9 Mindfulness Rituals to Make Your Day Better
“Smile, breathe and go slowly.” – Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Buddhist monk
Post written by Leo Babauta.
Are you simply moving through your day, without fully living?
I did this for many years. It was as if life were just passing by, and I was waiting for something to happen. I always felt like I was preparing for something later.
But today isn’t preparation for tomorrow. Today’s the main event.
Fully live today by being mindful. I realize this is easier said than done — mindfulness is a habit that’s not easily picked up. And so I’ve decided to share with you some of my favorite mindfulness rituals to help you appreciate every moment.
You don’t need to do all of these, but give a few of them a try to see if they make your day better.
Ritual isn’t about doing a routine mindlessly. It’s a way of building something good into your life, so that you don’t forget what’s important. Done mindfully, a ritual can remind you to be conscious. Done mindlessly, a ritual is meaningless.
Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Sit in the morning. When you wake up, in the quiet of the morning, perhaps as your coffee is brewing, get a small cushion and sit on the floor. I will often use this opportunity to stretch, as I am very inflexible. I feel every muscle in my body, and it is like I am slowly awakening to the day. I’ll also just sit, and focus on my breathing going in and out. I’m an absolute beginner when it comes to meditation, but this always starts my day right.
2. Brush your teeth. I assume we all brush our teeth, but often we do it while thinking of other things. Try fully concentrating on the action of brushing, on each stroke of each tooth, going from one side of the mouth to the other. You end up doing a better job, and it helps you realize how much we do on autopilot.
3. Eat mindfully. Turn off the TV, put away the computer and mobile devices, even put away the book or newspaper. If you eat with any of these things (most people do), eating without them will seem boring. And yet, unless you do this, you are not truly appreciating your food. I like eating my oats (with nuts and berries — see my diet) mindfully, paying attention to each bite. It makes the food taste better, and I eat slowly and with gratefulness.
4. Wash your bowl. When you’re done eating, wash your dish immediately. Do it while paying full attention to your washing, to the water and suds. Read more.
5. Drink tea. There’s something ancient about the tea ceremony — and when you drink tea as a mindfulness ritual, you’re connecting with millions of others who have done so over the centuries. Make your own tea ceremony — prepare the tea carefully and mindfully, pour it slowly, sip it with thoughtfulness. See if you can set aside one time each day to do this, and it will transform your day.
6. Walk slowly. I like to take breaks from work, and go outside for a little walk. Walk slowly, each step a practice in awareness. Pay attention to your breathing, to everything around you, to the sounds and light and texture of objects.
7. Read in silence. Find a quiet time (mornings or evenings are great for me), and a quiet spot, and read a good novel. Have no television or computers on nearby, and just immerse yourself in the world of the novel. It might seem contradictory to let your mind move from the present into the time of the novel, but it’s a great practice in focus. Also, I love a good novel more than almost anything else.
8. Look at someone gratefully. Each day, find someone you care about. Instead of just seeing what you always see, really look at the person. Try not to do it creepily. See this person for the miracle that she is, and be grateful for her existence. If you’re feeling generous, tell that person how thankful you are for her.
9. Work with focus. Start your workday by choosing one task that will make a big difference in your work, and clearing everything else away. Just do that one task, and don’t switch to other tasks. Single-tasking is a great way to find focus. Increase your Monk Mind.
These rituals aren’t the only time you should be mindful, but they’re great reminders. Today, try a few of them to fully live and fully appreciate this wonderful day.
My favorite book on dealing with negative emotions is a compilation of meditations by Thich Nhat Hanh, Taming the Tiger Within: Meditations on Transforming Difficult Emotions (2004). He has several themes dealing with negative emotions. He continually recommends honesty and openness with your loved ones about how your feeling. (study indicating that this is a physically healthy practice). He also recommends being gentle with one self. He recommends reminding yourself, and meditating on, the things that make you happy. Much of his recommendations fall under the practice of Stalking. The practice that I touch on below is a first step in the process of Stalking.
“It is very helpful to see yourself in moments when you are angry. It is a bell of mindfulness.” ~ p. 27
“One of the main causes of our suffering is the seed of anger inside of us.” ~ p. 5
Notice that each of the above quotes asks us to step outside of our heads and observe (in this case our anger), our difficult emotions. This stepping outside of our selves is a critical step in the process of Stalking, because in doing so we create some space, however momentary, between our emotion and any subsequent reactions or impulses we display when we feel this anger.
