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Bringing the Benefits of Meditation to Daily Life

Bhante Gunaratana

Question: On retreat it may be easier to meditate, since that is what everyone has come to do. Yet returning home to busy, modern life it’s hard to maintain mindfulness and calm awareness. How can we bring the benefits of meditation into busy daily lives?

Bhante G: Slowing down is a way to nourish the roots of mindfulness. We can do this wherever we are, in a monastery, but also at home and in the workplace. We talk about creating world peace, but people must also be concerned with creating mental peace—making their minds healthy and calm. And a healthy mind comes from mindfulness. 

When you’re at work or when you are unable to sit for a longer period in a quiet place, you can also enjoy a few moments of mindfulness. I recommend that everyone take one minute every hour during the day to do this. Work hard for 59 minutes, then take a one-minute break, and totally focus your mind on your breathing. Close your eyes, if you can. Or if you’re at your desk in a busy office, keep your eyes open at a point in front of you. Quietly, peacefully, count out 15 breaths—that’s about a minute. Don’t think about the future, don’t think about anything during that one minute. Just keep your mind totally free from all those things. When that minute is over, you have added some clarity to your mind. You have added some strength to continue on for the other 59 minutes in the hour. Then, vow to yourself that when another hour has passed you’ll give yourself another one-minute mindfulness break.

You can do this at your kitchen table or office desk. You can do this after you’ve parked your car and turned off the engine. You can do this during a restroom break. If you do this kind of one-minute meditation the whole day, at the end of an eight-hour work period you’ll have spent eight minutes in meditation. You’ll be less nervous, less tense and less exhausted at the end of the day. Plus, you’ll have a more productive and healthier day, both psychologically and physically. 

It is up to each person to take charge of their own mind. Each one of us must learn how to slow down. You know, un-mindful people are always in the majority. You can easily lead yourself down that same path if you let yourself. Don’t get caught in this trap! Wherever you are—at home, at a retreat center, in your car, or in line at the grocery store—mindfulness can rescue us from stressful, painful mental states. I like to call mindfulness one’s “emergency kit.” It’s like when you cut or burn or yourself—you immediately reach for a first-aid kit to treat the wound. The same is true for the mind. When the mind is pained, when it is agitated and distracted, when you suffering mentally, you really need some first-aid to come back to mental health.

But if you don’t take care of painful mental states, they can grow worse—just like a wound. At their worst, we slip into a depression or nervous breakdown. And our mental suffering can manifest itself in all kinds of illnesses, from stomach problems to heart disease. So many things are going on in your mind! Only when something triggers a breakdown or serious illness do you begin to look back at all the time you’ve spent making your life chaotic. So, you must bring yourself back to mindfulness wherever you are, all the time. So along with your regular meditation practice, add into your daily life practices like this one-minute meditation. Train yourself in this way—as soon as some psychic irritation arises, stop and take care of it before you proceed on with other activities in your day.

Pāli Quotation: Māvamaññetha puññassa-na maṅtaṃ āgamissati. Udabindu nipātena - udakumbho pi pūrati pūrati dhīro punnassa - thoka thokampi acinam. (Dhammapada, Verse 122)

Translation: Think not lightly of good, saying “It will come to me.” Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, the wise man, gathering little by little, fills himself with good.

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