Capturing Moments of Mindfulness

November 9, 2023 by

By John Schorling

I was giving a talk on mindfulness recently and someone in the audience noted they had tried to meditate for 10 minutes and when they finished, their email inbox had filled up with work messages they had to attend to.  They implied this made it seem that the time they had spent meditating had a higher cost than benefit. This situation applies to many of us when we try to find the time to practice mindfulness.  How do we find the time to practice when we have busy schedules and seemingly more to do than there is time to do it all?

Even though our lives are very busy and it seems that there is no time for meditation, often there is if we really have the intention to practice.   When practicing, any time spent intentionally paying attention to our present moment experience is beneficial, and more time is better.  Just like with exercising, if we want to make it a regular part of our lives we have to make the commitment to do it, set aside the time, and then do it regularly.  Often this works best if we have a schedule and a time carved out every day, perhaps half an hour every morning after we get up.  This is my favorite time to meditate.  If half an hour is too long, we might try 15 minutes.  If it’s only 15 minutes, we might even get up 15 minutes earlier to do it.  Ideally, we will set an intention for how much we will meditate, decide when we will do it, and then practice every day.

This is an ideal, and for many of us, despite our intention, it doesn’t happen.  Life just seems to get in the way.  If that’s the case, there are still many opportunities to practice mindfulness throughout the day that don’t take any more time at all.  If mindfulness is “intentional nonjudgmental present moment awareness”, any time we intentionally pay attention to our present moment experience is practicing mindfulness.  We can apply this to anything that we do.  We can start our day by intentionally paying attention to brushing our teeth.   We can pay attention to drinking a cup of coffee or eating a bowl of cereal.   We can notice the experience of washing the dishes.  When we walk from the bus or our car to work, we can really pay attention to walking: the sensations from the feet; the sounds of the birds; the sight of the flowers.

Throughout the day we can have the same intention, to periodically really pay attention.   For instance, whenever we get up from sitting we might notice standing up, and then do a few mindful stretches.  When we wash our hands, we can notice the sensations of doing this, or we might take this opportunity to pay attention to a few breaths.  Those of us in healthcare wash or gel our hands innumerable times throughout the day, and at UVA we encourage people to “gel in and breath” each time they do this.

Many of us work hard to find time to exercise.  Exercising is one of my favorite times to practice mindfulness.  When we go to the gym, we often find that most people are trying their best to distract themselves from what they are doing. They may be reading, watching tv, or listening to music or a podcast- anything but paying attention to their bodies.  Yet exercise is a great opportunity to be present with what we are experiencing.  We can notice our breathing, we can notice sensations in the feet or in the muscles, or on the skin.  I love to run and I try to devote a period of time whenever I am running to just paying attention to sensations arising from the body.  I only do this when running in places where there isn’t traffic I need to be watching out for, and I don’t usually do it for a whole run, but often for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.

Just like when meditating, whenever we decide to do this, we can choose where we are going to place our attention. This might be a specific place in the body, or just open awareness of our whole experience. We continue until we notice that the mind has wandered, as it will inevitably do. As soon as we become aware that our attention is elsewhere, we gently guide it back to whatever we had chosen to focus on previously.

So if there doesn’t seem to be enough time to meditate daily, or even if we do meditate regularly, there are still many opportunities to practice mindfulness in our lives every day. As with deciding to meditate for longer periods of time, it can be helpful to set an intention for capturing some of these mindful moments throughout the day.  If you’re not doing this yet, what is an experience that you’d like to start noticing more?  There’s no better time to start than the present moment.

Filed Under: Monthly Musings