Mindfulness in everyday life - waking up from automatic pilot

Passengers on a plane - article about using mindfulness to wake up from 'automatic pilot'
The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.
— Jon Kabat-Zinn

In the first stages of mindfulness training, we are introduced to practicing every day routine activities mindfully rather then mindlessly. By doing this, we are waking up to our lives more and more and stepping out our tendency to be on automatic pilot. We are also not limiting our mindful attention to periods of formal practice and we are learning that we can practice being mindful - developing present moment awareness - in any activity or period of our day. 

Another way of thinking about this is that the average person sleeps around eight hours a night and that means we have 980 minutes of opportunity to practice each day and every day.

Larry Rosenberg makes the following suggestions for practicing mindfulness in every day life:

  1. When possible, do one thing at a time.
  2. Pay full attention to what you are doing.
  3. When the mind wanders from what you are doing, bring it back.
  4. Repeat step 3 several billion times.
  5. Investigate your distractions.

This is very freeing, as we can see that every day life provides us with unlimited opportunities to practice being fully present with what we are experiencing as we are experiencing it.

Opportunities to practice mindfulness in our daily lives

Here are some examples of routine tasks the allow us to do just that:

  • Brushing your teeth. Where is your mind as you brush your teeth?
  • Showering. Sensing the water on your body, the temperature, the pressure…
  • Preparing food. Any food preparation is a great opportunity for mindfulness.
  • Eating. Try having a meal in silence, really focusing on the food and the sensations of eating. This involves attending only to eating (no TV, radio, book etc.!) and the movements and flavours involved in eating.
  • Washing up. This is an opportunity to pay attention to seeing, moving, feeling all the sensations associated with washing up.
  • Driving. Try just driving, without day-dreaming, music or other distractions. Paying attention to the actions involved in driving, the focus of your seeing, the sensations in your feet, hands, back.
  • Walking. Pay attention to the sensation of walking, using the bottom of your feet as anchors for attention.
  • Telephone. When the phone rings, stopping before answering to tune in to your thoughts, feelings and body, breathing with these before answering.
  • E-mail. Like the phone, before responding to your messages, tuning in to any thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations, breathing with these until your mind is more settled.

Mindfulness bells

Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it.
— Sharon Salzberg

As Sharon Salzberg says, it may not be easy for us to remember to pay attention mindfully to these every day tasks: we have the habit of switching off rather then switching on when we are doing them. So to help us remember to be mindful, we can always set what Mark Williams and Danny Penman call 'mindfulness bells'. Mindfulness bells help us remember to wake up and be present in our day. Here are some examples:

  • Red traffic lights. An opportunity to sit quietly, peacefully and be aware of our breath.
  • Keys. As you reach for your keys to the car orhouse, tune into how you are before moving onto the next moments of your day.
  • Making a drink. As you're waiting for the kettle to boil, tune into your feet being on the floor and your experience.
  • Reception. As you walk into the reception of your office, tune into your experience of walking and arriving at the start of your day.
  • Door knob. As you reach for the handle of a door, tune into your sense of turning this and your body as you move over the threshold and transition into the next phase of your day.
  • Alarm. When your alarm clock goes off in the morning, pause, take a breath and tune into how you are at the start of the day.
  • Reminders. We can also set reminders on our phone to beep at different parts of day to encourage us to pause and take a breath.

So for the next week, why not pick an everyday activity and practice paying mindful attention to it? Why not set some mindfulness bells to help remind you to pause for a breath and tune into your experience during your day? What will you do?

Sources

  • Larry Rosenberg - Breath by Breath
  • Mark Williams and Danny Penman – Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World.