Last month, in “Is A Spiritual Practice Too Much?“, I talked about notions of an “ideal” spiritual practice butting up against the realities of our busy lives. I said I would be exploring what I call “integrated practices” and asked for your input. Thank you to everyone who wrote in.
Toni said, when dealing with the stress of work during the day, he sets a reminder bell to recenter by breathing deeply. When needed, he goes to the bathroom and takes a quick 5-minute meditation.
As she goes about her daily tasks, Mary likes to consider the commonality we have with our surroundings, being made of the same elements. And another reader has six children and works in hospice and hospitals as a Humanist chaplain. They deal with with stress with occasional Zazen and in between stopping to be mindful of everything within, and around them.
Sitting meditation is an example of a specific “regular practice” where we set aside a special time and stop everything else in order to do it. There are other kinds of practices like journaling, visioning, music, or other rituals which are also like this.
Another type are “occasional practices”. These are similar to regular practices, in that they are a time set aside to do that activity. But these may happen at irregular times; often when you feel moved to do them. Or, they may happen when you feel a need for them, or when logistical matters make it possible, or any other number of spontaneous reasons.
But what I call “integrated practices” are those which you do interspersed within, or alongside, your other ongoing activities of life. I am focusing on these here, because if the concerns many have are about a busy life, these practices should be the most efficient to add to your practice in the short term without much disruption. Here are some examples:
Time out, sitting and meditating, is a very helpful and advised practice which can increase your focus and allow you to still your mind – and this will help with nearly all other aspect of your practice. But this kind of sitting time has always had as its purpose to help you when you are not sitting, but when you are out in the world living life.
Ongoing Mindfulness is where you take a high focus and present-moment awareness you would apply to the breath, and apply it to all of your thoughts, perceptions, and actions in the present as you go about your day. Anything can be a meditation! Dishes meditation. Meeting meditation. Email meditation. Accounting meditation. Fixing the printer meditation.
This is very difficult to maintain for a long period of time, but practicing this can be illuminating. I found it so difficult to do when I first tried, that I eventually decided to set a timer to go off every 15 minutes throughout the day. This would jar me and remind me to bring my attention back to the present.
The practices below would also benefit from this ability, as they are more specific things of which to be mindful.
This is mindfulness on the overall ‘vibe’ we are putting out into the world and toward others. It can be applied in person or in what we are writing. It includes smiling, kindness in our tone and phrasing, patience, and paying attention to the feelings and needs of others. You can click here for a more complete article on Demeanor Practice.
Epoché (Withholding Assent)
This is an ancient practice in humility. As we go through our day and interact with others or our work, try to remain mindful of the assumptions and claims you are making. This, not only to others, but in the little stories you tell yourself about your situation, people, and the world. Look at the labels you are using, the classifications you are making, and the way your framing colors your experience. Again, this is not something you take a break to do. It is something you stay aware of as you work, talk, interact, etc. Here is a more complete article on Epoché.
Mindfulness on Control
This is trying to stay mindful of what you control and what you do not control. This is a very strong and specific notion of control. In other words, do not think about “degrees of control” or influence. In these cases, the universe has a veto, and that means you do not control that thing. What you control are (generally) your thoughts, values, choices, and actions. As you go about your day, try to remain mindful of what is in your control and what is not.
This could also be called mindfulness on impermanence. The Stoics did something with a lot of overlap called ‘negative visualization’ but these could be intense at first if you have anxieties. This is a much simpler and easier practice to begin with. As you go about your day, continuously focus on what you have – in that moment – to be grateful for. This isn’t day dreaming or being anywhere else than present. If you are doing a hard job, think about the people who don’t have work. Think about the people that will be helped by what you are doing. Don’t allow yourself to start telling negative stories about your conditions. Try this exercise throughout the day and review your results that night.
Of course, trying all of these at once would be overwhelming to most beginners. Try a day on just one, and maybe later try another. The timer technique can be a way to bring your attention back when it inevitably wanders. Another trick I’ve used to stay mindful when it comes to something particular, is to hold a small object in your hand without ever setting it down. If the object represents the thing of which you are trying to stay mindful, it will be hard to forget while actively having to hold on to it. These are meant to be occasional short-term techniques to stretch your attention muscles and help begin you in fruitful directions.
Thank you to everyone for reading, and I will be getting in to how we can realistically begin to integrate other aspects of spiritual practice with busy life in future articles.
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