The point of meditating is to bring about a greater degree of mindfulness, so that your entire life can be transformed.
To some extent this can happen naturally; the mindfulness we develop in meditation simply spills over into our daily lives, and we find ourselves being more aware of how our mind and emotions function in everyday encounters with the world, leading to an increased freedom from reactive emotional and mental habits.
But we don’t have to simply hope that our meditation will have an effect on the rest of our lives. We can consciously choose to use everyday activities as opportunities to practice mindfulness.
I like to suggest to my meditation students that they take a few daily activities and make a point of doing them with more awareness than usual.
Elsewhere I’ve suggested a number of ways in which mindfulness can be brought into the act of driving a car. I think this is particularly valuable since so many of us spend a lot of time driving these days and since sharing the road with so many other drivers can be a source of emotional strain. Driving can also be used as a practice of lovingkindness.
So here are a few suggestions for other activities that you can turn into meditation practices.
Other activities that can also be used include simple things like showering or brushing our teeth. When you shower mindfully, you can be aware of the physical actions, such as rubbing soap onto your body, or the way you shampoo your hair. You can be aware of the water hitting your skin and running down your body. You can be aware of how your mind tends to think about what you’re going to be doing next, and get into the habit of bringing your awareness back to your physical experience. (Remember that the point in being mindful is not to think about your experience but simply to notice it.
There’s a wonderful scene in the film Adaptation where the character Susan Orlean, played by Meryl Streep, begins to appreciate the act of brushing her teeth after taking a drug made from a rare orchid. As you watch her seeing herself in the mirror, she begins by brushing her teeth in the normal habitual way. You can tell by the absent expression on her face that she’s miles away, thinking about something else. Then gradually she begins to notice what she’s doing and slows down. Then we see her delightedly playing as she brushes her teeth, enjoying the sensations as the bristles tickle her gums. From the way she seems to relish this simple activity, you can see that it’s as if she’s brushing her teeth for the same time.
One attribute of mindfulness has been described by Suzuki Roshi as “Beginners’ Mind”. Beginners’ Mind arises when we let go of the “been there, done that” attitude that we normally carry in to everyday activities. When we let go of the assumption that there’s no point paying attention to this experience since we’ve done it a million times already, we’re free to fully experience those sensations. Having let go of comparisons with previous experiences, we really can feel almost as if we’re brushing our teeth for the first time.
You may also find that brushing your teeth more mindfully and carefully leads to fewer cavities.
Try eating breakfast without reading. See what it’s like when you really pay attention to the food you’re eating. Notice your mind wandering and bring it back to the experience of eating.