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Seven Ways to Meditate Anytime, Anywhere (Even if You’re the Busiest Person on Earth)

People often tell me that they really want to mediate but they’re too busy - there’s just not enough time. We all have a lot of things going on like jobs, school, families, and other responsibilities, so I frequently hear from clients and students that when they’re done with their day the last thing they want to do is to sit on a cushion with their legs crossed for thirty minutes.

The Buddha dealt quite a bit with lay people who led regular lives. He came into contact with people who didn’t have the luxury of being able to practice formally for several hours each day because they had to work in order to survive and they also had to deal with familial responsibilities. Just like today, people back then had personal and professional pressures to contend with and little to no down time.

So this notion that there’s something so uniquely challenging about our modern day situation when it comes to meditation practice is hogwash.

Many people really want to meditate and realize how important it is but they just can’t fathom a way in which such a practice could be integrated into their everyday lives.

I was talking with my teacher today about this topic and he reminded me of what his teacher Zen Master Seung Sahn used to say. Whenever he was asked what Zen practice was, Seung Sahn would reply,

“Correct Zen practice is: how do you keep your mind moment after moment after moment?”

He didn’t talk about long, formal meditation sessions or mind-numbing postural techniques—he simply emphasized the importance of bringing practice into our everyday lives and not treating it like some special, isolated thing that could only be practiced only under a very specific and limited set of circumstances.

So the good news is: you don’t have to be a card-carrying monk or a smiling, mala-bead wearing, prostrating, full lotus sitting, palms-together self-identified Buddhist in order to practice effectively every day.

Now don’t get me wrong—sitting and walking meditation are fundamental, wonderful forms of practice, and very, very useful. But if you find that you just aren’t taking the time to sit on a cushion or chair for just five, ten, or fifteen minutes a day, there there are other ways to work a meditation practice into your everyday life, even if you’re the busiest person in the world.

Here are seven ways of meditating that even the busiest among us can fit into their day:

1. Smartphone Practice – Set your phone alarm to go off at several different times throughout the day. When you hear the tone, take a moment to pause and check in and see how you are doing, even if it’s just for a few seconds. Notice if you’re stuck in any thought loops or harboring any negative emotional or mind states. Don’t try to force anything away or muster up any kind of special feeling, just notice how you are doing in that moment and then continue on with your day.

2. The Lay-Away Method – Just as it’s less painful to make a big purchase in small incremental payments over time, you can approach your daily meditation practice in much the same way. Just commit yourself to several periods of mini-practice sessions spread throughout the day. For example: tomorrow you can plan to be still and follow your breath for just sixty seconds at five or ten different periods. Use a reminder alert on your phone if you must or just schedule these one-minute sessions in your calendar the way you would a business or social engagement. When it comes to the length or frequency of each practice session you can adjust it all as needed in a way that makes it more doable for you.

3. Post-it Practice – Stick some small post-it notes in various places around your home and office that can serve as visual reminders to pay attention to what your mind is doing whenever you catch sight of them. Place them on mirrors, computer monitors, windows, closet doors--wherever you might come across them during your daily routine. You can also do this using a rubber band on your wrist, small colored stickers, or anything that can be visually prominent enough to remind you to notice what your mind is doing for at least a few seconds or more.

4. Pissing Practice – Once my teacher witnessed a desperate student approach Seung Sahn with a serious dilemma:

“According to the others at this Zen center, I am not practicing enough but I don’t have enough time each day to meditate for long periods…so what should I do?”

His answer really surprised her (and I'm paraphrasing):

“You shit, right? You pee? During that time, make that your practice!”

Everyone has to pee. Even the busiest person in the world has to urinate at least once a day. So why not use those precious few seconds to return to the moment and fully experience the sensations attached to the activity of peeing? We mustn’t waste anything--not even our waste.

5. Street-Walker Meditation—Whenever you are walking and wherever you happen to be, just walk. Don’t try to figure out your life or solve the world’s problems in your brain as you’re moving about—instead just pay attention to the feeling of the ground under each foot as it touches the earth below. Whether you are rushing down subway stairs, walking in the mall, running on the beach or strolling down the street, take at least a minute or more to completely immerse yourself in the simple activity of walking. Make an art out of moving yourself from your desk to the bathroom or from your parked car to the supermarket entrance. Notice what you are feeling and what kinds of thoughts arise as you do so without adding anything extra.

6. Eating Meditation – Whether you’re grabbling a quick cup of coffee at Starbucks or having an elaborately prepared gourmet meal, allow yourself some time to simply experience the act of consuming without piling anything on top of it like reading or allowing your thinking mind to take over. All too often we find ourselves eating or drinking something without even knowing what it tasted like when we’re done because we were so distracted by some inner chatter or outer multitasking. Practice is about fully engaging with whatever activity we happen to be involved with at any given time and nothing more. Whatever you are doing is enough.

7. Keyboard Practice – Cellular phones, ATM machines, and computer keyboards can be utilized like modern-day mala beads. When you’re texting or typing at your computer for example, pay close attention to the sensation of your fingertips as they tap against the keys on your phone or your keyboard.

What’s most important is to develop a way of practicing consistently that makes sense for who you are and the kind of life you lead. Be creative with this and come up with ways of meditating that are manageable, and this will inspire you to stick with it. Good old-fashioned seated meditation is still one of the best methods for learning how to get acquainted with your mind and to understand your true nature, but it’s not the only way.

Good practice is not just about sitting for long periods of time or going away on extended retreats at exotic meditation halls or reading a densely written Dharma book that makes you want to yawn. It’s simply about being fully aware of what your mind is doing at any given moment, and this is something you can do at any given moment. 

-Lawrence Grecco


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Daily reminders

All of the flashing lights on our computers, photocopiers, and other machines can be visual reminders to be in the present. I find it helpful to wear a ring as a visual reminder. Without something I can see to remind me, I get lost in thought easily. You don't have to be in the Zen tradition to follow the advice in this great article!

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