Mindfulness Is Much More Than Meditation

Part 1: Opportunities to awaken awareness abound in everyday experience.

Posted Apr 12, 2019

CC0 Creative Commons
Source: CC0 Creative Commons

Many people think that mindfulness and meditation are synonymous. And there is indeed an intimate relationship between them—meditation practice is a primary pathway to achieving and sustaining mindfulness. However, mindfulness extends far beyond meditation. Mindfulness practice doesn’t necessitate sitting silently on a cushion. It doesn’t require special settings or uninterrupted blocks of time. Moreover, you can learn to observe your present-moment experience—whether positive, painful, or neutral—both internal and external, with greater acceptance, with your eyes wide open.

In fact, there are myriad ways to incorporate mindfulness into the ordinary tasks and activities of everyday life. There are many opportunities to consciously anchor your awareness in the here and now and access brief but meaningful moments of mindfulness throughout the course of your day. Small pebbles can make big ripples.

Mini-Mindfulness Practices

Although multitasking may be unavoidable at times, the daily experience of pressure to “get things done” unconsciously ensnares many people in its gravitational pull. Multitasking frequently becomes standard operating procedure, even when it isn’t necessary. 

  1. Strive to minimize multitasking and do one thing at a time; be present with the task at hand, giving it your undiluted attention.
  2. Do it deliberately and without rushing—even (and perhaps especially) if you feel pressure—external or internal—to do so. As John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, regularly instructed his players, “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”
  3. Do it to completion.
  4. space—even a brief pause—between the activities in which you engage rather than going directly from one task to the next.
  5. yourself permission to do less than what you may have planned or what your thinking says you “should do” or “have to do.”
  6. Each time you scroll through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social media platforms, pause on a random name (be it someone you know or not) and take a moment to wish that person well—perhaps literally saying to yourself: __________, may you be well. May you be at peace.
  7. As you wake up from sleep, take a moment while lying in bed with your eyes open and express appreciation for the gift of waking up to another day. Not everyone receives this gift. 
  8. When you first step outside in the morning, take a few seconds to observe—without judgment—the sights and sounds of your neighborhood. 
  9. When you approach a window in your home or office, take a few moments to pause, look through it, and really notice what you see. 

Mindful Eating

Many people, both in and out of recovery, eat emotionally—that is, they eat in response to stress or emotional discomfort (anxiety, fear, loneliness, boredom, anger, or sadness). Sometimes, this is also an attempt to fill a sense of internal emptiness. When people behave this way, they eat without thinking about what or why they’re eating; they may not even taste the food, which they chew quickly and incompletely. Have you ever finished eating something only to realize you don’t know how it tasted?

Mindful eating is the antithesis of stressed or emotional eating and the antidote for it. Mindful eating means paying conscious attention to the experience of eating using all the senses. It emphasizes the awareness of taste, as well as colors, textures, smells, and sounds, during the process of eating. For instance, when mindfully eating an apple, you might notice the color, feel how smooth it is, take in its fragrance, listen to what it sounds like when you bite into it, and taste it fully, one bite at a time.

  1. Before you eat, bring your awareness to the activity. Are you actually hungry and need nourishment in preparation for some activity, or are you eating out of some sort of emotional dis-ease?
  2. As much as possible, try to eat before you get to the point of being extremely hungry.
  3. Take two or three deep breaths to relax and connect your mind with your body.
  4. Appreciate the food you’re getting ready to eat.
  5. Consider what it took to get that food from its origins to your table.
  6. As you eat, notice the aroma(s), texture(s), and color(s) of your food.
  7. Take one bite at a time, tasting it fully.
  8. Chew your food carefully, savoring it.
  9. Swallow it slowly.
  10. Wait until you’ve completely swallowed one bite of your food before taking the next one.
  11. Pause briefly and take an intentional breath—in and out—between swallowing and taking that next bite.
  12. As you eat, remind yourself to breathe.
  13. Pay attention to when you feel satisfied or beginto feel “full.”
  14. Stop eating when you reach this point, rather than continuing to eat until you feel “stuffed” and uncomfortable. 
  15. If there is food left, store it for another time.
  16. Notice how you feel when you are finished eating.

By making the experience of taking food and drink into the body much more conscious, eating mindfully slows the process of ingesting, tasting, chewing, and swallowing. The intent is to pay close and careful attention to the sensory aspects of your food and the process of eating and to eat deliberately rather than unconsciously shoveling food into your face. The result is that you will eat more slowly, taste your food more thoroughly, chew your food more completely, and swallow it more patiently.

All of this contributes to healthier digestion. Over time, this practice—even if you only engage in it occasionally—can help you change your relationship with food to one that is more present-centered, satisfying, and healthier.

Copyright 2019 Dan Mager, MSW

Author of Roots and Wings: Mindful Parenting in Recovery and Some Assembly Required: A Balanced Approach to Recovery from Addiction and Chronic Pain