Exporting mindfulness into everyday life.
Most people have a sense that meditation would be good for them, and those that have tried it know the kind of inner peace it can promote. It can give you both the motivation and the ability to be a better person, but there is often a gap between who we are while meditating and who we become in our everyday lives.
How can we more easily integrate the meditative perspective into our personalities?
Waking Up Meditation App
I’ve written in the past about my first thirty days with the Sam Harris meditation app Waking Up, and almost one year later I am still using the app consistently. After finishing a guided meditation a few days ago, I was struck with a clearer understanding of what I appreciate most about the Waking Up app.
It wasn’t any of the extra “features” of the app—like the conversations, lessons, or the Q&A sessions—that made me so appreciative. Instead, it was the convincingly simple way that Sam helps me bring my meditative mind state into the rest of my day.
The guided meditations are different every day, and each one tends to focus on a different aspect of the practice. Most days they end with Sam saying “Thanks for taking the time to do this, and I’ll see you here tomorrow for another session of the Waking up course”. But around once a week or so, after the ten minutes of guided practice ends, Sam will reflect for a few more minutes about what just happened. In these conclusions, he helps us frame the experiences we had so that we can more easily export them into our life.
Meditation connects you with your larger sense of self and your deeper intentions, but it’s not always clear what to do once you finish. With examples that are simple and yet remarkably piercing, Sam shows you how to integrate these meditative states into your life. He shows you that living the life you want—life with a more carefree, joyful, open, and loving attentiveness to what’s around you —comes from the type of psychological freedom that mindfulness provides.
We actually already have this ability in us. We just have to remember to continually step back and connect with our deep intentions.
“If we are not aware, we will unconsciously act out of habit and fear. But if we attend to our intentions, we can notice if they spring from the body of fear or from our deliberate thoughtfulness and care.”Jack Kornfield from The Heart’s Intention
Meditation teacher Jack Kornfield (Sam recorded a long conversation with him on the app) recommends regularly asking yourself “what are my best intentions?”. When we settle into a state of mindful awareness, finding the answer to this question becomes much easier.
We want to connect. We want to love and be loved. We want to move through life with more graciousness and bring joy to ourselves and others. But these intentions can often feel far away. When we are lost in thoughts and emotions, we find ourselves doing and saying things that do not actually serve them.
Anger is an obvious example of this, but even the normal distractions of a busy life can prevent us from serving— or even remembering— these intentions. We might be distracted and short with a cashier or a waiter. We might tune out while somebody is talking to us because we are consumed by our own problems. Or more generally, we might be carrying a negative energy and vibe into our daily interactions.
We first need to logically acknowledge such a disconnect between our best intentions and the reality of our behaviors. This is more difficult than it sounds because to recognize this is also to feel the regret of how we’ve acted, and the mind naturally turns away from painful emotions like regret. But in the expansive state of mind after a meditation, there is enough space to feel this regret and form a better plan for correcting ourselves in the future.
In this most recent conclusion, Sam reminded us that the ability to connect with and serve these intentions is like a muscle; the more we practice it the stronger it will get and the easier it will be.
Mindful Moments Throughout the Day
I’ve heard Jack Kornfield say that meditation is like training wheels for the rest of your life. We are practicing a skill in the privacy of our mind so that we can incorporate it into normal situations.
Sam has a similar message; at the end of a meditation—when we are feeling spacious, focused, and peaceful—he often reminds us that we should be continually connecting with this state of mind throughout the day. When we meditate regularly, it only takes one or two breaths for our mindfulness to come back online.
Being mindful doesn’t guarantee that we will find positive emotions, it just means that in dealing with our emotions we will have the space of choice. Even horrible moods can be changed suddenly if you can learn to step behind them and let them pass. It can feel impossible in the moment, but Sam regularly gives examples that convince me otherwise.
He reminds us that, in brief moments throughout the day, we already exhibit this psychological freedom without even noticing it. For example a hilarious text from a friend can put a smile on our face that briefly overtakes our boredom or frustration at work. Or maybe you’ve had the experience of being in a horrible mood when an important phone call comes through? Somehow you immediately switch gears to become cheerful and professional.
Of course the mind has no shame, and it usually recovers the bad mood the moment you hang up the phone. But Sam invites us to be mindful in that moment and to notice that we have to actively recreate the negative energy. If we are mindful, we can choose to just let it go.
Sometimes it’s a different emotion like sadness that shifts our state of mind. Let’s say you’re driving home from work stressed out. There’s tightness in both the body and the mind. You’re gripping to your small sense of self when something in the podcast you’re listening to brings tears to your eyes. In the presence of this type of sadness, your perspective of life shifts to a big picture view, and you find yourself truly appreciating what you have. When you get home, you greet your significant other in a way that shows them how much they mean to you.
Sam’s advice to have short mindful moments throughout the day allows us to notice these shifts of the mind so that we can better steer ourselves in a positive direction.
We can all connect to some version of the examples above. Sometimes we are successful at letting go of the negative mind states, and sometimes we let them poison our interactions with people. Comedian and podcaster Duncan Trussell, who has interviewed Jack Kornfield many times, likens these negative mind states to having dog poop on your shoe. The bad smell seems to be everywhere—every interaction seems to be poisoned by negativity. And it spreads to other people as well.
Until you clean off your shoe, everywhere you go will smell like poop. You might even convince yourself, until you’re willing to look down at your own shoes, that it is the world that is causing the bad smell around you. After all it does seem to be everywhere. In a similar way, going about your daily interactions with a negative mind state like this will convince you that the whole world is filled with bad vibes.
But I believe the opposite is also true. When I go about my day in a good mood, with more love and connection, the good vibes spread. You can feel people’s energy soften as they interact with you. You are being a little bit brighter for other people in the world. It’s not hiding from sadness or pretending problems don’t exist; instead it’s seeing a bigger picture so that you can put the whole of human experience into a more positive framing.
This is what meditation is really about, and it’s what Sam invited us to do in the most recent conclusion. He’s probably given similar examples many times, but this time it just happened to particularly affect me.
Of all the features of the Waking Up app, it is these unique conclusions— the framing of meditation and the examples —that help me to integrate the practice into my everyday personality. If you enjoy meditating but have trouble exporting the wisdom into your life, I highly recommend giving this app a try.
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