Meditation is a great tool. It has a major downside, though: Typically, you have to take time away from your daily activities to do it. Since most people don't think they have an abundance of time, very few people spend much time meditating each day. But what if you could meditate while you write emails, clean your house, or talk on the phone?
If you could meditate during your daily activities, you'd be able to meditate a lot—without taking time out of your normal day. Even better, you'd be able to infuse a sense of deep peace amidst the ups and downs of a stressful day.
Having interviewed over 60 spiritual teachers, ranging from Deepak Chopra to the Dalai Lama, I’ve learned a few simple ways to meditate while doing the “stuff” of daily life. I describe many of them in my new book, The Enlightenment Project. In this blog, I describe one of my favorite ways to meditate in the midst of life activities.
A New Method for Daily Life Awakening
In Buddhist teachings, there’s a method called “mental noting” that has been used for centuries. The technique consists of coming up with 5 to 10 common ways to label—with a word or two–what you're most noticing in the present moment. There are no right or wrong labels. Through trial and error, you find simple labels that work for you. Here are the ten most common labels I tend to use:
Hearing, seeing, walking, thinking, worrying, irritated, impatience, tensing, sadness, and self-criticism.
As you can see, many of my labels are broad-based ways I am classifying an activity I'm involved with, such as "seeing" or "walking." Other terms are geared more to an internal experience I'm having, such as "worrying" or "impatience." It's not important that you label something just right. More important is that you can quickly and easily come up with a word that comes close to matching what you're most aware of in the present moment.
You may have noticed that there are no obvious positive labels in my above list. Originally, the technique of mental noting did not focus on positive experiences. Yet, recently there has been a new approach to mental noting, sometimes referred to as Subtle Noting– that suggests a slight bias towards "spiritual" qualities.
In Subtle Noting, you emphasize any quality that might be considered positive, enjoyable, or resulting from being in touch with awareness. For example, common words I use when describing my positive internal experiences include: Peaceful, breathing, opening, gratitude, being, loving, witnessing, releasing, stillness, timelessness, and joy. Of course, your words/labels may vary.
When doing Subtle Noting during your daily-life activities, you can say your labels quietly to yourself if no one is around, or silently to yourself if you're around people. Often, I make an intention to do Subtle Noting for about three minutes at a time. If I try to do it longer, I usually become distracted and space out.
When I begin, I start labeling my current experience with what seems like an appropriate word. Then, about every 3 to 6 seconds, I come up with a new label for my current experience. By gently looking for or emphasizing any experience that has an enjoyable aspect to it, I find that during a three-minute session, I tend to become increasingly still, loving, and peaceful. I just recorded a two-minute session while I cleaned my office. Here are the words I used:
Tensing, worrying, irritated, stillness, sadness, hearing, impatience, releasing, thinking, moving, stillness, itching, peaceful, breathing, impatience, impatience, breathing, releasing, joy, timelessness, ecstasy, loving, stillness, loving, joy.
As you may have noticed in the above transcript of my session, I went from being mostly a bit irritated and worried to peaceful, loving, and joyful. That's a pretty remarkable result for two minutes of meditation and cleaning my office! Of course, I've been doing this for a while, so your results may vary. Like with any technique, you tend to get better at it with practice.
You may have also noticed that, with each new moment, any experience was possible. I might go from worried during one 5-second period to stillness during the next 5-second moment. Our experience of the present moment is ever-changing. Through the simple act of briefly labeling your experience, you can become more present with the present moment—which is a wonderful present to give to yourself!
By experimenting with various ways to use daily life as a vehicle of awakening, you can transform your day-to-day experience and save time you’d otherwise be spending on a cushion. Once you find a method that truly works for you, you have a friend for life.
Jonathan Robinson is a bestselling author of The Enlightenment Project, has been a frequent guest on Oprah, and is the co-host of the podcast Awareness Explorers. You can download for free the first two chapters of his book plus get a free ebook: The 5 Easiest Ways to Awaken at: www.TheEnlightenmentProject.net