Thich Nhat Hanh doesn’t say that negative emotions are habits, but I contend that if not the emotion, then our subsequent expression and behavior is. Further, I contend that much of our subsequent reactions are inhibitors in our life.
If we hope to restructure our reactions and impulses away from regrettable behaviors, the space Thich Nhat Hanh points to is necessary to be able to later reconstruct events and discover the lynch-pin behaviors.
Remember, typically in a habitual sequence of behaviors, there will typically be a point where we shift from mindful to auto pilot. I discuss this sequence in my earlier post. After an argument, or a rough weekend, or some other set of negative emotions, once the sting has subsided, it is important to retrace events in our mind and find the one behavior or reaction which if we didn’t do, could have turned the tide. Or once we did do, things went down hill.
A couple of weeks ago I had an especially hard day. In looking back I can see that I had several opportunities to meditate and organize my thoughts and game plan, but I always felt rushed and put the planning off. Had I taken five or ten minutes to make a couple of lists, when the crisis of that day peaked, I could have fallen back on those lists. Going forward I have resolved to remind myself to set down and scratch out a couple of lists when the though occurs, and not put it off. Since that weekend, I have had one such opportunity, and I didn’t make great lists, or give myself quite enough time, but I was able to better organize my thoughts, and operate with a better game plan. Things still didn’t work out as well as they would have if I had focused more, but not as bad as they would have had I only the seat of my pants to work with.
Similarly with anger. I have had a couple of chances to practice creating some space, and interrupting my impulse to escalate arguments, even when clearly invited to do so by my fellow antagonist. This issue of escalation is interesting. Often, in an argument, our fellow antagonist is more comfortable with an all out irrational confrontation instead of calmly addressing the points actually on the table. We must be careful of this desire, and resist the temptation to bait people into it, and to take the bait when so deliciously offered. Some space and observation is required to see the bait coming and to resist taking it (or resist throwing it out there).
There are several specific techniques we can use to build more productive habits surrounding negative emotions.
- cognitive restructuring
I will not go into detail here. It is most important to first practice being the observer to our emotional expression and reaction. This simple (not easy) act of creating space and observing will often point the way to what action we can take next.
Your comments are welcome below. . .
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Originally Published on Proudland Blog:
Thich Nhat Hanh describes turning emotional garbage into compost, and using it as we tend to our spiritual gardens. In his book, Taming the Tiger Within we should not try to throw away or discard our anger, but rather sooth it, transform it into a positive emotion. Much as we take grass clippings, leaves, and banana peels and put them in the compost pile, instead of the land fill.
In the compost pile we take garbage, tend to it, transform it, and use it to feed a beautiful garden. In the land fill, we take garbage, put it out of sight out of mind, but it never goes away. It becomes a problem to be dealt with later on down the road. Organic matter which would become nutrients in a compost pile, when buried deep within a landfill, never decompose. They just take up space. Similarly, we can take our anger and darker emotions, and transform them into something beautiful. Or, we can ignore them and allow them to fester. We can feed and indulge them. Either way they never go away. They persist to become something worse. They persist to make us miserable.
We could take the analogy even further, with a karmic perspective. The planet will eventually recycle all the waste and toxins we release into the environment. Over the course of millions of years, plate tectonics, erosion, and cataclysmic events will recycle and reconstitute everything, bringing it all back full circle. Similarly, even the most mismanaged miserable lives, the most abusive and violent people, the most sinful and self-destructive souls will get the chance to come back and do this over and over an over again, even if for thousands of years, until they get it right.
With anger and hate we have the same choices we have with garbage and trash. On one hand, we can transform waste, recycle it, transform it into something beautiful. On the other, we can bury them, ignore them, or indulge them until they grow and accumulate to create more misery.
Eventually, maybe millions of years, both the polluted earth, and the polluted soul will be cleansed and purified. The question is, then: What do you want right now? Right now do you want a toxic, polluted planet? Right now, do you want violent and war-torn societies? Right now, do you want a life of suffering? Or, would you rather something different, NOW. You will get it eventually. But do you want it NOW?
A.J., Proudland Landscape, LLC © 2007-2010
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