Written by Maxwell Barna, a writer in the men's lifestyle space, covering everything from food and booze, to auto, tech, and the Great Outdoors.
Finding Mindfulness in Everyday Tasks: An Honest Guy's Guide to Meditation
When thinking of the stereotypical practice of meditation, you might envision people in bamboo studios or some exotic Zen garden somewhere, contorting [probably uncomfortably] into full Lotus position on dusty old mats... or at least I did. There may be a fountain trickling off in the distance along with a guy politely hitting a gong ever few minutes as everyone chants “Ommmmm” at 432 Hz.
It’s a lovely image, sure, but it doesn’t help people who don’t have Zen gardens or gongs. In fact, it can actually turn people off from meditating altogether.
Which is why it’s important to remind everyone that meditation isn’t just about what we traditionally see it as. Yes, there are people who do the gong thing. And yes, there are even people who dedicate their lives to learning to be mindful in every aspect of their lives. But that’s a very small minority of what meditation is. In fact, where and how you do it are probably the two least important aspects of meditation.
At its base, meditation is about achieving peace and relaxation through an elevated sense of what everyone seems to be calling mindfulness. And mindfulness is about being present in every aspect of your life. It’s about being aware of everything from your emotions and feelings to your breathing, physical surroundings, your senses, etc. Meditation is about achieving a greater sense of awareness—both of yourself and of the world (and your place in it).
Many people believe that meditation is about tuning out and turning off, but they couldn’t be further from the truth. Meditation is all about tuning in so intensely and so wholly that everything becomes easier and less chaotic, and you in turn become a better, healthier, more relaxed, and even sharper person.
The best part about it is that you don’t need a bunch of fancy equipment or a Zen garden to meditate. All you need to do is pay attention to the things that matter.
When I was a kid, I’d spend my days playing outside. And when I’d inevitably get bored or tired, I’d lay in the grass and look up at the sky for what seemed like hours. While I was down there, I’d focus on everything independently. I’d listen to the birds chirping in the scattered pines in the park. I’d focus on the breeze as it touched my skin, or the way the grass felt on my neck. I’d turn inward and focus on my breathing and try to get the most out of every square inch of lung space I could. I’d think about the world and the wind, and ponder questions like, “Will people in Oklahoma get to breathe the same air I just did.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was meditation.
When I got older and started skateboarding, I took a very meditative approach to that, too—without ever knowing it. I’d listen to the rhythm of pushing off, and the momentum it created. I’d think about my foot placement, and how my feet would interact with my my legs, arms, and torso to maneuver all seven plies of Canadian Maple wood to where I wanted them to go. I’d think carefully about my muscles and how they were moving, or my posture and how it was affecting my momentum. I’d focus on my breathing to make sure I never got winded. I paid attention to every little thing—every movement, every breath, every nut and bolt, every pebble in my path on the road ahead—and made it into a thrilling but totally useful mindfulness exercise.
And when I got even older and started working on motorcycles, they, too, became their own little meditative session. Learning how a motor works; understanding the importance of process, technique and order; breathing deep and keeping cool when things broke or just didn’t work out right. I remember feeling the sweat bead along my forehead, and drip down onto my workbench. I remember having to take long, deep breaths when I was angry. Hell, I remember being angry and trying to retrace every single step I made or wrench I turned to get there—and then learned how to apply that methodology to every area of my life.
Even the very act of riding a motorcycle became an exercise in mindfulness. Listening to the engine winding up and down over hills and along highways. Feeling the bike sway in the wind or through traffic. Listening to the sounds the tires made as I traveled passed the pavement. Feeling the hum and vibration of the bike as it carried me wherever my heart pleased.
All of these things are exercises in mindfulness meditation, and that’s really my point:
When you get to a place where meditation seems necessary to you, you mustn’t let yourself be intimidated by doing it the “right way.” The truth is, everybody’s “right way” is different, and that’s really what makes medication such a special and perfect thing—everyone’s pathway is different. Which means that just because I found mindfulness easy in a field or in a garage or on an open stretch of highway doesn’t mean it can’t be found anywhere you look. Like in a gym, on the bus, in the kitchen, at the library, in the woods, in the shower, or anywhere else you can find time to be peaceful and relaxed.
In a nutshell, the idea is to find a process that allows you take all the noise in your head, in your body, and in your world—all the bull shit, good and bad—and slow it down a little bit to better understand the way it all works. Focus on all the moving parts individually, learn how they all work together, and learn how to oil and lubricate them as needed.
By finding these daily opportunities to be mindful and turning the stuff you do into meditation exercises, you condition yourself to let go of all the useless shit you’ve been holding onto. That useless fight with your boss from last week, your midterm exam grades, your break up literally six months ago, that flat tire you got rolling into work this morning. You’ll end up being happier and less stressed out, you’ll be more self-aware, your relationships will improve, you’ll look and feel happier, and hell, it’s even proven to help the cardiovascular system.