Eating ice cream, the ultimate mindfulness practice.
Something is happening here but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?
– Bob Dylan
Be Mindful as if You Were Eating Ice Cream
What does eating ice cream have to do with making mindfulness part of your daily life?
When you watch a child eating ice cream, you will notice how absorbed they are in that activity and that eating the sweet deliciousness is all they are interested in at that very moment. They are so overjoyed and so engaged with the act of eating ice cream that no other thought or distraction is going to ruin the experience. No way.
That is mindfulness. It’s easy with ice cream. We love it.
As an adult you will find the same principle with, for example, having sex, talking to a great friend you haven’t seen in a long time, hugging and kissing your kids, reading a great book. All of these things are easy to disappear into because we love doing them.
But it’s not so easy to disappear into doing the dishes or changing your kid’s diaper. We don’t necessarily enjoy doing these chores so it is much easier to let our minds wander towards some ridiculous distraction.
Actually these mundane chores are the greatest opportunities to practice mindfulness. Almost everything we do affords us an opportunity to engage in this practice. That is what this article is all about.
So you want to find ways to make mindfulness a part of your daily life? Read on.
But Why the Bob Dylan Quote?
While we are engaged in our daily routine, we are usually not mindful to what is actually going on inside of us when we carry out our activities. That’s why I reference that ingenious quote by Mr. Dylan. “There’s something happening here but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?”
We are all Mr. Jones. Something bigger than our selves is happening but we just don’t notice it. We rarely are taught to notice this and we are in a constant battle against our ego to experience things in a deeper and more meaningful way. But what is going on at this deeper level is actually the most important thing.
In actuality we are co-arising with all things, and everything is happening at once and as one thing. But our ego-self denies this and the mind creates all kinds of escape routes to bypass our potential to realize this fundamental truth and our ability to access our “deeper, truer” selves.
So the practice of mindfulness is a practice to bring us back to the realization of our “true” selves in the moment that exists right now. This practice helps us develop the ability to live fully without extraneous thought and worry. It helps us to stay present without following our minds down all the crazy paths it creates to take us away from this moment and bring us back to our egoic self.
Mindfulness is the path that leads us to a state of true peace and happiness. When you make mindfulness a part of your daily life, you will see beautiful things happen to your attitude and outlook on life.
All life is practice
You dream sweet dreams all night long, the mind’s release from the day. Or maybe there was a nightmare or two. Either way the mind is just doing its thing.
When you wake up, what is the first thing you think about? Last night’s TV show? What to make for breakfast? Still pissed off from a fight with someone the day before? Worrying about how your kid kicked her friend and called her a nasty name?
There are a million things the mind goes to the minute you wake up. But as soon as your eyes open in the morning, do you ever think about not thinking? Is that even possible? Is that an oxymoron? Thinking about not thinking?
In day to day life, who wants to work on mindfulness upon first waking up? We want to get to that first cup of coffee to get that rush. We want to run to the computer or the phone to see whats happening in the news or at work. Maybe check email blindly or check Instagram to see how many likes we got on a post. But we definitely don’t want to work on mindfulness. Not even on the radar.
How do we avoid this hyper active state of mind upon waking? Mindfulness practice. It’s something I work on every day as soon as I wake up. And when I say “work”, I mean it. It’s work. But its a joyful work because I know how much I benefit from the activity and how it keeps me sane in times of duress.
Yoga is mindfulness practice, a fully engaged family
Start the Day Off Right, With Mindfulness
Define your mindfulness path for the rest of the day. To start the day off right, the most important thing you can do first thing in the morning is to not let the mind just run rampant.
Of course you will be thinking, the mind going a little crazy with all the tasks and to-do lists for the day. Even so, the awareness should go to the body and the breath, the birds singing, noticing how your body is feeling as it just lays there in your warm bed. The five senses are your friends. When you tune in to them and bring your awareness to them, as much as you can, they will guide you in the right direction; away from the dancing bouncing monkey mind.
Again, the idea is to not placate the relentless thinking mind by letting it run amok. Bring awareness back to the breath and the body, bring it back to the sense organs by listening to the morning sounds or feeling the clean sheets below your body, in a kind and understanding way. We have to be empathetic to the mind. It is just doing what it is meant to do.
But there is a bigger mind, and this is what we want to explore first thing in the morning. We should try to let our awareness and our consciousness take the driver’s seat while the thinking mind is just a passenger. Maybe an annoying passenger that never stops talking, but nonetheless, a good friend. Because if it weren’t for our little chattering mind, we wouldn’t be here.
So lets get to it! As soon as you wake up think about these 10 things you can do to make mindfulness a part of your daily life.
