Mindfulness in Everyday Life
Have you ever noticed how your feet feel when you walk? How often do you really pay attention to the sensations of water and soap when you wash your hands? Have you ever stopped and listened curiously to the notification sound your phone makes?
These are all opportunities for us to heighten our senses and practise being mindful. Mindfulness is about paying attention on purpose, with curiosity and kindness. We typically 'practise' our mindfulness in meditation, by focusing on one thing (eg. the breath) and gently bringing our attention back when our mind (inevitably) starts to wander (countless times).
However, mindfulness can also 'spill over' into the little things we do every day, and the combination of deliberate attention, curiosity and kindness can help us derive a sense of joy and peace from simple daily activities.
These are examples of some 'mindful moments' that I like to bring awareness to throughout the day. With all, the general idea is to slow each down a little, act with kindness and gentleness, and if your mind begins to wander (it probably will!) bring it back.
Mindful walking: Walk slightly slower than usual and notice how it feels when each foot touches the ground. You might like to synchronise your walking with the breath if that appeals (eg. breathing in - 3 or 4 steps). Consider bringing deliberate attention to your senses - what can you see? Hear? Smell? Feel? Notice if your mind has drifted away, and gently bring it back to your noticing of the present moment. The essence of mindful walking is encapsulated by this lovely quote by renowned Buddhist teacher and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh:"Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet."
Mindful hand-washing: Be curious about the feeling of the tap, and the temperature of the water. Wash with care - being gentle with yourself and respecting your hands. Take your time.
Mindful teeth-brushing: Notice how the toothbrush feels in your hand. Be curious about the motions you use. Bring awareness to all the different sensations in your mouth.
Mindful face-washing (or anything washing): Slow down a little, and treat your face with care. You might like to think about how you would wash a loved one's face - gently and tenderly. Try this approach on yourself - respect your face.
Mindful phone notifications: my most recent mindful moment discovery! Consider using your phone notification sounds as 'mindfulness bells'. Whenever your phone makes a sound (any sound - there might be lots!) use it as a reminder to take a mindful breath, smile to yourself and take a tiny moment to pause and just be. It's only a couple of seconds, but I find it really reminds me to relax and smile. You might also realise just how many times your phone demands your attention throughout the day!
Mindful showering: Notice the temperature of the water and how it feels on your skin. If you wash your face or hair, bring kindness and gentleness into your movements. When you notice your thoughts drifting away, gently bring them back to the actual feeling of the water.
Mindful tea drinking: Bring awareness to the process of making the tea - eg. feel the weight of the kettle, enjoy pouring the hot water, watch as the tea brewing occurs. Use all your senses as you drink the tea. What colour is it? How does it smell? Taste? How does the cup feel in your hand?
Mindful chocolate eating: One of my favourites! Take a small piece of chocolate (or any edible indulgence) and look carefully at it, noticing shapes, colours, patterns. Be really curious. How does it smell? Place it carefully in your mouth, noticing what happens. Chew slowly and carefully. Notice any aftertaste.
Mindful meal eating: Look at your meal with curiosity. Smell it. Look at each bite before you eat it, and notice the taste. Perhaps have a little space between bites, by taking a breath, or putting your cutlery down briefly. Eat slowly and savour each mouthful.
Mindful washing up: Notice the water temperature. Bring attention to the movements of your hands. Move with care. Again, if your mind wanders, bring it back gently to the washing up.
- In experimenting with these mindful moments, you might find that actually being mindful (ie. paying attention) is easy, but that the challenge is remembering in the moment. It might help to use activities that are already part of a routine (eg. tooth brushing, showering) to support your memory.
- A little trick that often helps me is to mentally describe what I'm doing in that moment - eg. "Picking up the kettle. Turning on the tap. Placing kettle down...". It is a simple way of focusing your mind on what you're actually doing.
- You may notice that as you bring your attention to specific activities, your mind might respond with analytical and self-critical thoughts eg. 'I should be doing this more slowly', 'why can't I pay more attention to this', 'I'm supposed to be feeling my feet, not thinking about x'. If this happens, notice the thoughts, and as with the activities, bring kindness and gentleness to them. It might help to deliberately leave the thoughts where they are for the time being (rather than 'getting rid' of them) and to then move back to your mindful focus. I find myself practising this time and time again - but it's where the magic happens. In practising bringing kindness and gentleness to our activities, we're practising bringing that same peaceful awareness to ourselves.
Bringing mindfulness to activities like the ones above can help you foster a sense of peace and wellbeing throughout the day. You gain a deeper appreciation for the small things in life, and can rest in the knowledge that there are always opportunities for mindfulness and peace.
Of course, you can apply mindfulness to anything and everything during a day - there are many many mindful moments available to you! Approaching your daily activities with the intention to act with awareness, curiosity and kindness is key. Perhaps having read this you might now like to take a breath and smile. Or mindfully eat a piece of chocolate…
“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
"I promise myself that I will enjoy every minute of the day that is given me to live." Thich Nhat Hanh
If you'd like to go deeper, an excellent book on mindfulness in everyday life is Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh. Another insightful read is Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn, considered the founding figure of the secular mindfulness movement.