Practicing mindfulness is a great way to diminish stress, which is a constant for just about everyone. But many people find it difficult to focus on the present, which is something that mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn (an MIT graduate who has been involved with the practice for over 45 years) says is essential. He says mindfulness is about thinking “Oh yeah, brand new day and I’m still alive!” and going about the day with awareness.
So, how can you—in this multi-tasking world of ours—practice mindfulness? Here are five easy ways to find inner peace and be alone with your thoughts.
1. Start slow, grasp the true essence of mindfulness
First, get rid of the assumption that you must be some kind of Zen master or assume a certain position when the moon and your astrological sign are in synch. Practicing mindfulness is nothing like that. It is simply about focusing on one thing at a time, free of the distracting thoughts that typically plague your mind. Kabat-Zinn says, “When you’re walking, just walk. When you’re eating, just eat. Not in front of the TV, not with the newspaper.”
So, take time for self-reflection and ask yourself: am I texting while “watching” television? Am I scrolling through Facebook while I have my mom on speakerphone? If you are, you aren’t honing in on thing at a time. By physically removing all that clutters and distracts you from the one main thing that you are attempting to do, you can devote all of your thoughts to moments as they occur (rather than living in anticipation of what’s coming next or considering what happened in the past).
2. Take a simple walk
Walking is a great way to clear the mind, especially if you refrain from listening to music or using your phone. Enjoy the scenery. Look all around, even up at the sky or at the pavement beneath your feet. Think only of what you are doing, not about what you need to add to the grocery list or your child’s upcoming school project. Take everything in, allowing yourself to embrace what you otherwise don’t (when you’re caught up in the inner rumblings of your mind).
Walking need not involve hitting the gym or being active for an hour. Buddhist author and teacher John Ciancosi explains that such focus can be accomplished while walking in short bursts of time, even from just the car to the office: “If you can learn to establish awareness during walking meditation—when you are physically moving with your eyes open—then it won’t be difficult to arouse that same wakeful quality during other activities… and your meditation will begin to permeate your entire life.”
So try going for a walk, whether it’s a short stroll up and down your street, around your workplace or in a local park.
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That’s right, sit. How easy is that? Kabat-Zinn says “Sit down and take a minute to just be here. Stop, breathe, and feel. Let the past be over and done with, and let what has not yet happened to be off in the future.” He notes you may feel as though you’ve been sitting a long time when in fact you’ve only been sitting for a few minutes, but this is normal. He says, “This practice is about feeling where you are right now. Just give yourself three minutes to feel your body and mind. The goal isn’t to have any particular experience, but rather to check in on how it really is to be you.”
4. Observe your immediate surroundings
Eden Kozlowski (founder and CEO of Just Be, LLC) wrote about mindfulness as it pertains to truckers. How can they, she wondered, practice mindfulness when they are always on the road? You can take some tips from her suggestions for truckers by observing life around you wherever you are. “You don’t need incense, an exotic location or to be transported to some elevated state of being. Your truck can be your sanctuary,” she explains.
So, if you’re a trucker, notice the scenery as you drive. If you’re in an office all day, look at the plant on your desk and observe details such as new growth or the intricate designs in the leaves. You’ll find yourself achieving a state of relaxation by being more mindful of the everyday surroundings you probably rarely notice in the first place.
Resist the urge to use shower time as an opportunity to ponder some family conflict or rehearse a presentation. Instead, focus on your shower and nothing more. Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. even wrote a brief post titled, “Turn on Your Shower and Reduce Your Stress Today.” She says that showers are an easy way to engage in mindfulness. “Habitual rumination on regrets into the past will sap your energy and open the doors for a barrage of self-judgment that will keep you from living the life you want,” she cautions.
So, she encourages shower mindfulness, rhetorically asking, “What would happen if instead of thinking about all the plans you had to catch up on while you were in the shower, you took a pause, and then brought your nose to the smell of the soap…and again, just exploring the scent of it with your nose…?”
Resist the “more is more” mindset and instead focus on these easy ways to practice mindfulness, all of which you can do from the comfort of your own home and personal space.