10 Ways to Make Mindfulness Part of Your Daily Life
1. Upon Waking, Start Your Practice
As I mentioned before, the best time to start your mindfulness practice is immediately upon waking up. This is probably best practice for any habit you are trying to develop. Get at it! The sooner you put your efforts to the task, the sooner the mind will calm and be prepared for the day.
Think of a typical day. The alarm rings, you react. And the mind starts running. Already the crazy mind steps in and takes control. Most of us don’t even know it. We just roll with the crazy.
There is a better way to deal with the mind immediately upon waking. Try to bring the awareness to your breath. (Here’s a great article on breath work and breathing techniques) Let mindfulness take control. It may be all you can do to just be able to count 10 breaths first thing after waking up. But don’t get upset. Just keep bringing the awareness back to the breath, just like we do in meditation. Give it 5 minutes or so each day and keep trying. It will get easier. But as always, just be kind to yourself and don’t get mad or frustrated because the mind is going crazy. Just accept it and keep trying.
2. Just Listen
After engaging in the practice of following your breath to bring your mind to a calm state, start to listen to what is going around you. For me, after following the breath, listening is the best way to make a connection to the deeper self, the big mind. This is a huge part of meditation practice so we want to bring this into our daily activities as well. It will be infinitely harder in our daily activities because when we are meditating, lets face it, there is nothing else to do but listen and sit there! Nonetheless, during your regular activities, concentrated listening to what is going on around you can be done, over time, with practice.
Listening practice will also open you up to the beautiful things going on around you. Your partners breathing, the birds singing, a soft wind, rain. All these things we can easily take for granted when we wake up. We usually just ignore them when the monkey mind immediately jumps onto the scene and takes over everything.
Sure, maybe you live in the city and you hear the crazy street noise, someone blasting their horn, construction hammering away just outside your door. But try to just listen to these sounds, no matter what they are, and don’t judge them. Just listen with full mind and body and let them be what they are. This can be a very powerful mindfulness practice.
Keith Richards, who I love to call “the roshi (Zen teacher) of rock and roll”, when asked what he thinks about while on stage, famously answered, “I don’t think, I feel!”
What a statement!
So far, upon awaking (we still haven’t left the bed), we first put our awareness on the breathing activity. We can now engage the listening activity and combine it with breathing practice to create a two pronged attack on the thinking mind. Off to a great start!
Next, try to just feel your body in contact with your immediate surroundings. Feel your parters warmth next to your body, feel the clean soft sheets surrounding you, feel the warmth of the blankets covering you.
Maybe you have some pain in your body and you want to let the crazy mind run wild so that the pain will take a back seat and you wont feel it as much. Pain can be a good way to make a connection with your deeper self and help you on develop a daily mindful routine. Check in with that pain and try not to judge it and hate it. This is so hard! But again, with practice, it can get easier and direct you to a power you didn’t know you had.
I have been in situations in long meditation retreats where the pain in my knees or shoulders is like hot daggers being stuck into my flesh. Unbearable. When it comes to pain, we are taught to breath into it and face it directly without calling it something bad. Just living with it. Again, this can be extremely difficult and seem like a ridiculous idea at first. Believe me, this practice is powerful and if you engage in it, it can bring to states of awareness you didn’t know exist.
Check out this nice article on pain, mindfulness and acceptance. Tinybuddha.com has great articles on a lot of the things we are talking about here. So please check them out.
So feel! Feel with engaged concentration every part of your body and notice what is going on. Don’t judge the feeling and say it is good or bad. Just feel.
Iza doing guitar meditation, fully absorbed
4. Start Slow
I totally understand that as soon as we wake up, most of us are rushing to get on with our day. The kids are jumping on us, the phone starts beeping, the dog is licking our face begging for a walk. So much the better to try to wake up at 4:00 or 5:00 am! Maybe for some reason that just isn’t realistic. Well, maybe its realistic, you just don’t want to! Or maybe we had a rough sleepless night, a party, or we had to work late. Even so, getting up early before the mayhem begins is the best way to keep a solid mindfulness practice going.
So assuming your not being attacked by one of the above intrusions, and you have started your mindfulness practice with breathing awareness, listening awareness and fully feeling your surroundings and/or your body, the next thing to do would be to start to get out of bed slowly and mindfully. Notice your body movement as you move towards the kitchen for that first sweet cup of green tea or coffee. Try not to focus on your to-do list or why work has been texting for the last 30 minutes. Try to just focus on your body and breath as you move from one place to another. Do it slowly so you can notice what is happening in your movement.
You may not be able to define the feeling of being fully absorbed in the moment and the activity at hand. Again, like Bob said “You don’t know what it is”. The feeling is undefinable. But it is our natural state to feel calm and clear in our activities, believe it or not. Mindfulness will take us there.
