I was running desperately late, working as a private physiotherapist in an exclusive clinic.
A patient had come to see me with agonising low back pain and by the time they were well enough to walk out, I was hopelessly behind schedule.
Not only were my next patients incredibly angry, but I was majorly stressed.
Formal practice vs life
This is just one example of how life creates emotional obstacles.
It’s easy to enter a zen-like state when sitting cross-legged in a quiet, formal mindfulness practice, but as soon as we re-enter the chaotic and sometimes cruel world, problems emerge.
Faced with external and often unrealistic expectations, the presence of mind we’ve so carefully cultivated begins to crumble.
We become submerged by rising emotions, sucked into a negative vortex of stress.
Don’t get me wrong, formal sitting practice is one of the most powerful habits imaginable, providing profound realisations into the nature of mind.
Setting aside uninterrupted time each day is a recognition of the importance of investing in oneself and long term psychological health.
But frequently I’ve found its not enough.
Bridging the gap between formal meditation and the rest of life is imperative, serving to strengthen our practice and connection to reality.
Practising mindfulness in different situations shows that peace of mind isn’t reliant on perfect conditions, and instead of getting lost in the vicissitudes of thought and emotion, forgetting our presence entirely, an alternative exists.
Therefore, here are three everyday mindfulness activities I’ve personally found helpful.
3 essential everyday mindfulness activities
Every day I go for a walk in which I combine mindfulness and movement.
Since reading Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh, rather than trying to escape the present moment by listening to music or podcasts, I try to place full attention in surrounding sights and sounds, enjoying the nature around me.
I use this philosophy for running and weight training too, where often it’s even harder to maintain presence.
Frequently when faced with discomfort, our brains enter excuse mode, pleading for us to retreat to psychological safety and comfort.
Observing these emotions rise and fall away from a place of presence not only allows us to persist through the activity, but enjoy the sensations as positive signs of personal growth.
Unlike me, perhaps you’re the type of person who naturally enjoys cleaning, you lucky devil.
In contrast, I tend to resist such chores before they’ve begun, simply gritting my teeth until completion.
Mindfulness teaches us that there are no good or bad activities and that only our thoughts and feelings make them so.
All tasks, from binging on Netflix to cleaning the toilet, are created equal, while it’s only our perception of them that changes.
Employing this realisation during traditionally unpleasant activities is a superpower.
When undertaking unappealing tasks, I simply start noticing my body movements, paying exquisite attention to each action, to bring this lesson to life.
Curiously, the resistance then falls away, and instead of cognitively categorising and judging, I find peace with the pursuit.
For some reason, we assume that mindfulness meditation must be performed when conditions are perfect.
A quiet, dark room with eyes closed and perfect posture.
In fact, we can remain just as mindful during normal daily activities and interactions, even and especially when, our eyes are open.
Although our visual field usually strengthens the feeling that there’s an external world ‘out there’, separate from the ‘us’ inside our heads, by utilising eyes-open mindfulness, we can dispel the illusion.
You see, there’s no out there as far as experience is concerned.
Everything we perceive in our vision is occurring in the same open space of consciousness, with no boundary between the observer and observed or subject and object.
Practising eyes open mindfulness in this way breaks the spell of separateness we routinely feel and rather than merely looking, we finally learn to see clearly.
1 Minute Meditation
One of the biggest takeaways I’ve learnt is that mindfulness need not be limited to specific activities.
Rather, presence is available to us at all times.
Therefore, a final recommendation I’ve found particularly effective is to utilise the moments between moments.
When I worked as a physio, as in the introduction above, I would frequently use the time between patients or when completing my notes to re-centre, taking a few attentive breaths to witness the cacophony of mind, allowing thoughts and emotions to then subside under observation.
Having changed career, I continue to experience intrusive thoughts, especially when I’m bored at my desk and want a break.
Whenever such feelings arise, I use it as an emotional spacer, a psychological timer telling me to pay attention.
Then instead of succumbing to the urge, I simply watch the desire arise and fall away before returning to work.
Try this yourself with any cognitively demanding or difficult activities to see if it pays dividends.
A Mindful Lifestyle
Mindfulness isn’t a fair-weather activity, but rather a technique designed for deployment during regular life, especially when times are tough.
Interspersing your daily activities with mini-meditation bouts will provide significant emotional ROI.
So give it a go.