1. What is mindfulness?
“Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present, and at one with those around you and with what you are doing.” Thich Nhat Hanh
2. What is the key to practicing mindfulness?
In our daily life, most of the time, our body is in one place, but our mind is wandering somewhere else. When our body and mind are not together, we are not present. The key to practicing mindfulness is always to return the breath. Mindful breathing is the most important practice that helps us cultivate awareness in the present moment, because we can only breathe right here and right now.
“As soon as we pay attention to our breath, as we breathe in, these three things – body, breath and mind – come together. This can happen in just one or two seconds. You come back to yourself. Your awareness brings these three elements together, and you become fully present in the here and the now.” Thich Nhat Hanh
3. How to practice mindfulness in daily life?
Most people think that they are too busy to have any time for mindfulness practice. People may think that they have to go somewhere else, like the mountain, or the beach, somewhere without any distractions, in order to practice mindfulness meditation. In my experiences, however, it is totally possible to practice mindfulness in the middle of a hectic day, in the hustle and bustle of a big city.
Following are some of the most favourite mindfulness activities that I enjoy practicing on almost a daily basis while living in Singapore.
First morning cup of tea
Taking care of flowers
Body scan for deep relaxation
4. Why practice mindfulness in daily life and how to do it? In modern busy life, it is usually said that “time is money” or “time is gold”. Some people even say that “time is diamond” to emphasise the value of time. However, after experiencing a near-death experience in a hospital in 2012, I no longer resonate with that sentiment. I feel that time is life. We can never turn back time once it is gone. In the past I used to love one quote “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” These days, I feel that my life is measured by how many mindful breaths I can take, and by how many moments I can live deeply in awareness. Following are some of my practices of mindfulness in daily life that help me live my life more deeply in each moment.
The first thought I have when waking up, I realize, has an effect on how my day unfolds. Ever since I had a near-death experience in a hospital, I have always reminded myself to wake up every day with a smile and feel thankful to be alive. There is a poem by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh that I love, and I recite this poem every morning when I wake up:
“Waking up this morning I smileknowing there are 24 brand new hours before me.I vow to live fully in each moment,and look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”
After that I wiggle my toes and my fingers to slowly wake up my feet and hands. I usually do some morning stretches on my bed before starting my day. Before leaving the bed, I take the time to scan my whole body from toes to head to send love and gratitude to my body. It’s a miracle to be alive today! I vow to treasure this gift of life very well!
When I go to the bathroom every morning to brush my teeth, I usually look at myself in the mirror and say to myself “Hello Le. Thanks for showing up today. I wish you a good day“. When I brush my teeth, I usually do it slowly and gently with a smile. I listen to the sounds of water, the sounds of the brush against my teeth, and become aware of my hand movements as I brush my teeth. Sometimes I count my breaths to see how many breaths I take to brush my teeth. I also remind myself to be grateful to have fresh and clean water, and strong teeth to brush. I also remind myself to practice mindful speaking during the day.
Mindful drinking of tea
One of the habits of happiness I have cultivated in my daily life in Singapore is to pause and enjoy my tea mindfully. My tea meditation starts when I pour water into a kettle. I take the time to enjoy listening to the water running from the tap into the kettle, and feel grateful for having fresh water to drink today. When I switch on the kettle, I remind myself to return to my breathing, and count how many breaths I take until the water is boiled. I also enjoy listening to the sounds of water being boiled as the temperature increases. After that I carefully pour hot water into my tea pot and wait for the tea to be ready. It is such a joy to see the colour changes as the tea leaves dissolve into the hot water. When the tea is ready to be served, I usually hold the tea cup with my two hands, becoming aware of the sense of touch between my palms and the cup, and relax my whole body. I also take three deep breaths to enjoy the aroma of the tea before taking a sip. Whenever I enjoy my tea with all the senses, I feel that I take good care of my body and my mind, to feel recharged, re-energised in the middle of a busy day.
Taking care of flowers
When I live in a big city for an extended period of time, I often feel that I am nature deprived, which slowly takes a toll on my mental health. One of my practices of nature therapy is to take care of plants on my balcony. My morning ritual after waking up is to go to the balcony and say hello to all my plants, and thank them for being there to make my life more beautiful. Whenever I water the flowers, I take some deep breaths and smile. I remind myself to recognise the goodness in myself and in all those I interact with today. It is true that when I do stop and smell the flowers, life becomes more beautiful.
One common disease (some people say dis-ease) of our modern life is that we get caught in the busi-ness of doing, without much time to just be. When I reflect on my life before I started practicing mindfulness, I realized that I was so busy rushing around, even on weekends, that whenever I sat down, my mind was also running. These days, however, whenever I have any chance to sit down, whether on a cushion, on a chair, on a bus, on a train, or even on an airplane, is to first feel my whole body in contact of the surface, then I return to my breathing, notice where in my body in that moment I can feel my breath most clearly. By taking three deep breaths whenever I sit down, I cultivate a good habit of arriving and being at home wherever I am.
I do maintain a habit of sitting meditation every day between 20 minutes to about 45 minutes. Sometimes, I practice silent sitting, and some other times, I practice with some guidance. I enjoy silent sitting much more in the morning, while at the end of the day guided meditation helps quieten my mind. There are a few things I remind myself when I practice mindful sitting.
– Posture: back straight but relaxed, shoulders drop, chin slightly down, eyes closed (I do keep my eyes open when I feel too tired that I easily fall asleep)
– Breathing: becoming aware of my breath in the body, sometimes in the nostrils, sometimes in the chest, sometimes in the abdomen.
I simply follow my in-breath and out-breath in one of those areas without trying to change anything. Whenever I feel very tired or overwhelmed with strong emotions, I put my hands on my abdomen to feel the rise and fall of my belly and calm myself down.
– Guided phrases: One of my most favourite phrases for practicing mindful sitting wherever I am is the following breathing exercises by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. I usually use one sentence for my inhale, and the other sentence for my exhale.
Breathing in, I am aware of my in-breath. (inhale)
Breathing out, I am aware of my out-breath. (exhale)
Breathing in, my breath goes deeper. (inhale)
Breathing out, my breath goes more slowly. (exhale)
Breathing in, I feel calm. (inhale)Breathing out, I feel ease. (exhale)
Breathing in, I smile to my whole body. (inhale)
Breathing out, I release all the tensions in my body. (exhale)
Breathing in, I dwell in the present moment. (inhale)
Breathing out, I know this is a wonderful moment. (exhale)