5. Fully Engage with Your Activities
As your day begins, you are now moving about and taking part in your daily ablutions. At this point it is so easy to let your mind run wild because there are a thousand things to do and maybe a lot of people are waiting on you like kids or work partners.
Now is the time to really crack down and practice. Be engaged! Don’t let that crazy monkey mind take you down the path of darkness. Move to the light mindfully and stay calm in the practice. Feel your feet hit the cold floor as you get out of bed. Keep listening to the birds sing or even the crazy street noise if you hear that. Notice how your body feels as you put on your clothes for the day, as you go to the bathroom, as you drink water or brush your teeth.
Just stay engaged, focus on the moment and the activity at hand. This is the best way to make mindfulness a part of your daily routine. Your kids will be hammering away at you for this or that, or maybe you just can’t get them out of bed and you feel that gnawing angry feeling creeping in before your day has really even started. I know, I’m right there with you every single day.
The best way to defeat anger, impatience, fear, annoyance, all these things that come up for various reasons, is just to notice them, look at them and welcome them. Say “Hi there anger, you’re back again are you!?” Well, welcome to the show, you’re not controlling me today!” By not engaging in the emotion and judging it (good or bad) you can take away its power and redirect it to focus on and engage with the activity at hand. Even if your teenager is complaining or just wont get out of bed, smile, and tell them you are practicing your mindfulness and that you won’t let them get the best of you today. They will think you have lost it and maybe you are starting to go crazy. Even better, the laughs on them!
The point is, if you fully engage with your morning activities, when your mind is fresh and alert, you will have a great jump start on your daily mindfulness routine.
6. Keep Checking In
The day has just begun and at this point you are already fully engaged with your mindfulness practice. If you made it this far without falling prey to the crazy mind, then consider yourself enlightened and you can stop here. Just kidding. It doesn’t work like that.
Seriously though, like I said before, the morning is the easiest time to practice mindfulness so you should give it your full effort. As the day moves on and our activities get more intense and more complicated, it gets harder, and sometimes impossible to practice.
One of the best ways to make mindfulness a part of your daily life is to keep checking in with your practice all day long whenever you get a moment to check in. This could be simply getting up from your desk, going to get a glass of water, kicking your feet around while sitting, reaching for something etc. And while we do that little something, just do it, and nothing else. Own it!
The simplest activities afford us the best opportunity to check in with our practice and continue to be mindful. This is why monks live such simple lives. Their chores and work are often menial and these activities allow them to work and still stay mindful with the least resistance.
But most of us don’t have this luxury. We must look for the simplest tasks that we perform throughout the day and practice being mindful doing these tasks using the methods we have discussed so far. I will list out some of these activities later, but if your are serious about making mindfulness a part of your daily routine, you will find that there are endless tiny little opportunities to practice throughout the day.
7. Understand the Importance of Mindfulness and Keep it in the Back of Your Mind All Day
As we get more skilled at practicing mindfulness we start to see the world differently. We start to see ourselves differently, we develop more patience, we don’t react in such an aggressive manner any more, we become more tolerant, empathetic and less judgmental. These are just some of the benefits we gain by making mindfulness a part of our daily routine.
Imagine if everyone were trying to be mindful, practicing all the time, every day. I can promise you the world would be a much nicer place to live in.
Honestly, as I said before, we have not been programmed to be mindful. Quite the opposite, we have been programmed to feed the ego. The ego is the nemesis of mindfulness. So we have to keep practicing, maybe for a long time, before things start to change. This is what makes mindfulness so difficult at first.
With that being said, one trick you can use to keep your practice going even when it seems hopeless, is just to notice your awareness in as many situations as possible. Just knowing that mindfulness is extremely important to your health and others well being is powerful. Try to keep it in the back of your mind, even when the world seems out of control and crazy. That mindfulness can take you to a place of peace and calm in any situation. Know that what you are doing in your practice is extremely beneficial and that knowing will help you when things get tough.
The absolute best way to mindfulness a part of your daily life is to meditate. This is where it all starts. When we meditate we put ourselves in the best position to practice mindfulness.
There are endless resources on how to meditate so I won’t go into the details of meditation. I will just say that I can’t stress enough the importance of taking time to just sit down and remove all the possible activities and distractions that present themselves when we are not practicing sitting meditation.
Here is a good article on how to meditate. I love the site mindful.org. They have some articles on meditation and mindfulness for you to reference.
The more you learn (or unlearn) in meditation, the better you will be able to practice mindfulness throughout the day.
If you wake up early and get to it before anyone or anything else is able to intervene in your life (ie work, kids, partners, friends, social media etc) then you will have a fantastic jump on the day. But if you can’t wake up early, then find a few minutes to meditate when you can; at lunch, just after work, before or after an exercise routine. There are plenty of opportunities.
