Meditation for Modern Life

Mindfulness skills from a well being expert

Off the Mat and Into the World: Living a Meditative Life

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One of the most pleasant effects of meditation is that as you sit, your otherwise active mind calms down. But so often, the moment that your practice is over the "monkey mind" takes charge. In other words, your attention is consumed by thoughts that swirl in your head. Wouldn't it be life-alteringly wonderful if you were able to carry the peace of mind of the meditative state into daily life? That's the topic of this blog post.

What Is a Meditative Life?

Living a meditative life is more than just meditating. Too often people who have a regular sitting practice lead a double life: On one hand they have their meditative practice, which can be full of insight, peace of mind, and happiness. Once meditation is over, however life as normal resumes. Their minds are full of the ego's chatter. Their lives are hectic and full of stress.

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In fact, most of us lead lives consumed by our thoughts that jump all over the place. The monkey mind says things like, "I like this," and "I don't like that." Or "I don't want this," and "I really want that!" It's as if we have a little person standing on our shoulders all day long whispering our hopes and fears in our ears, over and over again. No wonder that by the end of the day, we're exhausted. Sadly, for most of us, the only time that the monkey mind quiets is when we're asleep. But for those who regularly meditate, there's another way to live. It's possible to extend the tranquility of the meditative state to everyday life. 

The key is to be 100% present in whatever you're doing. If you're eating, remain present with the food you're putting into your body. If you're walking, stay present with each step you take. If you're smelling a flower, remain present with what you see and smell. If you're with a friend, focus all your attention on him or her.

But Isn't Some Mind Chatter Important?

Of course we need some mental commentary to help us make decisions and learn new things. If a car is coming at us, we need our minds to tell us to get out of the way. If we're picking up a new language, we need to fill our brains with new information. But overall, most of what we need from our minds will appear naturally. In one of my books, I call it "being in the zone." In this state, you just trust and follow your natural instincts. When you do this, things flow very smoothly.

Learn from the Pro's

Top performing athletes are masters at being in the zone. Take an NBA star, for example. He has learned to shoot hoops by repetition and training. Once it's time to perform, he pushes his mind out of the way and simply trusts and flows with his instincts. The results sometimes seem super-human. In reality, however, an athlete's skill is his or her ability to be in the moment and doing what comes naturally to him or her.

We too can be in the zone. When we trust and flow with what we're supposed to do, then what we need to do at any given moment will spontaneously emerge from us. When we're faced with decisions, we can ponder them briefly, but rather then waste time dwelling on them, we mostly flow with life, remain present with the moment, and quiet the mind chatter. This is living life in an uncomplicated way. In other words, it's a simple state of pure being.

Easy Techniques

By applying the concentration and focusing skills you've learned from your meditative practice into your daily life, you'll begin to live a meditative life. Let's say that your sitting practice involves focusing on your breath. When your mind wanders, you return to your breath. When thoughts arise, you acknowledge them, and then go back to your breath. You can apply this same strategy to daily life.

For example, imagine that you're talking to a friend and your mind wanders. "What will I eat for lunch?" you ask yourself. You can respond in three ways: a) You can suppress the thoughts, b) scold yourself, or c) acknowledge the thought, and then go back to being present with your friend. Option "c" is what I recommend. Or maybe you're watching the sunset, and your mind drifts elsewhere. You recognize that your attention has wandered. Now just focus your attention back to the sunset.

Here's a breakdown of what to do when your mind moves away from the present moment:

1. Witness the thoughts without criticizing yourself or suppressing them.
2. Acknowledge that the thoughts are there.
3. Focus your attention on the present moment.

With regular practice, you'll become better at living a meditative life. Just as becoming a skilled meditator took earnestness and consistency, leading a meditative life will also require similar effort. But once you experience the benefits, you'll wonder how you lived so long with a cluttered mind. It's as simple as concentrating on one thing at a time and when thoughts arise, you just go back to whatever you're doing. Try it, and experience for yourself what it's like to lead your life in auto-pilot mode.

 

Robert Puff, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist who has been in private practice for over 20 years.

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