We lead busy, hectic lives. People work hard at their jobs, some raise families, some volunteer. We’re busy and the stress of all this is not easy to deal with. When I have mentioned to people that they try meditation I have been told that they don’t have time, or they’ve tried it but it doesn’t work for them. I get that. Formal, sit on a cushion meditation takes time, effort and planning. I’ve done some of that myself and it works well for me but for the most part I do what’s called, mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness has become very popular in the U.S. these days and you can find lots of books about it and seminars, and teachers. Many people are confused about what mindfulness really is and what it can do for them. It takes time to figure it out and time and effort to practice.
But it doesn’t have to be that hard. This is my definition of mindfulness. Some may agree, some may not. Mindfulness is simply paying attention. Paying attention to whatever it is you are doing at the moment. Becoming fully absorbed in the task at hand, whatever it is and not letting your mind wander. Sounds easy, right? Well, it is, but not at first. It takes practice. Unfortunately, we have a bad habit of letting our minds wander. Especially when we’re doing mundane tasks like washing dishes, or cleaning, or driving (especially bad). Mindfulness means paying attention to what we are doing and not thinking about other things. It helps clarify the mind, prevents worry, and helps you stay awake and aware. It also helps you sleep better at night. Meditation can also be done by thinking about a specific thing while you are doing something else.
As you may know, I’m a tea drinker. I make a cup of tea almost every morning. This takes a little time and if you steep your tea, you really can’t do anything else while you’re steeping. It’s a good time to practice meditation. Here’s how I do it: First I practice mindfulness meditation while I’m gathering the things I need to make my tea. I use an electric kettle which boils water in about 2 minutes. First I fill the kettle with water and start it. While the water heats I gather a cup, the tea, my tea strainer, and the honey I use to sweeten it. I put 2 teaspoons of tea in the strainer (I use a 12 ounce cup), and while I’m doing all this I’m concentrating on what I’m doing. Keeping my mind on the tasks and when my mind starts to wander, which it will, I recognize this and simply bring my mind back to the task. The more you practice, the less your mind will wander. When the water boils I shut off the heat and wait one minute before pouring the water in the cup. You don’t want to steep your tea at boiling temperature because it can give it a bitter strong flavor. After one minute I put the strainer in and start steeping.
While I’m steeping I’m thinking about something specific. I start by thinking about tea fields and all the hundreds or even thousands of workers in foreign countries that pluck tea for a living. Next I imagine the tea factories where the leaves and processed. I think about tea leaves being tossed in giant heated woks, and other processes it takes to make good tea. Then I think about the buyers and sellers of tea and next about the people who ship tea and the dock workers and and workers on ships and planes that carry the tea to foreign ports all over the world. And then I’m on to the stores that sell tea and the people who’s job it is to get the tea into my hands. And the workers who make tea cups and strainers and then the bees and flowers and hives and beekeepers it takes to make honey. And then I’m done steeping and I drink my tea. And the whole time I’m doing this I’m not worrying about anything, I’m not thinking about my day and what I’m going to do. I’m only feeling gratitude for the thousands of people involved in making sure I can enjoy a nice cup of tea.
In doing this it will open your mind to a wider world. To feel gratitude for all of the people involved in various aspects of your life can help make you a more compassionate person. While you are concentrating you are not worrying. You can’t worry if you’re not thinking about what worries you. You feel more clarity as you start your day. And then throughout your day, you can use the mindfulness meditation to keep your mind on the tasks you need to do. If you have trouble sleeping at night you can concentrate on your breath. Many people’s mind wander like crazy when they lay down for sleep. If you meditate on your breath, concentrating on breathing in, feeling the air fill your lungs and feeling the air release through you nostrils you can even say to yourself, “I breathe in, I breathe out.” The breath is something to think about that’s benign and doesn’t cause any worry. And if you’re thinking about your breath, you’re not thinking about the thousand things that keep you awake at night.
But it takes practice. One of the things I have noticed is that the mind starts to wander when your eyes go unfocused. Say you’re hand washing your dishes. When you start thinking about something other than washing your dishes, you’ll find that your eyes are not focused on what you’re doing. So practice that as well. Keep your eyes actively looking at what you’re doing. You won’t be good at it right away and that shouldn’t discourage you. There are very few things in life that we are. Just like any other skill however, you need to practice it. When you first start, don’t chastise yourself when you fail. If you find your mind wandering from the task, simply recognize that it is, and bring yourself back. Start concentrating again. It will happen again, and then just bring your mind back to the task you’re doing. You will find that as you do this it will get easier and eventually you’ll do it without thinking about it. You’ll also notice that you worry less. You can’t worry if you’re not thinking about what worries you. Give it a try!