Mindful Living Exercises

Far too often when people discuss mindfulness it remains merely a theory or philosophical exercise. We may agree with the philosophy presented, but when it comes to the actual application, most simply don't follow through. Understand that unless you act on the wisdom given to you, it is absolutely useless. You can fill your head with all sorts of knowledge, but unless you have personal realization of that knowledge, you accomplish nothing more than adding data to the mind. Of course, some teachers explain mindfulness in such a way as it is really out of reach to the sadhaka. Allow me to provide simple, concrete ways in which you can develop mindfulness.

1. When you learn about spiritual life don't just hear, but listen. And to discipline yourself to listen, take notes. A small notebook and pen will suffice to write down the most important points. This notebook will serve as your personal "sacred scroll", where you'll keep the wisdom in written form for you to go back later and re-encounter. This is important since most people work in the every day world and have many things competing for their attention. This means some points of the wisdom will be forgotten. Your sacred scroll will be your constant source for the parts of the truth shared with you that you needed most. Often sadhakas find that something they didn't understand when they wrote it years ago has now become clear, providing evidence of spiritual growth.

2. Pay attention to the inner conversation going on in your mind daily. How much of this inner conversation is voluntary? How much of it is interruption? How much is positive and affirming of your spiritual life, and how much is negative and self critical, or critical of the guru or wisdom itself? Are the criticisms truly reasonable, or are they emotional reactions to challenging information? What impact do these thoughts, both positive and negative, have on you throughout the day?

3. Take a walk each day and pay attention to things you take for granted right now. Notice the pressure of the ground under your feet. What differences do various surfaces produce on your feet and calves? Pay attention to the air around you. How does it smell? How does the breeze feel blowing through your hair, or touching your skin? Notice the various colors and how they make you feel. When you pass someone, don't just walk by with your head down, but smile and greet them warmly. Notice their facial features and clothing. What clues do these give you about that person's character or state of living? Be completely in the moment, immersed in all the sensory input of the walk.

4. Be mindful of the foods you eat. Westerner's tend to eat a lot of junk food that is counter-productive to both healthy living and spiritual life. Start your day with a breakfast of fruits, grains and nuts, rather than bacon, ham, eggs, etc. Try to eat organic whole foods as often as possible. Avoid processed foods and meats. If you struggle with vegetarianism, start by eliminating red meat from the diet. Slowly work your way off all meats at your own pace, even slowly. You will notice some significant changes as you go through this process. Your body will feel somehow different, a little lighter than it did, and you will be able to think more clearly. Be prepared for the rough patches of craving junk as your body detoxifies. Be aware of getting all the nutrients your body needs as well. Discuss the process with your physician or a nutritionist if you're concerned.

5. Meditate daily for at least 10 minutes. I recommend mantra meditation, since it aligns body, mind and soul much more effectively than other forms of meditation. Pay close attention to the mantra. Notice the sounds of the syllables, the vibration in your mouth and head as you chant the mantra. Be fully present in the mantra, and allow distracting thoughts to flow through and away when they come. Simply bring your attention back to the mantra. Don't "struggle" with the intrusive thoughts. Disciplining the mind isn't  a matter of self-abuse, but of mere recognition and correction of your focus.

Ultimately, mindfulness is about love. First, love of the Supreme Absolute who provides all the blessings we need for Self Realization and yearns to love us. Second, love of the Self. I'm not talking about the false ego here, that part of your mind that distracts you from spiritual life and carries you off into maya, but the true Self-the Soul. It is an easy thing to say 'Love yourself', but it is another to actually know what love is and how to love. Love is simply seeking the highest good. So, seek your highest good, which is spiritual life, and other good things will flow naturally from that. Third, loving others. You can't love others if you don't first love yourself. And loving others (seeking their highest good) means we are concerned with the whole person (body, mind and soul), and not just the parts that may appeal to us or are easiest to assist. These are the principles of mindfulness that have real world application. Develop these things and you will reap wonderful blessings. Namaste.

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