One year ago I completed my research and dissertation on mindfulness based interventions for students with disabilities. As part of my research on mindfulness, I also committed myself to studying and practicing it personally over the past 3 years. I used apps, primarily Headspace and Insight Timer, for the majority of my self-practice. I listed to many great podcasts to gain deeper insight into my practice including 10% Happier with Dan Harris, Tara Brach, and the Metta Hour with Sharon Salzberg. I also attended a week long seminar in Germany at a monastery that served a dual purpose of helping refine my research and allowing me to experience hours of meditation under the guidance of expert practitioners. And, then I completed my dissertation, provided several presentations on my work, and…stopped.
I am not entirely sure why I stopped meditating each day, but it happened around January. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to not read any self-help books or engage in anything that felt like it was being marketed using female lifestyle empowerment brand tactics. Instead, I wanted to practice listening to my body more intently and rolling with what it needs rather than overtly prescribing a strict course of “preventative measures”. Ironically, this listening to my body was the most mindful practice of all: paying attention, non-judgmentally to what I was experiencing. At this point in my life, I am no longer sitting on my meditation cushion for 20 dutiful minutes each day, but there are many mindfulness practices I continue to use that work well for me. I am sharing this now because I have heard many people say that they feel like they cannot call themselves a mindfulness practitioner because they are unable to meet some sort of artificial time milestone each day. You can give yourself permission to practice mindfulness in other ways.
Here are the top 5 ways I continue to use mindfulness in my life:
1. Lovingkindness mantras
I once heard Sharon Salzberg say that she practices lovingkindness meditation frequently when she is in a public place like walking down the street or on a bus. She looks at strangers and silently blesses them with lovingkindness. This is a practice I have implemented in my own life in places like the grocery store checkout line, when I am about to have a meeting with someone who feels a bit like an adversary, or when waiting in airport lines. Here’s a typical script I use for this:
May you be filled with lovingkindness.
May you know peace in your life.
May you be happy.
May you be free from suffering.
2. Non-judgmentally examining my story
I frequently tell people that I am a recovering perfectionist. I have lived the majority of my life afraid to let people down and living in shame whenever something was not perfect. From Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance, I learned how to better engage in self-acceptance. As Tara Brach puts it, “When we say, ‘I accept myself as I am,’ we are not accepting a story about a good or bad self. Rather, we are accepting the immediate mental and sensory experiences we interpret as self” (p. 41). When I notice that I may be starting to attach judgment to myself, I remind myself that I can tell a different story. I can practice radical self-acceptance and love.
3. Deep breathing
I stopped weighing myself last year (perhaps more on this later), but I bought a FitBit this spring as a tool for noticing my body (primarily my heat rate) and have loved the deep breathing function of my FitBit. In two minutes, I can engage in a quick relaxation technique to help decrease my stress and re-center. While I have been using my FitBit frequently for this, the same function can easily be accomplished in a low tech way by closing your eyes, quieting your mind, and staying present on the breath for a period of 1-5 minutes.
4. Walking meditation at work
When work feels stressful or I find myself starting to wander away from the task at hand, I have started engaging in a quick walking meditation practice. I intentionally and slowly walk from my office on the second floor down to my office building’s basement, and then back upstairs. I often stop by the kitchen in the basement and fill my water bottle up. I do all of this while engaging my different senses. The whole experience takes about 5 minutes, but I frequently find that it is all I need for a reset of my day.
5. Mindful music
I remember as a teenager being deeply moved by music lyrics. I would lay on my bed and carefully study the CD lyrics jacket (admitting my age here) or close my eyes and focus on the layers of the song on the radio. Somewhere along the way I told myself a story that this was silly and not for grown-ups. Now, I give myself permission to have the sensory experience of music again. I have been enjoying playing a song that seems to speak to me and sitting in stillness with it. I love to do this when I get home from work as a transition from my professional to personal life.
While I am not currently spending much time on my meditation cushion, I believe these practices have had a huge effect on my happiness and well-being. Are there any small practices you incorporate into your day related to mindfulness?
Candace Burckhardt is an international education consultant with an emphasis on special education, English learners, and social-emotional learning.