Here’s an easy way to practice mindfulness without meditation and model how to do so for others.
I know a guy named Phil who teaches a mindfulness-based process for a mindfulness-based therapy called Hakomi. Fabulous stuff (look it up). Occasionally when bopping around town I would run into him and I would make a point to greet him. This would start in the normal habitual ways but rather than go as you might expect, he does something different.
I would say “Hey Phil! So nice to you. How are you doing?”. What you expect to happen is, “Fine, how about you” or some variation. A common and reflexive responsive. But Phil is not a common guy. Instead, he’s going to take a moment to answer your question. To do that, there is a short pause. His intelligent eyes look around a bit as he checks within. He seems to be sort of scanning his internal experiences. And then he might say “I am not doing very well right now”, or “I’m really fine” or “I’m really struggling”. Whatever the report, it was authentic and in the moment.
I love this. In this situation, we have a great teaching moment and opportunity. Many people are searching for ways to be more mindful every day and one is handed to you on a silver platter several times a day. In your day, how often are you asked “How are you doing” or “How’s your day going”. While the person asking isn’t expecting a considered answer, that does not mean you cannot provide one. I do this routinely, even with clerks and cashiers as it is a chance for me to bring myself into the moment. I then return the favor by asking in an authentic way, “and how about you”. It’s pretty fun and nourishing to see someone at a retail register light up because you asked. They often do.
If you ask someone how they are doing and they reply “not very well”, the mindful thing to do is notice what happens in you when you hear that. Perhaps you are sad to hear that – just say so. “I’m sad to hear that”. Perhaps you are angry because they are such a great person they deserve happiness. “I get a bit angry when I hear that because I think you deserve happiness”. Or perhaps you are curious about their circumstances “I realize that this may not be the proper time to share, but I am curious about what’s going on. Perhaps we can talk about it when it’s appropriate”. If the latter, it’s important that your caring be a part of that offer. Don’t be afraid to say so. “Hey, listen, I care about you if it helps to talk about it let me know”.
There is an important lesson here. When someone says they aren’t doing well, you don’t need to automatically assume it’s an invitation for you to ask “oh really, what’s wrong?” While that may be appropriate, depending on the timing and the relationship, it may not be. You can simply hear them, be compassionate, and understanding and that is sufficient. To be seen and heard is a great gift. You don’t have to fix people nor they you. There can frequently be great healing just caring enough to hear the simple truth. Consider, naming your in the moment response authentically “Ah, I’m sorry to hear that” and then asking “do you want to talk about it?” if you are so inclined. If they so no, honor that. There’s a lot of honesty and even intimacy in this.
Conversely, If you are not doing well, saying so does not require you to explain. If a friend asks, “oh, what’s the problem” and you want to go into it – great! But don’t be shy about saying no, thank you. Lean into your friendship – “I very much appreciate your asking – and can that be enough for now?” If someone said that to me, it would be very refreshing. I really appreciate authenticity and clear boundaries. In this case, you get both at the same time.
These days, I almost always use “how are you” as moment to just “scan” my feeling and sense and see what’s there that I may not have noticed in my stream-of-the-moment thoughts. It can be surprising how I respond. Sometimes “I’m ok”, or “so-so”, “feeling pretty sped-up”. Just as often, I find I’m “excellent” or “happy to see you” – whatever comes back as authentic and true. It’s great to have a range of options. This friend is the very essence of being mindful in communication. When you become mindful in communication, you immediately notice you have more choices about what to say. Often better choices than you had before. An increase of a range of choices is a clear indicator you are freer than you were, a hallmark of mindfulness.
So there you have it. A simple, straightforward way to be more present in your day, with natural prompts provided for you by practically everyone. How fun is that!