A few years back I took a workshop led by the Presencing Institute, which is, as described on their about page, “an awareness-based action-research community that creates social technologies, builds capacities, and generates holding spaces for profound societal renewal” out of MIT University in Boston, Massachusetts. This workshop is what deepened my understanding to this idea of mindfulness and how mindful practices can shape how society operates and how I operate.
What is mindfulness anyways? Merriam Webster dictionary defines mindfulness as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” In other words, to be more present and aware of each moment I encounter in my day to day. Being more mindful allows us to have better control of our thoughts and therefore our emotions. Meditation is usually what’s associated with mindfulness , but for some, who aren’t as open or well-versed in meditation, here are ways (outside of meditation) I try to be more mindful in my day to day:
#1 Stop listening to music on my commute.
However you get around, with today’s hyper accessibility to music and content, most people tend to fill the ‘silence’ of daily commute with the open library of applications. Don’t get me wrong, I love apps, but once in awhile I’ll choose to walk in silence.
Something that becomes apparent is that the world around me is never actually silent. I would notice the wind blowing through the trees, the sounds of cars zooming through, the high pitched radio at a construction site, and so much more. The world is filled with so much sound, it’s easy to plug in and ignore everything which seems insignificant, but there’s so much beauty in being mindful in my daily commute. It’s about noticing what’s around and observing my simple reactions.
#2 Put away that phone.
I admit I have an attachment to my phone. Leaving my phone at home or losing it sends me through an instant rush of panic. I’m sure this feeling is true for most nowadays, which is why consciously choosing to put my phone away becomes that much more important. We were not made to be dependent on a machine. We originated on this earth as social beings, made to interact with our living world; with animals, plants, other humans, other species, etc. An attachment to our phones and to technology is a manmade dependency. (I appreciate technology, but I try to preserve an honest perception to its role in my life. It is a tool, a supplement to real life, and a means not an end).
When I am around people, socializing, whether it’s in a car, out to lunch, hanging out at someone’s living room, or participating in any other social activity I tell myself to put my phone away. (Now I admit, my attempts aren’t always 100% successful but I at least make it a constant goal when I am around people). I also put my phone away when I am doing work, because with every notification comes a flood of distraction. The simple act of putting my phone away while working (especially when I am writing) tends to cut my work time in half or more.
#3 Eat alone.
Now I am not saying eat alone all the time, but I find when I have meals alone without the distraction of conversations, of a TV, or even of any music, there’s a different kind of pleasure which arrives as I eat my food. Without the distractions I am able to really notice the flavors, the smells, and the textures of the food. I think the main difference is that I have time to contemplate these characteristics. If I weren’t alone, the distractions would only allow me to notice the taste, the scent, and feel the food, but I won’t have the time to reflect about what I am experiencing as I eat the food. If there’s one thing I can’t deny is how much I love food, especially discovering new food, so taking the time to spend quality time with my food; the flavors, the aromas, and the touch is a must. Contemplating the experience of eating beautiful food is a wonderful act of appreciation that’s worth spending time on.
#4 Sit at a park bench.
There’s so much beauty in just sitting and observing. If you don’t have a park bench to sit at, then just do this at home sitting towards a window or even at a cafe will do. What’s key is to just sit and observe. Try not to think about your to do list for the day or worry about that conversation you had with so and so. The goal here is to clear the mind of unrelated thoughts and just observe what’s immediately around you. Observe and contemplate what’s in your direct environment for a few minutes. This exercise always leaves an elation in my mind. I don’t know the science or psychology behind it, but speaking from experience I think allowing our minds to rest and settle in what’s around relieves the mind momentarily from the overwhelming chain of constant information.