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How to Meditate at Any Time without Meditating

“If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Flour. Salt. Water. Yeast. As I push the warm, soft dough against my palm, I feel the cold stone countertop underneath. I feel my hips leaning up against the cabinets. I hear my breath inside my head.

As I knead the dough, it changes. The dough becomes more elastic and flexible, ready to rise and be baked into a crusty loaf.

As I make bread, I change. My thoughts go quiet. I come into the now.

I have struggled with an inconsistent meditation practice for months. In those moments when I successfully meditate and clear my mind, I feel such a sense of accomplishment and peace.

But as any beginning meditator knows, those moments are few and far between.

Usually, my scattered mind is split between keeping track of the time, trying to quiet the voice in my head, and chastizing my body for fidgeting. 

I struggled and pushed myself to meditate properly with little success, until I realized that any act can be a meditation.

I discovered this fundamental insight through books by Eckhart Tolle and Thich Nhat Hanh. It is not so important to sit with a perfectly erect spine for 20 minutes per day in meditative bliss. What is important is to be here, in the now. Living your life. Noticing what is. Noticing life.

So often throughout our days we are lost in our thoughts. We may be on the train or in the shower, but in our heads we are already giving that important presentation, having the difficult conversation, worrying about and planning for what might happen next.

If you step back and think about it, this is a strange way to live. With all of this planning, worrying, and thinking, we’re missing out on our lives.

I came to this realization a few years ago when I moved to Paris, France. I had been living the overachieving, type-A personality lifestyle in the United States my entire life.

It’s a common cycle. Working hard in school to get into a good university, then landing a “good job” and working to get promoted, all the while trying to upgrade my belogings to match my desired lifestyle: a bigger apartment, a new car, high thread count sheets, and gourmet kitchen appliances.

My whole life was geared toward reaching some undefined point where I would have “made it,” so I could then take a well deserved vacation.

Then, I moved to Paris.

Suddenly, everything I knew about status and lifestyle was irrelevant. Instead of talking about work all the time, my new French friends talked about hobbies, food, books, vacations, movies—anything except work.

I met people who really enjoyed their lives on a daily basis. Spending time with friends. Savoring delicious lunches. Continuing their artistic pursuits on the side of their career. Hiking in the mountains on weekends and reconnecting with nature.

Moving overseas made me realize that my life isn’t going to start at some undefined point in the future. My constant planning, thinking, and obsessing was making me miss out on my life! I suddenly realized that my life was happening right now, in this very moment.

By living in our heads, we’re missing opportunities to connect with our family. Opportunities to feel the pleasure of sunshine on our face while standing at the bus stop. Opportunities to feel our creative energy spark when we watch a child playing. Opportunities to be in nature, even for just a few minutes, and find our footing again.

Slowly, over the past few years, I have been working on showing up to my life on a daily basis. Trying to live in the present moment. Trying to really be here, now.

So now I have a new meditation practice. I make our weekly loaf of bread by hand.

It doesn’t take that long, once you know the technique. But it’s such grounding, salt-of-the-earth, staff-of-life stuff.

Making bread by hand connects me with the generations before and after who have done this daily practice. I take it slowly. Measuring the flour, salt and yeast. Then slowly pouring in warm water to form a dough. Then the fun part—digging in with my hands. Kneading bread is an almost childlike pleasure because it’s so tactile.

When I make bread, I am reminded of the simple pleasures in life. I’m reminded of the importance of health and nourishing our bodies. I re-discover, week after week, the miracle of transformation. The miracle of basic ingredients becoming something so pleasurable, delicious and a cornerstone of our diet.

Perhaps bread baking isn’t your thing. But you can turn any daily activity into a meditation practice: washing the dishes, brushing your teeth, ironing your clothes.

5 tips to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine:

1. Notice, don’t think.

Pretend you are a traveler or student encountering this activity for the very first time. Don’t judge, label, and think about what you’re doing. Just notice. Notice every detail with an open, beginner’s mind.

2. When in doubt, check your breathing.

If you feel your thoughts wandering from the present task, take a minute to hear and feel yourself breathe. Just paying attention to a few breaths will bring you back to the present moment.

3. You have 5 senses, use them.

Mindfulness means truly experiencing what is going on right now. This is more than just noticing what something looks like. What does it smell like? Feel it with your hands. What is the texture? Temperature? What do you hear?

4. Have a strategy to handle nagging thoughts.

Occasionally we all have thoughts that won’t go away—so you need a strategy for how to handle them. I like to have a notebook with me at all times to write any nagging to-dos, ideas or issues. If you write them down, your mind can relax because it knows you can go back to them later.

5. It is what it is.

You don’t need to analyze your mindfulness experience. Don’t worry about what it all means or if you’re being mindful enough. Just try to be mindful every day. Come more fully into the present moment. Let the experience be what it is.

While this might not fit the ideal of a perfect, solitary meditation practice, it works for me. It works because it gets me to the right place—the present moment.

