Many would agree that we, humans share this innate need of suffering less and experiencing more happiness and joy. On the same token, we would also agree that life is bound to present challenges along the way, which can be rather unpleasant and painful.
Many believe that when pain arrives, we automatically suffer. In reality, this is a myth and not true.
Suffering is caused by one single factor–comparison. It’s triggered when we compare either our present, past or envisioned future against our pre-conceived perfect world.
Take a minute and think about what triggered negative emotions such as anger and frustration that lead to suffering. I am willing to bet, it was an event that didn’t unfold as you would have liked or expected. For example, someone cut you off on the road, or your significant other or kids didn’t listen to you, or the train was late, or your computer froze causing you to lose your work, or someone mistreated you, or you are anxious about unfolding future events. In these examples and beyond, the cause of suffering isn’t what had or will happen instead, it’s their comparison with our pre-conceived view is the trigger of suffering.
Simply put, the more we fight our existence and experiences, the more we will suffer and there are no two ways about it!
One of the most powerful and scientifically proven ways of reducing suffering is practicing mindfulness.
So, what is mindfulness?
The core of mindfulness is built on the simple principle of being fully present and experiencing the now. In mindfulness, we simply accept everything (experiences, thoughts, emotions, feelings, and sensations) that falls within the boundaries of our awareness without applying any comparison and judgment. We come out of our imagination controlled past and future living and direct our complete attention to the present moment, the only reality that exists at any given moment.
How does mindfulness negate suffering?
The answer is twofold:
- Since we are simply experiencing the present, we eliminate comparison. Mindfulness focuses on acceptance and unreservedly acknowledging our thoughts, feelings, and experiences in each moment.
- Being fully immersed in the present moment eliminates the possibility of living in our thoughts––replaying past or getting future anxious.
Practicing meditation for 20-30 minutes every day is the best way to bring the power of mindfulness into our lives. However, many people argue that they don’t have time, which startles me beyond words as the benefits of this practice are profound.
Beyond that, there is this common misperception that practicing mindfulness requires leaving our day-to-day living and going out to mountains, lakes, woods, yoga, and spiritual retreats. Unquestionably, these environments are certainly helpful in drawing us to immense depth of calmness and peace within, which quietens our wandering thoughts. With that said, there exist multiple other avenues in our day-to-day lives where we can practice mindfulness.
Below are the 10 simple ways of practicing mindfulness as part of day-to-day living.
Breathing is a natural process. Something we do it unconsciously in the background as we go about our daily business. Countless renowned past, as well as some current spiritual teachers such as Thích Nhất Hạnh and Eckhart Tolle, have eluded consciously breathing as practicing mindfulness. As you breathe, simply follow through your breath right from the point you inhale to exhale. As we give our undivided attention to our breath, our mind becomes free of wandering thoughts. We inevitably go within, where our true inner-self resides.
Walking is an integral part of our living. I believe giving our entire attention for 15 minutes a day to the experience of walking is something we all can easily accommodate. As you walk, give your entire concentration to these six basic components of each step.
- Lifting your back foot.
- Moving it forward as it transitions into the front foot.
- The first connection between your heel and the ground
- Followed by your entire rest of the foot touching the ground with your toe being the last.
- A forward momentum of your body weight as the front heel starts to lift again with your toe being the last
- Repeat the cycle
Fully observe the motion, sound, connection, and sensation involved in your step. With the entire concentration on walking, our wandering thoughts are bound to disappear. In this state, our true emotions and feelings will start to surface.
When was the last time you simply ate? Often, when I pose this question to others, many go blank! The reason being, while eating we are simultaneously involved in other activities such as talking, scrolling through our phones, watching TV, reading and so on.
Mindful eating involves solely engaging our attention to the experience of eating without any distractions. When you eat, pay your entire attention to the smell, touch, taste, texture and chewing your food. Something that will immensely help in this process is resting down your cutleries after putting food in your mouth. By doing this our focus won’t be shifting towards preparing our next bite as we are chewing. Again, as your wandering thoughts quieten, notice without judgment what emotions and feelings surface.
If we pay attention, we will learn most of us speak excessively. While speaking is an integral part of life, most of us often speak because of being bored and/or uncomfortable in the presence of silence, not because we have something meaningful to say. Additionally, one of the core drawbacks of technological advancements has been our addiction to keep our lives filled with noise and distractions. Often, the time when our vocal cord is resting, we are on our digital devices creating our noise.
Take some time during the day to cease talking and use of digital devices. Let silence permeate through you. You will find that it draws you inwardly and lets you connect with your inner-self. As you go within serenity and inner-peace start to emerge, which inevitably slowly silence your wandering thoughts and let you just be.
Slow Down Activities
Similar to putting down your cutleries while eating to slow down and help direct your attention to eating, we can take small pauses in other activities as well. Instead of rushing out for work, pause and feel your steps leaving the house. Instead of lying on the bed straight away, slowly sit, feel the bed and gently lay down. Instead of watering the plants as a chore, pause and very slowly pour the water and feel how it permeates through the soil. Instead of answering the phone right away, pause and witness the ringing before answering it.
These small pauses may not sound that big of a deal however, their effects are profound as they draw the practice of mindfulness deeper and deeper by giving us time to truly live through them.
Away from all the physical distractions, taking a shower can be a perfect opportunity to be mindful. Focusing on the intimate experience of a warm shower can induce calmness and peace within.
As you take shower feel the warm water falling on your skin, smell the soap, listen to the difference in the sound of running water as it falls on your body, walls, and the floor. As your focus permeates in the now, disengagement from the past and future will automatically occur.
While many of us truly dread cleaning dishes, many scientific pieces of research (HYPERLINK: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12671-014-0360-9) have proven washing dishes promotes the state of mindfulness. As our focus digs deeper into this mundane activity a sense of calmness start to emerge. Try it for yourself, simply wash dishes with your undivided attention and tell us about your experience.
Become Thought Observer
If you stand on side of a busy road, you can observe countless vehicles passing without boarding them. Similarly, be an observer of your thoughts instead of getting on board with them. Acknowledge your thoughts like vehicles as they come and go. Observe the quality of your thoughts, emotions, feelings as well as cravings. By the way, if you find yourself onboard your thoughts simply recognize and get off it.
Do More of What You Love
What activities do you truly love doing? Is it reading, writing, painting, cooking, hiking, walking, carpentry, knitting, music, playing instruments, working on cars, or something else? Those activities, which truly make us feel alive and relieve stress and anxiety.
Often, when we pursue such activities we get so immersed in them that our entire focus resides in those moments. Our churning thoughts become non-existent. We lose our sense of time and feel true joy and happiness. These activities transcend us to some of the highest states of mindfulness in which we lose our egoistic self and we are simply all there in the now.
As you can see, we can use our normal day-to-day activities as a mode of practicing mindfulness by simply bringing our undivided attention to them. In the beginning, your mind is bound to wander, which is perfectly normal. However, as your practice more and more to bring your awareness back to the present, practicing mindfulness will become easier with time
To conclude, practicing mindfulness minimizes the epidemic of living inside our heads and maximizes the real-world experiences. Let your move forward mantra be: To be simply present and observe without judgment or attachment.