Some people think of meditation as something we do sitting on the floor (or in a chair) with our legs crossed and our eyes closed, but much of the wonder of mindfulness is experienced as it works its way into all aspects of our lives. We come to realize that we can be awake and present for everything: the joy of cooking, the way it feels to make a bed, the sadness and tenderness of truly listening to a friend in need.
We also may come to find how little we’ve actually experienced up until now. We may be consumed by making plans at breakfast, only to find that the meal is over and we weren’t really aware of eating it. Or we may start to see that when we walk in the cold or ride on the train, rather than feeling the air on our face or hearing the rumbling of the wheels on the tracks, we are stuck in a pattern of negative thoughts about the experience (e.g. I hate the winter. When is it going to be spring? Maybe I should move to California. New York sucks….) We can become so caught up in these thoughts that they become a heavy veil that drops between us and the reality of life.
One way that I’ve found to cultivate an awake presence to life is to slow things down. And the easiest way for me to do that is to commit to doing one thing at a time. If I’m riding a train, I just ride the train and try to notice what it actually feels like to ride the train. If I’m eating, I try to notice the food in my mouth, the scent in my nose and the way it feels to sit at the table. It was difficult at first but has been an incredibly helpful practice. I’d invite anyone who wants to really live their life – all of it – to try it out:
Pick a day, or half of a day, and commit to doing just one thing at a time. If you’re brushing your teeth, just brush your teeth. If you’re talking on the phone, just be still and talk on the phone. See if you can bring your awareness and energy to whatever it is that you’re doing. If you’re doing something simple like riding on a train or walking down the street, see if you can bring your awareness to the sensory experience inside and outside of the body. What do you see, hear, smell and feel? How does your body feel?
You may find that that slowing down like this is really difficult (!) which is fine. Just keep trying and notice how you react. What are the thoughts and feelings that come up when you try to do this?