Wildmind Buddhist Meditation

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Developing mindfulness triggers

A mindfulness trigger is something that will remind you to break out of “automatic pilot” so that you can be mindful, spontaneous, calm, and free.

Mindfulness triggers are reminders for you to come back to awareness so that daily activities can become more meditative and so that your whole daily life can become a meditation practice.

The Vietnamese Buddhist Teacher Thich Nhat Hanh suggests posting little notes that will remind you to smile and relax. You can post notes so you will see them first thing in the morning, helping to set the tone for the day.

You can stick a note to your computer screen or wherever you work, in order to remind you to detach yourself from the flow of habitual thoughts and emotions for a few breaths.

Mindfulness triggers can also be ordinary actions or objects in your environment. You can learn to associate those actions and objects with being mindful, so that they act as reminders to be aware. I find that what I call “transitional events” make the best mindfulness triggers.

A transitional event is an action that involves changing from doing one thing to doing another. So walking through a door can be a transitional event that acts as a mindfulness trigger, as can getting into your car, or stepping onto a train, hearing your phone ring, or putting down a briefcase.

One of my students told me that he spontaneously started using the act of walking through a tunnel on the way to the train station as a mindfulness trigger.

Cultivating mindfulness triggers

You can cultivate mindfulness triggers by choosing a particular transitional event, and consciously reminding yourself to be mindful whenever that event occurs. For example, when the phone rings, you can remind yourself to take our awareness to your breathing, and to smile, and to breathe deeply three times before we reach for the phone.

Mindfulness triggers can be very powerful “wake up calls”. We might be in the habit of grabbing habitually for the phone as soon as it rings. This tends to add to stress, since the compulsive nature of the grabbing suggests that the phone is in charge of our lives — since we can’t control when the phone rings we’re not in charge of our own lives, which is inherently stressful.

That small gap that we produce after the phone rings and before we pick it up reminds us that we have choices. We can choose to calm ourselves by consciously taking a few deep breaths, and we can choose to pick up the phone in a friendly state of mind by smiling.

Any other mindfulness trigger can be used in a similar way. We use mindfulness triggers as opportunities to wake up from automatic pilot and to be more fully alive in the present moment. We let go of thoughts of past and future, and in doing so we let go of some of the emotional turmoil that those thoughts engender.

You can even associate a phrase or image with a trigger – for example you could say to yourself “opening my heart” as you open the door to your house, and take your awareness to your emotions as you do so.



Comment from Tish
Time: June 8, 2008, 5:56 pm

Loved this site. Drew a lot from the 5-10 minutes I spent cruising it. Have bookmarked it and will definitely mention to my friends. Thank you!


Comment from Moona Perrotin
Time: August 28, 2008, 12:20 am

I like the mindfulness trigger. Will try to implement it.


Comment from Sally
Time: September 10, 2008, 1:11 pm

feel very inspired, excited and hopeful after perusing this site for half an hour as mindfulness has been recommended to me. i speak as a very non-religious and sceptical 24 year-old with depression… so that’s quite something!


Comment from Cindy
Time: October 19, 2008, 10:09 pm

This site is clear and easy to navigate. I came to this site looking for specific approaches to apply to therapy and the triggers are such a great tool for remaining mindful throughout the day.


Comment from Jerry Deasy
Time: September 24, 2013, 9:02 am

It would be nice to have daily mindfulness reminders pop up on the computer through some kind of program such as take time today to smell a flower or stop and look at a piece of artwork that you pass each day on your way to work or take the time to be thankful for something nice that someone does for you.


Comment from Heather
Time: September 26, 2013, 5:55 pm

Hi – Great site.

Have a nice day!


Comment from Tooba
Time: December 3, 2013, 6:01 pm

Great site, I have it saved on my home screen on my phone, it’s making such a big difference in my life.


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Comment from heidi
Time: June 26, 2014, 8:04 pm

a lovely site look forward to learning with you all


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Comment from Greg
Time: February 17, 2015, 10:26 pm

Great site just found it, lots of reading to do now , well done

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