Formal meditation or sitting meditation is wonderful, and a necessary part of our practice. Yet the informal practice of day-to-day mindfulness is just as important. It seems to me that this in-the-moment mindfulness in the middle of a meeting, a meal, or a conversation is one of the things that sitting meditation trains us for. The purpose of sitting meditation is not just to learn to quiet our minds while sitting, but to increase our capacity for whole-life meditation, living and breathing mindfulness in our regular lives. Have you felt these moments? The glimpses of what it is like to be so "meta"— to be aware that you're aware? Here are a few examples from my day-to-day:
- I'm walking and I feel the sun on my back. I revel in the warmth and then feel so happy that I decided to take a walk.
- I'm sitting at my desk and all of a sudden I notice that my shoulders are hunched, I'm leaning forward off the back of my chair, and my jaw is clenched. My noticing causes me to take a breath, lean back, and stretch or relax my muscles.
- I'm walking to a meeting and I realize how much I'm dreading it. Fear and anxiety seem to completely rule me in this moment. I wonder about that.
- I step out my door after it has rained and I smell the fresh dirt smell. I see how drops of water are decorating the grass, the leaves, and the flowers. I think how beautiful it is.
Not all of these moments are peaceful and pleasant. When I think about mindfulness, I often think of peace and contentment first. I might think that if I am mindful, everything will be "good." Of course, this is not the case. Mindfulness is a fancy word for awareness or a state of noticing. If our eyes are open to notice, it is a fact that some of what we notice will be things that we are drawn to, some will be things that are neutral, and some will be things that we want to avoid or even run away from. What unites all of these things is that they ARE and that we know that they are so in this very moment. They are our reality. This, whether we embrace the thing or have distaste for it, is mindfulness moment-by-moment.
One more thing I want to note about the examples that I listed are the little outcomes-- what comes after the noticing. In these examples, there is a moment of realization first. If the realization is the end, fine-- that is mindfulness. But often what comes next is a judgement, and after that, there might be an action. To take the same examples:
For me, this is very interesting, and it is one of the reasons why this every day mindfulness is so important to me. If you take the example at my desk, a moment of mindfulness is enough to change my relationship to my body, and stringing mindful moments together can actually make my neck, shoulder, and jaw pain decrease and disappear because noticing the tension leads me to relaxing my muscles. Mindful moments can change our lives! Let's seize these moments, one at a time, whenever we can.