities that I feel are good for developing a consistent mindfulness practice. Some of them we may already enjoy doing, others we may typically find more boring – but hopefully with mindfulness they too can become self-fulfilling chores.
FIRST ACTIVITY: SHOWERING
Showering is a great activity to become mindful of the body and bodily sensations. While showering we can pay attention to a variety of things: the feeling of water on our skin, its temperature, the pressure of the shower head on our body, skin-on-skin and skin-on-hair contact as we wash ourselves, how our muscles move as we carry out the cleaning process, among other things. You may even sense an overall feeling of “cleanliness” after your shower has been completed. You may also want to occasionally turn your attention towards your mind and see how it is reacting to certain aspects of your shower. For example, when you first step into a shower and it is too cold or too hot you may notice a sense of anger or frustration arise.
SECOND ACTIVITY: VACUUMING/MOPPING/DUSTING
All three of these activities are fairly similar in both their operation of the body as well as their purpose so I am lumping them together. When I vacuum I personally like to turn my mind particularly to the motions of my body. Sometimes I pay attention to the movements in my legs (especially how weight shifts when you turn or walk forward), other times I pay attention to the movement in my arms.
Also notice how when we use tools they become an extension of how our being operates. Neurological studies have shown that the brain represents tools as “temporary body parts.” I wrote a little about this in my article “Expanded Awareness…” where I apply this understanding to how our mind’s awareness changes when we drive a car or any other vehicle.
THIRD ACTIVITY: EATING AND COOKING
Eating is a tremendously useful thing to apply mindfulness to. Pay attention to how the food tastes in your mouth – savor every bite. Notice the taste sensations on your tongue, and the odor of the food too.
I have found mindfulness applied to eating usually makes me enjoy my meals more. Also, it causes me to eat slower, and consequently eat less because I am more observant of when my stomach feels satisfied. I have never heard of any studies testing the effects of mindfulness on the diet and nutritional aspect of health but I would postulate from my own experience that mindfulness of eating can certainly cause an individual to adapt healthier eating habits.
Mindfulness of cooking is somewhat related in subject, but quite different in practice. To start, there is usually more of a variety of skills and processes to pay attention to then when compared with eating, showering, or vacuuming. It even requires a kind of creativity if you really get into it. Both cooking and eating actually are some of the few activities that incorporate all five senses. The other popular choice being sex. Why not be mindful during that too? It may even help your performance, wink wink.
Now, this is a rather rudimentary list on the types of things you can become mindful of during these activities. Really the crux of the practice is to begin applying attention somewhere to some activity and learning to sustain it. Allow the mind to become bright, vivid and clear – to fully emerge yourself into the experience.
I encourage anyone who is interested in meditation, or even just improving your quality of life in general, to try applying mindfulness to these kinds of activities as well as anything else you can think of. Right Mindfulness, which is actually one of the steps on the Buddhist’s Eightfold Path, can truly lead to more skillful action in a diverse range of ways. Try it out for yourself and see if you can get good results and a richer life.
For further reading I highly recommend Mindfulness in Plain English by Ven. Henepola Gunaratana (click the link for a free download of the whole book – it is just a little over 100 pages). I also recommend the Mahasatipatthana Sutta: The Great Frames of Reference, a translation of one of the two most popular discourses of the Pali Canon on the subject of mindfulness.
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