Mindful Living: Being Present in Your Daily Life
Mindfulness has become a buzzword in the yoga world. I read a lot about mindful living, mindfulness practice. In fact I’ve practiced mindfulness over the past 27 years. Sometimes it’s been a challenge to make time in my schedule to do formal practice, although in recently years I’ve committed to getting up early to fit in at least 30 minutes of sitting practice, and more if I can.
The good news is that you can be mindful any time, not just when you’re doing a formal practice. Here’s what I’ve learned so far about living a mindful life:
In 1986, I attended my first yoga retreat at the Last Resort Retreat Center in the Cedar Breaks area of Southern Utah. I was a relative yoga novice at the time, having practiced only four years. At this retreat, we not only practiced asana twice a day, but we also sat silently in meditation three times a day, ate meals in silence, and met to talk about different ways to make our daily lives an expression of yoga. In my beginner’s zeal, I left the retreat ready to change pretty much everything about the way I lived my life.
And some things did change: I ramped up my asana practice, I started meditating (a little), and I started experimenting with dairy-free eating. But I still had to fit these things into whatever spaces were left over after working 40 hours a week. I often felt frustrated that things like working for a living and doing chores got in the way of practice. And because of this frustration, commitments dropped away over time—until the next retreat inspired me again.
Years and many long insight meditation retreats later, I began to see practice in a different light. On one 30-day silent meditation retreat, my teacher, Pujari, suggested that we pick one activity at the retreat each day to be really mindful. Since this was, in fact, a mindfulness retreat, in theory every activity had the potential to be a vehicle for mindfulness practice. But as anyone who has ever sat a long meditation retreat knows, this is more easily said than done.
Pure Pleasure — A Mindful Cup of Tea
Each morning we awoke at 5:30 and enjoyed a cup of hot tea and a piece of fruit before beginning our day of alternating sitting and walking periods. I chose my morning tea and fruit as the time when I would be truly mindful. Mindful tea drinking became a daily pleasure on the retreat, and I found it was a practice I could carry with me. Decades later, drinking my morning cup of tea now collects and calms my mind. The grooves are laid down—I can’t help but be mindful when I begin my informal morning tea ceremony.
I’ve added other things to my daily mindful living practice as well: washing dishes (thanks to Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice to “wash the dishes simply to wash the dishes”), gardening (seasonally, of course), and even cleaning the litter boxes. As a householder living in the world, I realize now that practice is not separate from my life, and those tasks that once frustrated me are opportunities for practice rather than diversions from it.
So here’s the challenge:
Choose one thing you do every day to be mindful. Do this for a month and then reflect on what has changed for you. Here’s the thing: You have to do your daily chores anyway. Being attentive while you’re doing them doesn’t take any more time.