Developing a personal meditation practice is perhaps one of the most effective ways to increase our levels of calmness and emotional balance. You probably already know this – but maybe you, like so many of us, haven’t yet gotten around to incorporating meditation into your everyday life. Sitting in formal meditation, on a cushion, in a quiet room, with eyes closed, does not sound appealing or even possible to everyone.
Fortunately, Barbara Ann Kipfer, in her book Self-Meditation: 3,299 Tips, Quotes, Reminders, and Wake-Up Calls for Peace and Serenity provides not only recommendations for formal meditation, but also literally thousands of ideas regarding how to meditate as we go about our busy days. Standing in a checkout line at the grocery store, doing the laundry, sitting in a business meeting – all provide opportunities to meditate, strengthen our sense of balance, increase our level of serenity, and broaden our perspectives on life. The following are a selection of the author’s suggestions, along with some editorial comments.
- “Do good, even when you are alone.” The old question of, “If a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” (of course it does) applies here. Your conduct matters, even if only you know about it. Living this way can help remind you that your opinion of yourself depends on what you know to be true about yourself, rather than on other people’s opinions and feedback. Live with integrity.
- “Ask yourself if what you’re about to say is true, kind, and beneficial. Is this the right time to say it?” Or are you rushing to speak just to fill the silence, get attention, cut someone down to size, or control someone else? What is in the best interest of all involved?
- “Live responsively, consciously, and intentionally – directing your life from within, not by the demands of the clock or external demands, or as mere reactions to external events. Listen to the music of the moment.” Strive for healthy flexibility. For instance, listen to your body and how it responds to different foods you eat (or when you eat them). Our bodies change over time, and what may have benefited you in the past may no longer do so. The same goes for our other routines. Be aware of what the current moment, given your present circumstances, asks of you.
- “Be a lighthouse rather than a lifeboat. Guide by example, and let others find their own way.” Although it’s laudatory to want to help other people, it can be frustrating, exhausting, and often futile to try and save others from themselves. The classic example is the spouse of an alcoholic who attempts in vain to stop the addict’s drinking. While we can set boundaries with people and be very clear about what we will and will not tolerate, that is where our power ends. It’s more effective to focus on living according to our personal value system and let the results speak for themselves. People will be more influenced by our behavior than our words.
- “When you feel your spirits sagging, form a half-smile. Maintain it for at least ten minutes.” Research has documented the effect of our facial expressions on our moods. Smiling in a quiet (Mona Lisa) type of way does tend to lift our spirits. In the presence of others, doing so can make us seem more approachable, too.
- “During the course of your day, try to send loving-kindness to strangers and associates. Note the difference between feeling isolated and feeling connected by means of your practice.” Even (or, it seems, especially) in a large city, we pass by most people without acknowledging them or possibly feeling intimidated by them. We miss so many opportunities to extend good will. Perhaps you’re not moved to say hello to everyone you see on the street, but silently blessing the people you encounter can warm your heart and remind you that we’re all in this together.
- “Breathe in and say, ‘What I have is enough’. Breathe out and think, ‘What I am is enough’. Breathe in and say, ‘What I do is enough’. Breathe out and think, ‘What I have achieved is enough.’” A powerful way to combat feelings of low self-worth and inadequacy, this also helps to ground us in the present moment.
- “Repeat this focus sentence during meditation: ‘I have a body, but I am not my body.’” We tend to over-identify with our bodies, weight, state of physical health, and visual attractiveness. This attitude can fuel depression, desperate attempts to maintain or alter our looks, and eating disorders. The fact is that our bodies will change throughout our lives, and that while taking good care of ourselves physically is important, our bodies are only one component of who we are. If we can remind ourselves that we are spiritual beings, with minds, emotions, and bodies, the over-emphasis on our physical attributes can give way to a more detached and peaceful point of view.
- “It takes less energy to do an unpleasant task now than to worry about it all day.” How many times have you put off an item on your to-do list, yet somehow been consumed and drained by thoughts about how hard and unpleasant the associated work will be? Oftentimes taking care of the matter ends up being easier than we’d expected – and afterwards we needn’t spend any more energy worrying. In fact, we may experience a burst of energy once the emotional weight of the unfinished task has been removed.
- “Refrain from gossip, falsity, slander, and harmful speech.” We can do a lot of emotional damage to ourselves and others through words spoken (or written) with malice. Through eliminating this behavior, we significantly lighten our psychological load. We also get to use our energy in more productive ways. Sometimes we may find that what bothers or obsesses us most about others are those aspects of ourselves we haven’t dealt with yet. So, if you feel the urge to engage in one of the behaviors mentioned, ask yourself if what you’re about to attribute to someone else applies to you as well, and what changes or acceptance might be warranted.
- “Recognize your inclinations, but resist the pull to be controlled by them.” There is a difference between wanting to eat an entire pizza and actually doing so.
- “Turn a bad habit into a meditation. Pay close attention to your every move. Notice how your body feels. Whenever your mind drifts off, bring it back to the experience. Do not try to stop or change this habit; go through the motions as usual, but do so with full awareness. Indulge in your habit with this high level of awareness over and over again. See how your attitude and feelings change.” If you choose to eat the entire pizza, choose to be mentally and emotionally present for the experience, rather than using this behavior to take a vacation from reality. What can you learn from this choice and experience? Is it really that enjoyable, both in the short run and the long run? What does it do for you and to you?
- “Look at things with more consciousness. When you see a tree, stop for a while. Look at it with more alertness. Suddenly, the tree will appear different – sharper and more meaningful. Expand this exercise to people as well.” Shift your focus from a preoccupation with the past, future, or internal processes to what is going on around you. Imagine that you’re a reporter and want to notice all of the details. This will help to hone your five senses. Try noticing three things you see, three things you hear, three things you smell, three things you can touch, and possibly three things you can taste.
- “Always choose quality over quantity.” Chances are that you do not need an additional best friend, purse, or car. If what’s currently in your life doesn’t meet your personal requirements, then look into your options, but don’t try to accumulate “more”, since doing so does not equal better.
- “For one day, no matter what happens around you, say, ‘This is miraculous’. Notice how this outlook changes your relationship with everyday experiences.” We color our world with our thoughts. When we term something “miraculous”, we engender feelings of awe, gratitude, and humility, all of which can increase our sense of well-being and a realistic view of our place in the universe.
- “Be aware of an imperfection without turning it into a big problem.” Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful. We don’t have to be perfect to be amazing,
- “When watching television, mute the commercials and follow your breathing. Get up and walk around, look out the window, stretch, and relax your eyes.” By doing so, you remind yourself to get off of autopilot and reconnect to yourself and your present surroundings, rather than being lulled by the TV into fantasy land.
- “Pay attention to touch. Focus on the sensation of your hands touching one another, your clothes brushing against your skin, and the air moving across your face.” Concentrating on physical sensations is an effective way to combat overthinking or extreme emotions.
- “Do not automatically turn on the radio in your car or the television at home, or open a book while you are waiting for an appointment. Do not needlessly occupy your mind. Just be.” It’s ironic that often we can feel lost or unsure about what to do about major issues in our lives, when by whittling down our activities, doing only one thing at a time, and giving ourselves time to just be, our best answers will arise.
- “Do everything like it’s the last thing you’ll ever do.” We tend to take so much of our lives for granted. “What if the experience you’re currently having is your last moment on earth?” Wouldn’t you pay closer attention and appreciate it more?
At any moment, we have the chance to use our powers of attention and attitude to increase our level of harmony with ourselves and life. Even if what’s going on around us doesn’t change, our experience can change profoundly.