Every week when I make bread, I re-discover that by mixing, kneading and baking, I am able to come more fully into the present moment and really connect with life.  And isn’t that the purpose of a meditation practice in the first place?

Photo by ChuckThePhotographer.

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About Amanda Cook

Amanda Cook writes about good food, handmade beauty products, kitchen remedies and creativity at Vintage Savoir Faire.

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  • http://loransheart.com Loran Hills

    I was just writing about mindfulness when your article popped up!  I’m including it in my next blog post on Curing the Zombie Blues.  Thanks for writing this.

  • http://vintagesavoirfaire.com Amanda

    Glad you enjoyed it, would love to read your post when it’s online!  

  • http://loransheart.com Loran Hills

    I’ll be posting it tomorrow and will add the link here.

  • db2xs

    I needed to be reminded of this. Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/motochango Daniel Lerner

    Also a mantra or a sound is useful to clear the mind. Nice writing :)

  • http://www.onemanswonder.com Jeffrey Willius

    Amanda — This is a wonderful post! It’s so important to demystify meditation, and you’ve done just that. Sometimes finding your depth isn’t really buried all that deep! Another important tip for me is  leaving spaces in my life for awareness to squeeze in and take root — periods of unscheduled time, pauses in conversation, stretches without thought or worry.

  • http://vintagesavoirfaire.com Amanda

    Hi Jeffrey, that’s such a good point about leaving unscheduled time.  It’s not ‘wasted’ time, even though it might feel that way at first.  Free time is when my best creative ideas & insights appear!  Thanks for your comment.

  • David

    I can’t help but like this. I do something similar, just detach myself, thinking about NOW only without realising I was meditating. Thank you
    be good to yourself
    David

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  • http://loransheart.com Loran Hills

    Hi Amanda, here’s my post with the link to your post!  The hyperlink only shows up if you scroll over the title.  Apparently wordpress and Safari are not friends.

    http://www.loransheart.com/photographs/cures-for-the-zombie-blues/

  • http://twitter.com/MikeDouthitt Mike Douthitt

    Reminds me of the Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.

  • AK

    Thank you for sharing this great insight.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rchasle Rozenn Chasle

    What a brilliantly written article – a delightful breath of fresh air. 
    And I love that you’re so brave as to let us know where you’re coming from.
    In contrast, I’ve found that people can be so focused on the sitting practice that they can overlook the *potential* of finding awareness and peace of mind through anything in their day. And that is indeed the result we’re practising towards after all!
    So it’s a great relief to know you can cultivate being in the now at any time even if you missed your sitting practice.I agree with Jeffrey that it demystify meditation and that’s really important.And it’s also really important, if one wishes to meditate, to make it a regular part of your life, even if it were once a month. It’s a lot harder to keep up, enjoy, and benefit from it if one is ‘punishing’ him/herself by sitting down everyday when it stresses them out to do so – though everybody needs a starting point and that’s fine. That’s also a point that isn’t much put forward in the teaching of meditation I find. Teachers can appear to say that daily sitting meditation is the only way to develop awareness and that’s a lot of pressure on people new to meditation.Now of course, there are other great ways to practice awareness at various levels. Tai-chi, yoga potentially, chanting, walking meditation, half a day in silence and observing, a walk in nature…But I’d like to say something about sitting meditation. Personally I find it hard to want to sit down to meditate. I rarely experience 20 mins of bliss and I find I do not want to interrupt my day (Information that in itself is an excellent personal finding that will help me grow).Yet it is still an excellent way to practice being myself beyond my social persona and personal beliefs, and without doing and reflecting on my doing. It’s a way to practice being in the now with my inner world, which escapes my attention so easily when I am doing something / interacting with the world.It’s also a great practice for noticing my thoughts and beliefs and dis-identifying with them. A great practice for having a feeling and not feeling compelled to react to it the same way I always have (if it isn’t working out for me). And a great way to practice being in the now at its hardest, when nothing is channelling my mental energy, so that I can get really good at it ;)…so that next time I have insomnia, I can find sleep again w/o any external props… or so that if I were to be shouted at by my boss, say, I would still be aware of what is going on for me, be aware of who I am deep down, able to control and choose my reaction, skilled at processing my feelings, stay ‘intact’, and even… appreciate the opportunity to get to know myself better! But that will still take me a lot of practice ;))

    PS Sorry for the mono-block – most of my new lines were removed by the post

  • Allanclow

    This reminds me of Dan Millman’s (Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Life You Were Born to Live) idea of ‘open-eyed’ meditation.  It is exactly as you described it. I can really relate to what you’re saying. I too have recently discovered the power of using these techniques to begin really living your life.

    The path of least resistance. Meeting things head on, and letting go.

  • Layla

    Last time I made cookies I was rushing, trying to finish them as fast as possible, thinking about when I should go to bed, when I should set my alarm clock for, what strategies I was going to use to not eat too many cookies…..

