Meditation and mindfulness practice doesn't begin or end on the cushion or chair, it is meant to be practiced in many different situations and locations. One of the best ways to help bridge sitting meditation with daily life meditation is in cultivating skills in awareness. We need to know how to pay attention to what we are doing while we are doing it. Below are a series of exercises to help do just this.
Choose one or two of these exercises and practice them daily for three weeks (21 days). Then, after the three weeks, choose another one or two and practice them for three weeks, and so on. Keeping a journal as you practice these exercises will be very revealing and helpful to your development. Remember to have fun with this! Avoid making it work, but rather let it be a discovery:
Exercise 1: Ask yourself “What is happening right now?” — at least once (preferably twice) a day, practice focusing on the moment, just as it is occurring. Each time we do this practice, it will be entirely different. When we start learning how to pay attention we will notice that every moment offers new sensations and new levels of awareness. You will discover this for yourself as you begin to bring your attention fully to this exercise.
Exercise 2: Stop and ask “What am I doing right now?” — Several times a day (at least three), stop whatever you are doing and ask yourself the question: What am I doing right now? Notice how your mind responds and then separate the observation of WHAT you are doing from any thoughts, feelings, judgements ABOUT what you are doing. Allow yourself to set aside any such thoughts and judgements and focus on describing as concisely as you can on WHAT you are doing right that moment. Choose an activity or signal that you can use to remind you to practice, such as: for a few seconds every hour; every time you eat; every time you move from room to room or location to location, etc. As you practice, you will begin to notice a shift in the patterns of your internal response. Make note of those patterns. Let go of any judgements about how well you are doing the exercise. Just notice.
Exercise 3: Stop and See — Several times a day, stop whatever you are doing and look around you for one minute. Really take in what you are seeing—objects, colors, movements, light, shadow, etc. Then pretend you are describing what you are seeing to someone who has never seen before. Observe for the full minute, and notice the thoughts that arise shortly after you begin. Keep this up for the entire minute! This exercise helps us to strengthen our awareness capacity.
Exercise 4: Stop and Listen — Several times a day, stop whatever you are doing and listen for one full minute. Listen to any far away sounds, nearby sounds, sounds outside, sounds inside, etc. Describe or identify the sounds as though you are communicating to someone who has never heard. Be sure to keep this practice up for the full minute.
Exercise 5: Stop and Feel — Several times a day, stop whatever you are doing and for one minute, pay attention to what your body is feeling. Notice the external feelings, the air movement, the temperature, clothing against your skin, the points of contact your body makes with the floor, ground, chair, or whatever is supporting your body. Notice any internal sensations, discomfort, pain, tension, numbness, pleasant sensations, unpleasant sensations, even areas of no sensation at all. Notice how these sensations move and change even as you pay attention to them. Let the sensations come and go, as well as any thoughts or judgements that might arise in response. Maintain this focus for the full minute.
I am Do'an Prajna, a bhikṣu (fully ordained Zen Buddhist monk) and zen teacher. Here I share my thoughts and observations about living a life of compassion, attention and gratitude.