Once, when I first started teaching mindfulness, a participant in my class, an engineer from India whom I’ll call Sandip, told me about something he was doing that was changing his life. From the class, he had learned the power of becoming more aware of his thoughts and sensations and focusing his attention on his breath, and we had brainstormed about different ways to find time to practice. It seemed like a small thing, but what he tried was this: Every evening when he drove home, he parked his car outside his house and sat there, following his breath. “For how long?” I asked. “About 45 seconds,” he said. And then, when he went inside he had left behind his worries about work and could really be there for his kids, he said. And they knew it.
Forty-five seconds. I like to think about Sandip and how such a small change over time could have a very big impact on his relationship with his children.
It can work the other way, too. I hear from people who drive to work in the morning and sit for a few minutes before getting out of the car. By pausing and settling their minds, they arrive at the office fresher, more ready for the day. People who take the bus or subway use that time as a natural chance to practice, as well. I just put in my earbuds, and people think “I’m listening to music,” one person said. Some people find it helpful to follow a guided meditation, and some sit in silence, following their breath or bringing open awareness to the full experience of being present in that moment.
The power of these practices is that they are embedded in an everyday routine. It becomes easier to remember to do something when you do it at the same time every day. When you start to feel the benefit of it, it becomes easier still. Maybe practice happens first thing when you wake up in the morning sitting down and bringing attention to your breath for a minute, five minutes or 20 or last thing before you go to bed. Or maybe you develop a habit of going for a mindful walk at lunch, take a few breaths and feel yourself seated in the chair before starting a meeting or drink a cup of tea in the afternoon with your full attention. And by establishing a regular practice, you become more likely to remember at other more challenging moments when you open that totally unreasonable email, your partner on a project tells you he hasn’t done the work that’s due or someone suggests it was your fault that a deal didn’t go through.
Stop. Take a mindful breath. Then respond in the way that you want to show up, in a way that takes care of yourself, the people around you and the work that you’re there to do together.
—Meg Levie, VP of Teacher Development at SIYLI