You do not need a calm life that is free of chaos to be aware. Life does not need to change for you to bring your meditation practice with you throughout your day. Your ideas about your practice must. Your stream of thoughts will always vie for your attention and it is your choice to get caught up or remain objective, viewing life from the awareness perspective. Every event in life, every moment no matter how exciting or traumatic can be met from an impersona, objective perspective. It may take some practice to train your brain to function differently to its habitual pattern. Your life itself might change but that does not necessarily happen. The significant difference lies in how you meet it. How you operate within any given day will change. That is what brings a qualitative difference to your life. Waiting for perceived obstacles to disappear is a trick of your busy mind; chaos can happen but how you perceive it and respond to it is what changes, and that makes your experience entirely different.
You do not need to be seated, in a space with silence, with eyes closed to bring your mindfulness practice into your working day. When you let a mindfulness practice seep into your active day, your life will present with more ease and less stress.
If you have the willingness to experiment with meditating off the cushion, then begin by doing a familiar task with your eyes open, where you are not required to speak. Cooking, driving a familiar route, cleaning, taking a shower and exercising are good examples of where you can begin. These types of activities are appropriate because they do not require your focused attention. You can perform these activities and retain a capacity to be aware and present.
Have you noticed that when you do familiar tasks your mind drifts into old stories or you talk to yourself internally and perhaps audibly; you are off in a different world. Let this free rolling mindlessness end. There are two options here. The easier, beginners route is to focus on the present moment. This involves letting your attention be fully on what you are doing and if you notice that you are drifting into thoughts, pull your attention back to the present again. The optimal route, however, is where you develop a capacity to split your attention; place enough focus on the task that is required for effective functioning and withdraw that extra mental capacity (that would normally drift into thought) into awareness. Drop into that inner resting place. It is a sweet spot for you to enjoy when you can divert your wasted attention daydreaming to resting in pure awareness. Practice this with simple tasks and you will find that it is much easier to have your attention resting within while functioning, than direct all of your attention into what you are doing in the present moment. Why? Because it is natural to rest within, to be aware of the stillness that is prior to thought. Life is full of external stimuli and our minds are habituated to an outward focus. When all of your attention is not needed for a task, use the extra bandwidth wisely and drop within, to awareness. The extra bandwidth that you have while doing familiar tasks can be used wisely. An untrained mind will drift into personal story-land and waste the opportunity to both enjoy and increase your access to your resource of inner stillness.
During mundane tasks, become aware of your ‘extra’ attention. Does it work for you to drop in and rest in awareness where thoughts are recognized as thoughts or do you want to place your attention solely on what is happening in the present moment? The former encourages an inward turning mind. It is the more efficient way to train your mind and create new neurological pathways that support uninterrupted well-being and calmness. The latter is appropriate when mind has not sufficiently turned inward; it is attractive when we are overly interested in what the outside world has to offer. There is a time and place for each phase. Honor what works best for you now and switch practices when the time is right for you.
Make your own list of daily activities that you know can be performed as a living meditation (attention is within and also on the task). Planning to do this is quite different than engaging in the practice; take both steps. Put in the effort to make this internal change manifest positive results. Be aware of your own resistance; the reasons and excuses you create to avoid doing this arise in the absence of mindfulness. Recognize the thoughts that present obstacles; they are only thoughts. Do not give them power. Take the step and make these changes to your day, every day.
When you become proficient at performing tasks while resting within, you have brought meditation into your daily life. Once you are able to split your attention in this way, there will be a natural progression to situations where you can speak and engage with others on simple matters and not mindlessly abandon inner awareness.
When you lose the contact with awareness while talking and engaging, a wonderful opportunity is present. Take note of what conversation topics and what people draw your attention away from the inner sweet spot of pure awareness. The topics and people do not have the power to lure your attention outward, it is you who trades the inner stillness for full engagement in the external world. Why? Because you have an investment in particular scenarios and beliefs, beyond what is necessary or healthy for your spiritual growth. Learn to recognize, with honesty, what compels you to place all of your attention on a story.
Everything that can be imagined or that can exist can be reduced to a story. Every story is the content of a thought. There are no exceptions to either of these statements. Are you resisting either or both of these statements? If you cannot see that what you value most in life or what has caused you most pain can be reduced to a story, then there is attachment to that value or trauma which will stop you from letting go, and dropping into pure awareness. Whatever you perceive as real in your life is a thought believed into existence. This does not devalue or negate any experience in your life but it sees your most precious memories from a high vantage viewpoint that recognizes that they are stories. Drop the personal attachment and ask your own deeper wisdom to show you the truth of this. You are a story and your life is a story and can be seen as such, by you, on your cushion when your meditations go deep enough. Recognizing this when off the cushion also, denotes spiritual maturity. Let detachment come and free you up from your thoughts that are believed into your reality. Celebrate that you are reading material that offers you an opportunity to see through the tricks of your mind.
Extract from a new book by Jac O’ Keeffe which is due out in 2017.