Can mindfulness be applied to any activity, including sipping a latte in a cafe?
Mindfulness in a meditation class
While in a meditation class, which was based on traditional Buddhist teachings, I had a profound realisation as I began to fidget, my ankles went numb and I had an urge to stretch my neck as my shoulders began to seize up.
I realised I really didn’t want to be in this dark room with a group of other fidgeting and sniffling people.
My realisation was that I’m not really all that interested in meditation in the traditional sense. Although, I’d thought I was.
Why did I think I would be remotely interested in attending a meditation class?
The reason is that I incorporate other practices into my daily life that align with or even use the term ‘meditation’. I embrace and teach mindful eating. I have done yoga for years. I frequently incorporate yoga nidra or guided body scans into my day. I practice techniques to bring me into the present moment. So what’s my issue with mediation?
Many meditation classes begin with how to sit during meditation; cross your legs, tilt your hips forwards, draw your shoulders down, gaze downwards two metres in front of you.
Therein lies my first issue. I don’t enjoy following rules.
Furthermore, I find it hard to believe that we need to sit a specific way to meditate.
I understand that if you’re a monk in Bhutan and meditating in a cave on an isolated mountain top for the next four years this might be relevant. However, for the average city dweller in Singapore, Sydney or San Diego, I don’t see how this is necessary.
Stepping out of the meditation room
The thing is, any form of relaxation that quietens the mind and gets you back in touch with your senses is going to be of great benefit. I believe that mindfulness can be applied to any activity.
If you’re searching for enlightenment, in the Buddhist sense, you probably do need to sell your house, quit your job and join the monks in a cave, because we have so many distractions and challenges in our lives. A Buddhist monk doesn’t have to concern themselves with making money to pay off their mortgage or even to feed themselves. They don’t have to concern themselves with deciding what to wear today or how to style their hair. They don’t have to deal with human interactions such as dating or caring for children.
So I’ve let go of any unrealistic expectations. I accept that any mediation I do is to enable me to better handle my life and live with more contentment and joy. And there isn’t a right way to do it. I’m simply not going to transpose the rules of Buddhist monks onto myself!
Release any goals of meditation practices
Furthermore, enlightenment can become another goal to add to the list of ‘must achieve’. Yet any desire or sense of lack disturbs our inner peace. So this is a goal that I’m happy to let go of.
Without even considering the ultimate goal of enlightenment, one of the issues with the ‘rules’ of meditation is they can create a sense of failure. In the meditation class, the young man sitting beside me commented to the teacher, ‘I feel like I am doing this wrong’.
So often I hear this. As soon as we create rules to follow and goals to attain, people feel like they are failing when they can’t follow these rules or feel like they aren’t making significant enough progress towards their goals. These are familiar comments to what I hear in relation to diets and weight loss (see mindful eating and weight loss).
Meditation as a mindfulness practice
Similarly, I couldn’t help but notice how much meditation is about the mind (duh!). However, similar to how we try to intellectualise dieting and eating, with meditation we are focused on clearing the mind while ignoring the body.
In the class, the teacher made a comment something like ‘eventually you will lose awareness of your body’. I understand the benefit of letting go of personally identifying with our bodies, but we already live in a world where people are so caught up in their minds and disconnected from their bodies.
Mindful body awareness techniques
I can’t help but wonder if with our modern lifestyles body awareness techniques – as opposed to traditional meditation – is not only an easier but more valuable approach to stepping back into the present moment. By body awareness techniques, I mean bringing our full awareness to our senses of sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch. This is certainly the way I practice.
Of course, there is not only one way to meditate. There are many different forms of mediation.
Further, I acknowledge how powerful and helpful mediation can be. It can provide profound healing and relaxation.
However, I believe there are other ways to relax and bring ourselves into the present moment, without rules or goals, which may be far easier to incorporate into our modern lifestyles. It could be mindful walking or mindful typing? Actually, I’m not entirely kidding. There are activities that bring us into a state of mind where we forget all sense of time and take us away from our thoughts that disturb our inner peace.
Mindfulness in flow activities
Psychologists refer to these activities as flow activities. While in the sports arena when an athlete is in this state it is referred to as being in the zone.
Personally, I’ve found that identifying my flow activities and learning how to step into the zone are much more effective ways for me to feel more content and at peace. However, what works for each of us will differ.
Mindfulness can be applied to any activity, including sipping coffee in a cafe
After the meditation class, I desperately wanted to relax in a tranquil coffee shop where I could write. I sat observing my surroundings.
I observed the various shades and colours; noticed the different foliage textures. I could hear the chilled out music playing, the clinking of cutlery and the mumbled chatter of others around me. I could feel my body supported by my chair. I felt my body swaying, not only to the music but the joy I felt within me.
The joy I felt through the full sensory experience of the moment. And the joy of allowing words to tumble out of me onto the computer screen through my fingers dancing over the keyboard of my laptop.
I was in the zone. I was engaging in a flow activity. I was practising mindful eating.
In the cafe, I felt a deeper sense of peace and joy than in the two hours in the mediation room. I had truly stepped out of my mind and was in a state of flow.
Disclaimer: This is only a personal perspective and reflection. Each of us is different and will find different mindfulness practices helpful. It is a matter of what helps you to be present and calm, without the incessant worry and thoughts of the past or the future.
What are flow activities for you or help to bring you into a state of peacefulness?
Let me know in the comments below. It might help others come up with ideas to help them relax or to see how mindfulness can be applied to any activity.