Have you ever stared out your window, lost in the beauty of the moment? Maybe you watched the squirrels playing chase around the giant oak tree or just sat and listened to the rain?
If you have, then, congratulations! You know how to meditate.
On the other hand, if you’ve never quietly enjoyed the setting sun, bees buzzing in the garden or staring into the eyes of your love across the table, you need to give some thought to your priorities.
Many are realizing that one reason for the enormous increase of anxiety in our society has to do with living a disconnected life.
For example, let’s say you are with your children or grandchildren at the playground. As you watch them play or maybe even chase them down the slide, what are you thinking about? Is your mind reaching into the future to play out possible scenarios of your upcoming doctor appointment, or delving into the past and replaying a conversation that turned into an argument?
Making everyday activities a meditation or a mindfulness exercise is about living in the moment.
The medical community has recognized the health benefits of meditation in lowering blood pressure, and controlling anxiety and depression. Chronic pain and well-being can be much improved when meditation is added as a daily practice. Where the mind goes, the body will follow.
When the moment is a happy one, such as watching your children or grandchildren play, if you are in the moment, you will feel that joy the children are expressing. It’s allowing yourself to be pulled into the present, which you cannot do if your mind is skittering off into future or past events.
Sometimes the moments we find ourselves in are not filled with joy and laughter. Sometimes they are mundane tasks like doing dishes or unpleasant moments like an argument with a spouse. When you can be fully present for the ordinary moments and the difficult ones too, you may have a greater understanding of life, in general. With practice, your body could be less susceptible to the effects of stress, which is part of the purpose of mindfulness or meditation.
For me, the goal of being present when doing something ordinary such as washing dishes is to feel the water on my hands, and the texture of each dish. I try to concentrate on the memory of where the dishes came from and not let my mind wander off to bills that need tending or phone calls unreturned.
When the moment is less pleasant, as in an argument, my goal is the same.
I don’t want my mind wandering off to what I will say next or dredging up past hurts or disappointments. I try to “stay in the moment” by listening and being aware of the emotions that are coming up. When you can listen to someone else without planning on what you will say next, it can change the conversation in a profound way. You may hear things you wouldn’t otherwise, give yourself a chance to “see” your emotions before you act on them, and find solutions or resolutions are more apparent.
Classes in mindfulness and apps for smart phones can be helpful.
The gist of mindfulness is this: focus on what you are doing and, when the mind begins to drift off, gently bring it back to the task at hand. When you struggle to keep the mind from wandering, focus on your breath, feeling the way your body accommodates the inhale and exhale.
Simple, but not always easy! Don’t judge yourself when your mind wanders off; just bring your thoughts back to the moment. No matter how long you’ve been practicing, it’s never perfect – it’s about progress toward a calmer mind and a healthier body.
Virginia Eaton is a health and fitness coach helping people reorganize priorities.