Our day to day lives tend to be extremely busy, filled with rushing from one thing to the next; work, play, school, checking our phone/email/texts, cooking, cleaning, shopping, eating… You may be exhausted just thinking about it. The practice of staying mindful can help to alleviate that sense of panic, anxiety or ‘not enough hours in the day’, which many people feel all too often.
Meditation is not something that we just do for 20 or 40 minutes every morning and then forget about. Meditation involves a principle of awareness that you can practice in every moment of your life.
While the time that we spend during formal meditation practice most definitely has an effect on the quality of our emotional and mental life in the rest of the day, making an effort to practice mindfulness during so-called “mundane” activities such as eating, working, driving, doing housework, and spending time with our friends and families is a very powerful practice.
We often see these things as obstacles to practice. In fact an interesting thing is that a lot of people fall into the habit of using the word “practice” as a shorthand for “meditation practice.” So they’ll say things like, “My practice is going very well. I’ve been sitting every day.” And this implies that the rest of our lives is “not practice.” But in fact, anything we do can be part of our practice, which may be broadly defined as the ongoing effort to cultivate mindfulness, compassion, and an awareness of life.
So we can use eating as a practice. We can use driving as a practice. We can use showering, or shaving, or taking a leak as a practice.
No matter what we’re doing, we can always be more mindful when we’re doing it. No matter what we’re doing, we can always be kinder and more compassionate; even when we’re on our own, we can be kind with ourselves, or show an attitude of kindness and care in the way we handle objects. And we can always — always! — recognize when we’re hoping on in some way (to feelings, to anticipated outcomes, to thoughts) and learn to let go.
Living mindfully in this way is incredibly enriching. It helps prevent the arising of unpleasant states of mind such as stress and depression, and it also helps us to live with freedom, dignity, and with respect for ourselves and others.
Living with mindfulness brings us in touch with our values and principles; talking about how best we can live our lives. But it also is a way of living meditatively.
Thich Nhat Hanh, vietnamese buddhist monk and meditation teacher puts it poetically:
"While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance, that might seem a little silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that's precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I'm being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There's no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves."