Working from 9 till late, arriving home exhausted and spending a great few hours each day commuting: this is the reality of millions of people living in big cities, who are driven by a set daily routine. In a lifestyle like this, it is easy to ‘zone out’ from time to time and get lost in mindlessness, where we finish a set of certain routine tasks, without even noticing completing them. Research shows that the average person is on this kind of ‘autopilot’ 47% of time. This means that the average person spends almost half of his life not paying attention to life passing by.
Words: Aleksandra Medina
So, it’s not difficult to imagine why we should all start paying more attention to how we live our lives and how big city life is potentially affecting us. Here's a simple guide showing a few techniques: it's about time to learn how to return to our safe cocoon of mindfulness. Living a life, where we fail to be aware of ourselves, our true needs and our surroundings, falls short in bringing joy and meaning to us.
Mindfulness is staying connected to the present moment by letting go of the accumulated stress and information. It is taking meditating one step further. If meditating means sitting down for an hour and relaxing by the guidance of our breath, mindfulness brings that feeling into everyday life.
Because many of us are too busy to go on a far-away retreat on a faraway island, like Bali, and become yogis, here are some simple and useful everyday methods you can use to grow your mindfulness, even when you are surrounded by a busy, rapid city full of movement.
1. Pay More Attention
When doing everyday routine tasks, like doing the dishes, taking a shower, brushing your teeth, cooking, taking care of the kids or pets, pay more attention. Take in the smell, the sound, the taste. Even if your mind does wander off while doing these tasks, which is completely natural; part of being mindful is realising it and gently bringing your mind back to reality. Start slowly, you don’t have to be mindful in every action you perform. Keep it short in the beginning and your mind will naturally accommodate to this practice and being mindful will come easier with time.
2. Love-Kindness Meditation While Walking Down the Street
Try to be aware of the people walking towards you on the street. Let go of the outer layer that defines them – their appearance, their race, their clothing and think about how fundamentally they are the same as you. Send them good thoughts. On a deeper level, we all just want to be happy and avoid suffering.
Practicing Mindful Living in a Big City: 5-Step How-To Guide
3. Notice Nature All Around You
Nature can be anywhere. Take the time to look around and notice the smallest signs of nature, even if it’s just a potted plant in a restaurant window. This exercise will allow you to notice hidden beauty, and eventually transfer from your perception of cities to that of people. Ideally you will train your mind to always look for the good in people. As well as noticing nature in the city’s concrete jungle, your perception of it will change and bring you more peace of mind, even when walking down the streets during the rush hour.
4. Learn to Listen
Instead of struggling to find a sound-proof place in the city to meditate, start by focusing on your breath and then extend your thoughts on the sounds around you. Not only will you acquire the skill to be able to meditate wherever you are, you will also enhance your presence in the city by fully acknowledging your surroundings, instead of ignoring them.
5. Practice Mindfulness While Waiting
In fast-paced cities, where we are always in a rush, we should appreciate when we are given the opportunity to stop and wait. Either it’s in a traffic jam, at a queue or waiting for the tea water to boil: spend this 'empty' time to bring your mind to the details around you. This will allow you to avoid frustration, irritation and impatience that is usually caused by waiting. Turn to your breath and slowly pay attention to the flow of your breath in and out of your body. Pick a prompt to remind you to be mindful. If you spend a lot of time stuck in traffic, it can be the red traffic light. If you spend a lot of time queueing at the supermarket, it can be a cashier. Pick a prompt, and whenever you see it, bring your mind back from mindlessness.
Still not convinced you should try to incorporate these practices into your lifestyle? The habit of sliding into ‘autopilot’- mode increases chances of anxiety, stress, depression and reactivity. Research even shows that the more we allow our mind to stray away, the unhappier we become. So keep in touch with your body and mind to live a more acknowledged life.
Here are 5 Free Mindfulness Apps (available for iOS and Android):
Stop, Breathe & Think
Here are 5 Free Meditation Apps (available for iOS and Android):
Take a Break