Transforming everyday activities into meditation

Any activity we repeat, or that has a repetitious quality, can be turned into a meditation, strengthening our ability for “continuity of awareness”, or mindfulness, in all aspects of life.

Years ago, I was inspired by a simple list of daily activities called Ten Tips for a Mindful Home, by Karen Maezen Miller, an author and Zen priest, and one of my favorite writers on applying mindfulness in everyday life. As it seemed I was already doing nearly all of the activities anyway, I decided to print the list and put it on my fridge, as a reminder and encouragement. All in all, this is truly how I live these days, though I am still working with #8.

Now, I’ll be honest. For a while, in fact years, I struggled with sticking with nearly all of these tips, though I read the list over and over until I understood not only the task, but also the intention behind them. “Rinse your bowl” started to expand beyond the kitchen sink. These days, I notice when my “mess” starts to creep beyond my comfort level, and instead of grumbling about it, or even thinking about the task, I simply “pick up” after myself. And should the mess get out of hand, I practice compassion with myself, understanding that it was not my lack of effort or intention that got in the way, necessarily. It may just be the outer manifestation of some other difficulty which needs my attention. I recognize that my inner calm is dependent on outer order, and vice versa. If my inner balance is teetering, it is time to attend. To spend time in the moment, not fixing anything, but giving my kind attention to bring things back into balance, is part of my practice.

Sometimes I had chosen to give myself permission to attend to another task when realizing there are only twenty-four hours in a day— and how else would I practice waking with the sun, and sleeping when tired? The idea of not questioning everything, and just going with it, putting my faith in the wisdom that was generously offered is a simple but powerful example of mindful living.  What was there to lose except the constant refrain and energy loss that comes from resisting what is? In that balance, I was able to preserve my energy, and it wasn’t long before the “sticky things” I had put aside were also simply just taken care of. In fact, the less I resisted the tasks of daily life, the more energy I was left with to take care of the basic household tasks because I had dropped the unnecessary, and unhelpful, steps of self-judgment and complaining about things that were actually supportive of living a more peaceful life with myself.

Remembering that “mindfulness” is simply a way of paying attention in a specific way--with intention and without judgment, it is possible to explore its applications in every moment. In this way, our life becomes our practice, and our life is informed and nourished by this kind attending to what is called for in the moment.