Mindfulness is the moment to moment experience of being present and aware.
It’s not just about sitting on a cushion but about how we lead our lives. One can practice mindfulness through out the day in any activity. We can brush our teeth mindfully, wash the dishes mindfully, drive mindfully.
To practice mindfulness in daily activities, bring your awareness to the present sensations of what you are doing. When brushing your teeth, it’s the sensations of the arm as you bring the toothbrush to our mouth, the sensations of the brush against your teeth and gums and of the fluid in your mouth, the smell of the toothpaste, the sensation of spitting out the toothpaste. When your mind starts thinking about something else other than brushing teeth, notice that and bring it back to the sensations of the moment.
Try choosing one activity that you do everyday and commit to doing it mindfully in the manner described above everyday for a week. With that activity, simply bring your attention to the moment, and return it to the moment each time it wanders. If you want to you can record your experience, what you noticed and how you felt after doing the activity.
Another suggested practice is mindful walking. When walking mindfully, bring your awareness to the here and now sensations, the lifting of the left leg, the moving of the left leg in space, and the placing of the left leg on the ground, the lifting of the right leg, moving the right leg, and so on.
A mentor who introduced me to the myriad forms of mindfulness throughout our daily lives is Marsha Linehan, the originator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. When asked how she manages such a busy life as a professor, researcher, head of the Linehan Institute, international speaker and trainer, and Roshi, Marsha replied that she relies on mindful walking. When she leaves a meeting to go to the next one or to teach, she doesn’t think about what just happened or what the next thing is, she stays in the here and now and simply walks, noticing the sensations of the moment. After I heard her description, I decided I would try this. When I walk down the office hall to bathroom, when I get up from my computer at home and walk to the kitchen or mailbox, to be in the present moment, not lost in thought, but present to the sensations of movement and the sights and sounds that are happening. Over time this has become a new habit, one that I have found immensely centering.
Mindful walking is commonly used in meditation retreats between periods of sitting meditation. If your mind seductively takes off during mindful walking, use the 1-10 counting, or describe exactly what you are doing to help anchor you in the present: “Left foot, one, right foot, two, left foot, three, right foot , four” up to 10 and return to 1 to start again; or “lifting, moving, placing, lifting, moving, placing” again and again. Keep bringing your awareness to your legs and feet, the sensations of the muscles, of your clothing and shoes, the sensation of the ground.
When I worked more frequently clients with severe emotion dysregulation who were suicidal, I had two go-to recommendations: Putting your face in a bowl of ice water and mindful walking. Most clients after engaging in these two activities in a sincere and committed manner, would report greatly diminished emotion dysregulation. Try it when upset. The instructions for ice water are in this link. For mindful walking, find a quiet place you can use to walk back and forth, a 10 foot long path inside, or a longer one outside where you will be uninterrupted. Move very slowly, using the anchors of 1-10 counting of steps, or describing the sensations of lifting, moving, placing. Focus and refocus into the present. No indulging in ruminations or other emotion-mind thoughts. Do it for 30 minutes if very upset. You will be surprised of the centering that comes.