Mindfulness is an idea from Buddhism that’s central to meditation, but it’s also a way of life and a crucial tool in living each moment to its fullest. You establish a practice of meditation in order to develop the habit of mindfulness so that your awareness remains engaged when you leave the meditation cushion and go out into the world. Mindfulness allows you to act consciously instead of unconsciously. You are able to quickly and naturally become aware of what’s really going on in any situation instead of being distracted by your thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Too often, our lives become all about our distractions, and in quiet moments, the thought occurs to us that we’re not living authentically, in alignment with our deepest desires. With mindfulness, we can begin to quiet what the Buddhists call the “monkey mind,” the chattering self that, like an untrained monkey roaming about a house alone, wreaking havoc and causing mischief, relentlessly generates distracting thoughts. When the monkey has been put back into his cage, we can begin the process of tuning in to the creativity deep inside of us.
Here are six strategies from my book, Wise Mind, Open Mind to help you mindfully make the most of each day.
Step #1: Mindfully Tuning the Instrument of Self
Like a musician who tunes his instrument before playing a mindful meditation practice allows you to train your brain to be in a mindful state throughout the day. Each morning take five to 30 minutes to meditate. First get in a comfortable position, and focus on your breath. As you inhale, say to yourself, "in” or “rising.” Exhale from your lungs and then your abdomen, saying to yourself, “out” or “falling away.” As you breathe in and out, mentally note the thoughts, feelings, sounds, tastes, smells, and physical sensations that you experience. Don’t try to analyze any of what you’re noting. Simply be present, open, alert, and watchful as you allow the witnessing mind to emerge. This exercise will help you to train your brain to be in a mindful state all day so that everything you do will be part of the mindfulness mediation.
Step #2: Mindfully Listening to Your Dreams
After you meditate write down in your mindfulness journal, tablet, or computer any dreams that you had the night before as they can be existential messages to alert you to situations in your life both outwardly and inwardly. Dreams are also psycho spiritual guides that provide us with intuitive markers and pointers that arise from the unconscious mind. As well you can include anything of importance that revealed itself to you during your meditation. Put aside your distractions and mindfully contemplate what the dream or meditation thoughts symbolize. When you are ready its meaning will come to you. If you have repetitive disturbing dreams or thoughts I would recommend seeing a professional therapist to discuss their hidden meanings.
Step #3: Mindfully Stretching the Body
Take five to 15 minutes at some point during the day for mindful yogatation where you practice yoga asanas – stretching exercises that create flexibility, tone, and more spacious movement. When practicing yogatation or any other stretching exercises, it is important to focus on your breathing in a mindful way. After you’ve hit your pose, close your eyes and inhale deeply. Hold this breath a few seconds, and then exhale slowly. This is a way of tuning into your body and finding out where energy is flowing and where it is blocked, where there is pain, stress or constriction and where energy is flowing with aliveness and wellbeing. Focus on the constricted areas and visualize energy flowing into them so they move into a state of expansion.
Step #4: Mindfully Taking a Sacred Pause
When under pressure or stressed out learning to take a mindful or sacred pause helps you to self-regulate the “fight or flight” aspect of your nervous system. When you are first triggered, stop yourself from responding with an unwholesome reaction such as anger. Then for a couple of minutes focus on your breath. Feel your body expand as you breathe in and contract as you exhale. While focusing on your breath silently repeat to yourself words such as comfort, calm abiding, relax, and harmony, until you feel a shift in your emotions. You are now able to respond to the situation with more equanimity.
Step #5: Mindfully Transforming Your Emotions and Thoughts
For 2500 years in the Zen teachings of the Buddha thoughts and emotions were viewed as both creative and destructive manifestations. Several times throughout the day, take time to mindfully inquire into what you are thinking and feeling. Is it positive, neutral or negative? If it is positive, ask how you can amplify the thoughts to harness their power and direct them into wholesome, generative activities and emotions. If it is in your personal life, how can you improve your relationships with family and friends? If it is in your work, how can you manifest more clarity and open mind thinking? When harnessing positive generative energy you can take action or effort to move forward in your life or work.
Step #6: Mindfully Mining the Gold Within
Living a mindful life awakens your intuition and allows you to access your core creativity so that you can break through the hard rock that’s hiding your vein of gold. When you think of your talents or skills, you might imagine what you’d list on a résumé, but some of our most valuable assets can be less obvious: patience, reliability, flexibility, the ability to see the big picture or the fine details, the ability to communicate effectively with a variety of people, and so on. You may also have the gold of specialized knowledge, not just in your chosen professional field, but gathered from your life experiences. You might be street smart or know a lot about the habits of a particular group of people or understand how to motivate others. Because we so often think only about skills that are marketable or talent that’s exceptional, it can be easy to overlook your own gold, which can take many forms.
Mindfulness improves your capacity to be reflective and receptive. Being reflective gives you access to information in your unconscious that’s hidden from your conscious mind. It lets you receive subtle communications to help you live with more happiness, energy and grace.