By Leo Babauta
We’re nearing the end of our Month of Mindfulness, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey as much as I have.
For some of you, this has been a solid month of meditation and mindfulness practices, and I believe you have the foundation for developing mindfulness in all areas of your life. Others of you have had starts and stops this month, and that’s OK — this isn’t about perfection but about learning. You’ve at least dipped your toes into the water and have some good places to continue practicing in future months.
But where should you go next? Is this all there is to mindfulness? Is there more?
Let’s talk about these questions, to give you an idea of next steps and how to choose a path to mindfulness.
What We’ve Learned
This month, our foundation has been our sitting practice, at least a couple minutes a day. Some of you have gone longer, and that’s fine. Many of you missed a few days, maybe more, and that’s OK too.
Sitting meditation is the place where we can put aside everything else for at least a couple minutes a day, and learn what it’s like to be aware of the present moment. To be distracted and to notice those distractions and trains of thought, and to come back to the moment from those distractions.
We took the same ideas and extended them to eating, walking, and working. The practice is basically the same for all these activities, just with a different environment and different distractions.
So from all of these practices, we’ve learned to practice focusing our attention, to be aware of our environment, our breath, our bodies, our thoughts, our distractions. We’ve learned how to gently come back from the distractions, to watch our thought processes.
This is an amazing beginning in a path to mindfulness. But yes, there is more.
What Else Is There
We’ve started with a few isolated mindfulness practices, but there’s also the rest of our lives.
What I’ve learned is that the rest of our lives aren’t any different from the times we practice mindfulness. We can do the same thing we do in sitting meditation, in mindful eating and walking … anytime, anywhere. Driving in your car, talking to a friend, taking a shower, washing dishes, watching TV. It’s all the same, and you can practice mindfulness anywhere.
Learning to remember to practice is another area of learning. I’m still figuring this out myself, but I can say that with repeated practice, you get better at remembering. More of your life becomes mindful. Making a commitment to mindfulness is a great way to get better at remembering.
What else can we learn about? Well, we can be mindful of our emotions: anger, frustration, anxiety, resentment, guilt, self-doubt, self-criticism, complaining, criticizing others, having expectations. We can look at the root of these emotions — ideals that we’re holding onto.
We can then practice letting go. This is one of the keys to happiness. Let go of what you’re holding onto. This takes a lot of practice.
Another thing I’ve been learning about is acceptance. After you let go of an unrealistic ideal, you can then learn to accept reality as it is. This can be difficult but you get better with practice. Accept the world as it is. Accept people for who they are. Accept yourself for who you are.
Other mindfulness concepts to learn about: compassion, letting go of the self, empathy, detachment, delusion. Each of these could take a course by themselves. So we all have a lot of learning to do, and that’s a good thing.
Choosing a Path, & Next Steps
So with all that learning left to do, how do we learn it all? It can be a bit overwhelming.
What I’ve learned is that you start with a single step. And take small steps.
So we’ve taken a handful of excellent small steps this month. After this, take another, then another.
Another thing I’ve learned: each of these steps is as valuable as any other. Each step is the destination, not just a stepping stone to something better. So there’s no rush, there’s no end point, there’s just learning each step of the way.
With that in mind, how do we choose a path? One step at a time. What have you learned about this month that you want to continue to practice? Do that. Then pick another thing to focus on for a little bit, and dive into that, practice that.
With that said, here are some suggested next steps, one at a time (don’t try to do them all at once):
- Continue sitting practice. This is the foundation, and always will be. That doesn’t change. If you haven’t been sitting regularly, start now. Sit for a few minutes a day. If you’ve been sitting but not completely consistent, that’s fine — but make a commitment to being more consistent, even if it’s just two minutes a day. If you’ve been regular about it, maybe extend it for a few minutes, but also focus on the quality of your sitting. Are you actually aware of the present moment, or just sitting and letting your mind wander? Get better at this through attention practice.
- Commit to practicing at other times of the day. Having rituals is a good way to do that — an afternoon tea ritual, a mindful lunchtime, meditation as you are going to sleep, for example.
- Practice setting your intention before activities. Before you drink tea, or drive home, or have a meeting, take a moment to think about your intention. This helps you to be more mindful during that activity.
- Become aware of your emotions. Try to be aware of your anxiety, fear, frustration, anger, disappointment, irritation. Often we experience these things but aren’t that conscious of them. Get better at noticing them, then turn inward and try to notice what the source is — what are you holding on to? Usually it’s an ideal — some perfect outcome, perfect situation, perfect way for others to act, that doesn’t match reality. Or some ideal outcome in the future that you’re afraid might not come true (which is the case with fear/anxiety).
I think these are great next steps, but they’re just suggestions. Your path is best chosen for what your needs are, what level of learning you’re at, what your current life situation is.
Whatever path you choose, I hope you enjoy each step along the way.