While it is helpful to having a regular meditation practice, there are lots of opportunities throughout the day to practice mindfulness. One of the easiest ways is through paying attention to our senses. Jon Kabat Zinn, the person who brought mindfulness to the mainstream through his work at Harvard Medical school, has a wonderful book on this topic, Coming to Our Senses. I highly recommend it.
I love to walk my dog Luna by Westerly Creek near my house. It’s a beautiful place to be. There are often ducks, egrets, and other birds in the water. The creek can be running high or low depending on rain, but there is always movement and sound. Tuning into the sun glistening on the running water or the sound of water washing around rocks can be calming and delightful. It can provide a way to engage all of our senses. However, even with the natural beauty, there can be a tendency to get lost in thought: planning for what I need to do later or mulling over something that happened earlier. I’m guessing many other people have experienced being so wrapped up in our thoughts that we get somewhere (walking or driving) and don’t remember how we did it.
We know that simply walking and being out in nature is good for us but, if we want to make it a mindful practice, it requires some intention. Before I walk, I set an intention to focus on one of my senses. It can be challenging to pay attention to all of them at the same time. I might decide that on today’s walk I am simply going to pay attention to sounds. I keep that uppermost in my mind as I walk.
Usually I am aware of the loudest noises first. These are things like dogs barking, children laughing, and traffic. But as I take the same to settle into the rhythm of the walk and keep my attention on my hearing, I begin to notice more subtle sounds: the trees rustling in the wind, a far away bird calling, and even the sound of my feet gently touching the walkway. And when I stay with this practice, there can be a space that opens up where I stop labeling the sounds and am just aware of them. It might be only for a few moments, but it is a space of richness and connection and un-named sounds washing over me…a being in the here and now. And that to me seems to be the point of mindfulness…simply being in the here and now. By working with our senses that are giving us feedback about the here and now moment to moment, we can more easily enter that place of mindfulness.