If you’re like me, or like most people, and recently picked up or considered picking up meditation, it probably still doesn’t make much sense to you. It’s an odd concept, one rarely practiced in our bustling societies, already equipped with their constant distractions. What does a mindful day look like? How will practicing meditation change your day to day life?
Before I picked up mindfulness, I was an anxious person. I didn’t handle confrontation well, and often let my frustrations and impulses drive my mood and actions. Knowing I had to be in a situation that would make me anxious left me feeling upset for days leading up to it. I generally didn’t let anger and sadness get to me, but that was because I had forced myself to stop caring about the situations that made me feel that way, rather than dealing with the emotions in a healthy way. I sped through life, rarely noticing the good or the bad.
I’m not going to claim meditation fixed all of these things. Definitely not. But it helps me process difficult emotions in a healthier way, and allows me to be much more present in my life. I still deal with many of these issues, but now I have a tool that I can use to navigate through them, rather than push them aside or let them get to me too much. Mindfulness allows me to notice how I’m feeling and what’s going on around me, and pause before choosing an intentional and appropriate course of action.
For me, a day of mindfulness goes something like this:
I wake up sometime around 5:45. After a snooze or two, and a few minutes on my phone, I notice that I’m avoiding getting out of bed, and acknowledge that getting up to go to the gym is good for my mental health, so I get up. Then, in my sleepy and dark apartment, I go through the motions of getting ready - brush my teeth, put on gym clothes, put my lunch in my bag. I’m typically too tired to be all that mindful in these moments, and that’s okay.
At 6:30 or so, I head to the gym. Usually, I’ll listen to an audiobook or music, and when I’m stuck at a long red light, or in traffic, and feel frustrated, I’ll acknowledge the thought, and remind myself that there’s nothing I can do about this. Instead of getting annoyed, I focus in more on my audiobook. At the gym, I pay close attention to how my body feels as I lift, run, and stretch, rather than just going through the motions. If something hurts, I notice and make note of it. If something feels good, I notice and make note of it. If I want to quit, I pay attention to whether that message is coming from my brain or my body.
At 9, I get to work. Throughout the day of work, as I’m sure you could have guessed, I have to deal with a myriad of stressful situations, and annoying and incompetent coworkers. I will admit that even when I’m trying my best, these situations do get to me sometimes. But throughout them, or as soon as I notice the I’m feeling stressed or annoyed, I acknowledge the thought, focus on my breathing for a moment, and let it go. This moment gives me time to collect myself and handle the situation professionally, or decide to just step back and let it go if that is the better option.
On my drive home from work, I frequently find myself holding stress and tension in my jaw or the muscles of my upper back. I make an effort to notice these things when they happen and patiently relax those muscles, over and over, until they remain relaxed. Similar to my drive to work, I also do my best to breathe through the annoyance of traffic, remind myself that there’s nothing I can do about it, and focus on enjoying my music or audiobook, or the sunset.
If I find myself still thinking about something that happened at work, I acknowledge that thought, and let it go, again and again. I avoid bringing my work home with me, and that includes thinking about work, whether it be a code problem I need to solve, or something my manager said that bothered me. Obviously, this doesn’t work out perfectly every time and sometimes these thoughts continue to return all evening, but when they do, I acknowledge them, and let them go. Throughout the evening, I go about the things I need to do in a mindful manner. I remain present as I collect everything I need for the next day into my bag, rather than letting my mind wander and then stay present as I work on this blog, or hang out with Bennett.
I end my evening with a session of meditation before bed. Bennett heads to the gym around 9:30 or 10, so I have the quiet apartment to myself, and use a guided meditation from the Calm app, or listen to a sleep story (like a bedtime story, but for grownups). These calm my mind after a busy day and leave my mind clear so it’s easy for me to fall asleep.
I don’t maintain this level of mindfulness all day every day, but there are many days that go something like this. Mindfulness is easier some days than others, depending on my mood, what I’m doing that day, what’s going on around me that day, and probably tons of other things. But all days involve at least some level of mindfulness, and it helps to keep me calm in stressful situations, and enjoy the positive things that are happening. The practice of mindfulness has improved my life immeasurably.