Do I regularly sit and meditate? Yes. Is that the core of my mindfulness practice? Hmmm… That is not exactly how I would phrase it.
Being present, attentive and non-judgmental in the moment can happen in many situations. All of them support my well-being and are critical to my much lower stress and higher productivity. So is formal practice the core and informal a nice add-on? Or is it the other way around – formal practice as a pathway to informal practice where I’m making good choices in everyday situations?
I could argue it either way. One of the things I love about mindfulness is there is no wrong way to do it!
Last week I had the energizing opportunity to provide a lunch and learn mindfulness session at a wonderful nonprofit business. The participants were thoughtful and engaged us with some great questions and comments.
Let’s define these ideas.
Formal mindfulness practices include breath awareness, body scan, mindful eating, mindful walking, mindful yoga or stretching, sound awareness, thought awareness, lovingkindness and seated awareness. This is the core of what you do both in class and as homework in an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program. These practices have been critical to deepening the habits of mindfulness for me. Sometimes there are magical moments where I feel I sink into the still core of my being and remember a deep truth there. It is centering, humbling and often leaves me feeling less fragmented.
Informal mindfulness is paying attention on purpose in the present moment without judging something that is happening in everyday life. Learning to breathe and not get triggered during a disagreement, getting undermined at work, or supporting someone else who is suffering are some clear times for this. Informal mindfulness may be as simple as being “in the zone” while exercising, being fully present while brushing teeth, chopping vegetables, washing the car, completing a task at work… or listening to another person fully and completely, without planning what to say next or whether what they are saying rings true for you or not.
For me, much of the magic of mindfulness is in daily activities, as I am mindful of what’s actually happening in that moment. For example, on the way into the lunch & learn event, the traffic was far more intense than I had expected. Yet I found that even when I was cut off in traffic, or not let into a merge, I was not even tempted to mutter under my breath or get upset as I once would have. It was all just what it was… not terribly stressful, even though I arrived quite a bit later than I’d planned. (To be fair, I had a wonderful traveling companion, my photographer Augusta Rose, who also kept me happy.)
Our daily lives are often not structured to make a 1-hour or even a half-hour meditation practice seem easy. The benefits are enormous and I encourage everyone to make the time – as you do you may find, as I did, that when I have a longer daily meditation practice I procrastinate and worry so much less on every other front, that the extra time to meditate fits right into my day.
As a starting point, I would encourage people to try just a few minutes – maybe 2 minutes of formal practice and another 2 minutes of informal practice a day. Everyone can fit that in, right? (See my previous post for three ideas for 2 minute practices…)
Just be. Present. Aware. Accepting. No matter what or when. And remember, you can’t do it wrong!