    I will try this meditation thing next time I make cookies.

    (This post makes me want to go hiking.  Exercise I enjoy!)

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  • Stafford Riggs

    Thank you for reminding me,i get so so lost in technical stuff, insisted of going swimming or just playing with many cats & purring with them:~} Peace & Luv
    Zazen420

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  • Frank Hilario

    I have benefited much, much from reading, and rereading your piece. I just noticed one thing: The image you use is the usual “meditating” scene, while you describe / prescribe meditation on the everyday thing, on the present moment. Otherwise, it’s a beautiful thing! “What is important is to be here, in the now. Living your life. Noticing what is. Noticing life.” And “to come more fully into the present moment and really connect with life.”

  • Tantrika

    I find “now” incredibly boring. There’s no”there” there. The board is rough….. so? It’s multiple shades of brown, not “brown” like I usually think of it….. so? The sun is hot while I saw…… so?

    I can’t find whatever it is you all seem to so easily. What is it about this “communion” with Now that seems to be the focus of virtually every (sub-textually) article on this site?

    Am I not “There” when I try to be Here, Now? If you all “gain” something from Now, why does it feel like death to me?

    Let’s start with an easier one:

    What is beautiful? I’ve never seen it.

  • Big D

    This article is freaking AMAZING!! You have inspired me greatly to just CHILL OUT! I reallllllllllllllllllly want to learn how to bake bread now ( I know that the *bread* isn’t the point of this article, but it sounds totally relaxing the way you described it!) Thank you so much for your article!!

  • http://www.marksandusky.com/ Mark

    Hey Amanda. I liked the post! I particularly enjoyed the tip to use all five of your senses. You’ve made me notice that I tend to focus a lot more on touch and site than the other senses. I’ll begin to work on a better balance. Thank you.

    Also, I have been lucky enough to discipline myself into a sitting meditation 20 minutes each day. While I totally agree that it is not necessary and life should be a constant state of meditation, I will say that it has helped me to have more naturally occurring “bread making” moments in everyday life. The one piece of encouragement I would give is that once you do it every day for a week or two the practice itself becomes easier to commit too. So make it over that hump and you’ll find it a lot easier to keep going.

  • http://www.atmabodh.net/ Atmabodh

    One of our human absurdity is the fact that we are thinking about either the the future or the past. Those who are young think of the future because they have got more of it. More athttp://www.atmabodh.net/living_in_the_moment

  • http://educareguide.com/ MAURYA EDUCATIONAL SOCIETY

    We are inspired by your work and recently our team started new techniques to help out students preparing for competitive exams.. specially now started for banking aspirants but soon we will implement the concept of meditation for various categories of exams.

    Education Care

    http://www.educareguide.com

  • Nielsjo

    You are completely missing the point of meditation here. You are looking for a cheap ride to extacy, and that is absolutely not what meditation is about.
    Have you wondered WHY it is so hard to meditate? If you had a focused, calm, concentrated mind, it would be very easy, but since you find it so hard to meditate, apparently your mind is everything but!
    Meditation is about staying when the going gets rough. Not backing out when there is no solid ground to stand on. Being present even when things happen that trigger you inmensely, like somebody getting angry with you, losing your job, having no money to buy ingredients for bread. All people have specific propensities, weak spots; some get angry at every God given opportunity, some jealous, some always avoid: all examples of propensities that have to do with not wanting to feel the pain that life inevitably gives. The first noble truth by Buddha, is about suffering: being alive means suffering. However: there is a way out!
    So what meditation practice is about: training the mind, to stay focused, to stay present, when the going gets rough. The fruit of this practice, is being able to weaken your propensities, so you will not have to go through the same pain over and over again. A focused, concentrated mind will not fall into its own traps so easily.
    So, what you are doing here: nothing is wrong with it! However, if you settle only for this, you are selling yourself short big time, really, you have no idea what treasure you are letting go of by stopping sitting meditation.
    If you want to have a good practice: stop whining and deal with the discomfort. Spend more time then just 20 lousy minutes a day, come on: you spend more time eating your food! 2 hours a day for half a year, and then reevaluate, if you can do that, you will never stop sitting meditation again.

  • Nielsjo

    A small addition: so the best sitting meditation, is the one that feels like the most worthless one ever: you have to pull your mind back every two seconds, your back hurts, you have an urge to stop every two minutes. It is there and then that the stallion like mind is trying to kick free, but if you are a good horse trainer ( or meditator in this case ), you know that this process is essential for the horse to be broken in. So it is especially then, you are not giving up, and win ground with every second you persist.
    A good horse trainer does not get angry with the horse, he keeps a calm, gentle attitude and just stays with this process until it is done. Just like that, the meditator stays with the rocking and kicking by his own mind. If you try to break in a horse just practicing 20 minutes a day, it might not even live long enough to be broken in, but if you do this for two hours a day, you will have success eventually.