Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Meditation isn’t Just for Hippies, and Doesn’t Need to Cut into your Precious Free Time

Meditation is an interesting word. While its definition seems pretty straight forward, what it evokes in people differs greatly one to the other. In fact, if you asked your closest friends and family, you would most likely receive some starkly different responses. Though the idea of meditating may seem to some as 20 minutes of boredom, or even wasted time, what acceptance of this word can do is outstanding. 

One doesn’t need to go on a lavish retreat in a foreign country, or seek out a guru, to learn about the benefits of meditation. All you really need is a few moments of concentration, a little creativity, and the desire to learn a new tool. Meditation isn’t about sitting alone, cross-legged, in a dark room with candles and incense, it is about mindfulness. It’s about bringing focus and acceptance to daily tasks. While we all have to-do lists containing less desirable boxes to check off, being able to go about this in a mindful way can actually make the menial more meaningful; it just takes a different approach than what we are used to.

With a simple Google search, one is able to pick up easy tips on what it is to meditate. According to the Buddhism About page, meditation is the amalgamate of 4 simple steps: 

1. Mindfulness of Body
2. Mindfulness of Feelings
3.) Mindfulness of Mind
4.) Mindfulness of Dharma

So how does this apply to your daily life? Here is an example of how one can mix meditation with something we all do each day; eating...

Mindfulness of Body - To be mindful of the body means to be aware of what's happening in you. In a meditation class, attendees will sit and begin to bring focus to their breath. This can include bringing awareness to breathing into the chest or stomach, how long their inhale (in a relative count) is vs. their exhale, as well as what areas of the body are working, relaxed, stuck, or achy. In daily life, when you sit down at your chosen space to eat, focus on your breath for maybe 30 seconds or minute, while concentrating on how it works with your body in the position which you normally eat. This prepares you to eat meditatively, bringing attention to your entire being.

Mindfulness of Feeling - While this can (and should) include what emotions become apparent during the action, what feeling means is literally how the activity works with the senses. Instead of eating while watching TV, reading, or even having conversation, try taking a few moments to engage with your food before scarfing it down. It may be weird not to use utensils, but try feeling your food, exploring the texture or temperature, smelling it, and getting a good visual image before actually taking a bite. While chewing, see how that texture feels in your mouth. Listen to the noises the food makes. See if you can still catch wafts of the food's scent. These small steps take only a few moments, but help you engage with your food, tasting it in a way we oft experience. 

Mindfulness of Mind - As simple as this sounds, this may be the hardest step. As what is off putting for many mediation objectors, this is the step where you try and clear your head. In our society, letting the mind rest isn’t easy. The harder we try, the more thoughts flood in. Instead of combating the deluge, what this step means is being aware of what is happening upstairs while you eat. Are you drifting somewhere? Instead of letting your mind engage with this thought, see what that thought is. Recognize you had a thought, maybe label if it is a thought of the future, commitments, or even a fear you have, then bring your focus back to the information the senses are feeding you about your meal. The mind drifts, but it doesn’t need to ruin concentration. By realizing you are drifting, acknowledging it, and returning to the task at hand, you continue to concentrate, continuing your mindfulness practice. This may happen one time or 50 times, but as long as your focus returns to eating, you are still meditating.

Mindfulness of Dharma - While Dharma is a debate in itself, for all intents and purposes for this activity, mindfulness of dharma means being aware of your intention and being gracious. Why are you eating? Is it for nourishment? Are you bored? Are you stress eating? Whatever the reason you are indulging in a meal, learn that reason, keep it at the forefront of the activity, and be thankful for the food in your hand. 

By approaching a daily task such as eating, exercising, or cleaning, in this fashion, a busy person can incorporate mindfulness and mediation into their daily lives. Be it 5 minutes or 15, with these steps you will gain a level of concentration and focus that seemed to disappear with the introduction of iPhones. It may not come the first try, but with a little imagination and desire to make a less-desirable task more palatable, these practices can be applied nearly anywhere throughout the day. 

People can’t be forced to become more mindful. If meditation isn’t your thing, it isn’t your thing. For those who are ready to increase focus and bring about a more conscious approach to day-to-day life, adding small increments of meditation to your day will do wonders. While it does take practice, creation of a mindful habits will increase concentration, efficacy, and overall enjoyment that will be seen day-in, day-out.  

Photos courtesy of the GuardianMemecenter, and Connect113

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