Meditation will set the foundation for the rest of the day’s practice and really allow you to make mindfulness a part of your daily life.
Meditating at the beach.
9. Mindful Eating
Another powerful way to make mindfulness a part of your daily life is to practice eating mindfully.
There are powerful business leaders, politicians, famous musicians and artists, chefs, people who have done incredible things and achieved amazing levels of success.
But you know what? I bet they can’t sit at a table and eat their lunch mindfully, without chasing the monkey mind, for even 10 seconds! I almost guarantee none of them can do that.
Not many people in this world have necessarily even tried to do this. It’s just something that we are not taught to do. Fortunately these matters are changing and becoming more accessible, but they are still way outside of mainstream thought and acceptance.
So this is going to be another practice we partake in whenever we are hungry and have a moment to sit down and be alone. But I will tell you, this practice is hard. How often have you thought about sitting down and eating without doing anything but eating? Absurd! The thought of it! Usually we are talking, working on the computer, reading, driving! You name it, we are doing it, without being fully engaged in just eating our food.
We are not accustomed to just eating while we are eating. And thats ok. Now is a great time to start. The practice looks super easy on paper, but like I said, it’s not.
By now you have the basic idea of mindfulness practice. Fully engage in what you are doing and try not to do anything else but the task at hand. As your mind drifts away to something else, and it will, just calmly but firmly bring it back to eating. Feel the food in your mouth as you chew. Notice the taste of the food as you experience eating like you never have before.
Over time you will come to appreciate what you are eating more and more. You will notice new things about your favorite foods; how they feel, how they taste, how they are sweeter than you thought, or more delicious. Eating will take on new meaning and become a richer experience that will only get better over time.
This is a big take away from mindfulness practice; it gets better and better over time. Your experiences, as you develop, will blossom and continue to grow. You will find it easier to make mindfulness a part of your daily life.
Ultimately, while eating, slow down and really appreciate the incredible activity you are partaking in. Be grateful for every bite of food and consider yourself lucky that you are able to enjoy such a blissful and amazing experience.
For more information on eating mindfully, go over Zenhabits.com, one of my favorite websites, and check out this article.
Mindful pizza eating is the best
10. Sleep Better with Mindfulness
At this point we have gone through the day practicing mindfulness whenever we can. We are keeping mindfulness in the back of our minds so that we may use it whenever an opportunity presents itself. Locked and loaded. Throughout the day there are endless opportunities to practice just being in the moment fully engaged in doing one activity at a time.
I always try to put my full effort into everything I do in order to keep the monkey mind at bay. Whether it be washing dishes, driving a car, walking, working, talking to friends etc. This is the best way to practice.
So now the day is coming to an end and its time to get to bed. We’re getting to bed early right? Ok. Early or late, a great way to get to sleep is to count your breath as you lie in bed. Just breath steady and count each breath up to 10. If your mind wanders, again, bring it back to your breath. This will allow your mind to calm down and in turn will help your body calm down until you are in a relaxed state and ready to fall asleep.
Also, try not to look at your phone or digital device at least an hour before lying down to sleep. The screens on your devices mimic daylight and this throws off your natural circadian rhythms that allow you to sleep.
With practice you will find that you will fall asleep easier and faster. And that will allow you to wake up nice and early for that meditation session, right?
Other Things You Can Do to Make Mindfulness a Part of Your Daily Routine
To end this article, I want to leave you with some other things you can do throughout the day to make mindfulness a part of your daily life. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Be creative and try to find those precious few seconds or minutes during the day to really notice what you are doing and how you feel when you are doing it. After a while you will notice that you are engaging in mindfulness practice all the time as it becomes a habit. Keep at it and don’t give up. It just might change your life.
- Take up a musical instrument that you think you might enjoy. The repetition of practice is a great way to be fully engaged in the moment.
- When going the bathroom, just go to the bathroom. Try not to look at your phone or read.
- Play a sport. Sports are an excellent way to lose yourself in the activity. Notice how you feel when are fully absorbed in the moment of your play.
- Learn a language. Totally focus your effort for an hour a day studying.
- Go for a walk or run, and just walk or run. Runners often call their running practice a meditation.
- Take up yoga.
- Learn to draw or paint. It’s easy to disappear into the creative act.
- Garden. A connection to the earth is a connection to yourself. This is why people find gardening so relaxing.
- Think of things you like to do and practice mindfulness while you are doing them. Apply what you learned while being mindful during these easier and more pleasurable activities to the more mundane stuff in life.
Try these things, make a connection to your surroundings, disappear into them, and know that your surroundings are actually you!
Gassho, in Japanese, a bow of thanks and respect