Q: “Although I understand the idea of returning to the breath during meditation, I was wondering if you could tell me about the applications from meditation to the rest of my day. In other words, if I'm walking on the street, is the ideal to keep the mind silent? I typically daydream and think of research project ideas (I'm applying to Economics PhD programs this fall).”
Fantastic question Freddie.
When we meditate, as you suggested, the practice is to return our attention to the breath (or whatever our point of concentration is) each time the mind drifts off.
So first of all, let’s break this down into smaller steps for the sake of clarification.
When we meditate, we make efforts to calm the mind by focusing our attention on let’s say, the breath. Sooner or later, the mind wanders off. When this happens, we make efforts to bring the mind back.
So what’s actually happening each time we get lost in thought and bring ourselves back? We’re noticing what’s happening. This simple act of noticing is key to practice.
Once we notice what the mind is doing, we have the opportunity to pull ourselves away from distractions and back to our focus. And for that first millisecond that we notice we’ve drifted away, we can observe what the mind is doing. Perhaps we’re worrying about something later that day, perhaps we’re ruminating about a past conversation. Regardless of what’s pulled us away from the breath and broken our concentration, the act of noticing allows us to return.
In daily life, there’s a lot we don’t notice:
- We lash out at our partner, totally unaware that our anger is because of an old hurt - If we recognize the need to address that old hurt we can resolve it and move on.
- We sabotage opportunities out of fear - If we notice this is a pattern we can look deeper into its cause.
- When we have anxiety and our thoughts fall to worst-case scenarios and we notice, we can make efforts to calm our mind, view our thoughts in a more balanced way and change our response.
Noticing allows us to make conscious choices in life and run the
show ourselves, rather than letting our lives run their
course in an unconscious way.
This is mindfulness.
So to answer your question, is it okay if you begin daydreaming about your project ideas when walking down the street... dream away! Just notice your dreaming.
When we do things without noticing, that’s when we’re not being mindful. But if you notice your daydreaming, and make the choice to continue, then you’re being mindful of where you’re applying your attention. As long as your thinking isn’t distracting you from something else you need to be doing, think away!
Many of us think for a living, so we have to carve out time for it. I personally have some of my most innovative ideas while in movement.
Last, the same answer applies to how we can integrate mindfulness in daily life: notice what’s happening. Notice when your thoughts take you on a ride, Notice what triggers your emotions. Notice your habitual responses and patterns. Notice when you’re on autopilot.
When you notice what’s happening you have a choice – you can ask yourself, “do I want to continue down this road?”
And if the answer is yes, forge ahead. Dream, brainstorm and think away.
Just notice. ;)
Best of luck with your studies,