This week in my “Mindfulness Adventure” I am focusing on appreciating myhands, gratitude at the end of the day, and JUST EATING when I eat. These are all mindfulness tips from the book “How To Train a Wild Elephant” by Dr. Jan Chozen Bays.
1. Gratitude at the End of the Day
This chapter of the book asks that at the end of each day, we write a list of at least five things that happened during the day that we are grateful for. At the end of the week, read it out loud to someone. I was stoked to pick this mindfulness exercise this week. I’ve been meaning to start a gratitude journal for several months and never got around to it. I have heard so many fanstic things about what gratitude can do. Research has proven that 40% of happiness is determined by our intentional activities. So people who keep a daily “gratitude journal” or who regularly express it show greater increase in happiness. This seems so logical to me now – but sometimes you need to be presented with the facts to really understand how true it is! Our societies obsession with negative can lead to depression and anxiety. We tend to cling to bad memories, playing them over and over, we’re attracted to news and media of negative content. Reviewing what you are grateful for at the end of each day (in a very similar way that many families chose to pray before meals or bedtime) is an excellent way to turn of the faucet of negative thoughts and tune into all the positive that exists.
2. Appreciate Your Hands
This exercise requires that several times a day, when your hands are busy (or still) - watch them as though they belonged to a stranger. Dr. Bays explains that our hands are very skilled at many tasks, and they can do many of them by themselves, without much direction from our mind. I am thinking about this as my fingers are typing these very words – they’re moving almost effortlessly without any conscious thought from my brain. The same thing applies for when I am playing the piano. My fingers are able to remember a song that I played in a recital from almost 7 years ago, now that I think about it – it’s incredible. Zen teachers emphasize the importance of this exercise because we are “being taken care of all the time”. They say that “the way the body takes care of us, without our even being aware of it, is an example of the beautiful and continuous functioning of our original nature, the inherent goodness and wisdom of our being.” Hands can be thought of as having an “inner eye” that can see things – think about when you are sleeping, and your hand reaches for a pillow to pull it under your head. In Zen they say this shows “the way to our innate wisdom and compassion work together when our mind is not in the way.”
3. When Eating, Just Eat
This is one mindfulness exercise that may actually come easily for me. While I am eating or drinking, I am not to do anything else. Simply just sit at a table, and enjoy what I am consuming, opening all of my senses to the colors, shapes, and textures of my food. However this invTalolves ALL meals — so I am not allowed to snack on a LunaBar while driving to campus this week. It is generally advised that to fully practice this exercise, you also do not talk while eating. However Dr. Bays points out many families use meal times as a chance to converse with each other. If you’re engaging in conversation, only talk when you are talking - and only eat when you are eating – taking breaks when necessary. The deeper question here is “Why do we feel compelled to multitask, to not waste time by just eating?” In most countries meals are times to slow down and truly enjoy the food, drink, and enjoy company. Now it seems that our self-worth is based upon how much we can produce in a day, or how many itmes we can “cross off our to-do list.” Eating and drinking are daily activities that don’t “earn us any points”. Dr. Bays then asks a very unique question, “What if the most important gift we can give to the world is not any kind of product or present, but instead – our PRESENCE?” If we don’t pay attention while eating, we can clean our plates and still feel dissatisfied and hungry. When eating using mindfulness you can eat with “inner satisfaction rather than until we feel stuffed”.