Wipe away the clutter with simple mindfulness practices throughout your day
In my previous blog, The Rise of Mindfulness and Adult Coloring , I mentioned mindful coloring as being one of my windshield wiper practices, but then realized that these practices are neither well known nor self-explanatory. I created the term “windshield wiper practices” to refer to a series of meditation habits I intentionally created to connect to the present moment and use throughout my daily routines.
I got this idea from a retreat I was on several years ago. The retreat center had practice songs called “gathas” posted throughout the campus. They were sweet, little rhymes/songs that you could recite/sing while engaging in your daily activities. There was one for eating, one for tooth brushing and one for washing your bowl after eating. I was moved and inspired by this idea and have experimented with different ways of integrating the practice into my life since then.
Tasks like washing dishes can either be an opportunity to ruminate or to clear the mind. As my hands are busy doing something I don’t need to pay attention to, my mind can either jump into usual background scripts, or it can let go for a few minutes and practice mindfulness. These practices help me clear the clutter in my head, allowing me to engage in the present more directly. I began to call them my “windshield wiper practices” because they help me “clean my lens” so I can see more clearly, hopefully above my biases and habitual ways of thinking.
I created these habits to accomplish a few objectives:
Windshield Wiper practices help me Question Assumptions and Keep Thought Habits in Check. The more I meditate, the more I recognize the thought habits that permeate and distract my attention. We all have perceptual filters—the lens through which we view the world. These filters are often set or reinforced by thought habits. The lens isn’t perfect. Every lens carries its own set of biases and blind spots. I’ve made it a point in my life to routinely question my assumptions and stay flexible with my beliefs. My windshield wiper habits are designed to help me stay in touch with my wiser self.
I also use windshield wiper practices as my Fallback Practice. Over the years, I’ve learned that I need to have informal meditation practices to fall back on when life gets extra busy and routines are disrupted. If I don’t practice regularly, my thought habits can get the better of me. Windshield wiper practices, such as mindful dishwashing and mindful showering, help me make the most of those quiet moments that are an embedded part of my daily routine. When I don’t have time for formal practice, I can fall back on these informal practices. And, they don’t have to feel huge or cumbersome—it can be something a simple as slowing down enough to take the first bite of your lunch mindfully.
Some useful windshield wiper practices:
One of my current windshield wiper practices is mindful dishwashing. Washing dishes is something I engage in every day for at least 10-20 minutes a day, sometimes longer. This task can be an opportunity for rumination—running over the same old trains of often negative, looping or ineffective thoughts. OR, the act of washing dishes becomes an opportunity to practice mindful awareness. Rather than allow my thoughts to mindlessly spiral, I focus my attention on feeling the soap and the warm water running over my hands. I also like to bring my list of gratitudes into this practice. While not strictly mindfulness, focusing on what I am grateful for—both things big and small—certainly can come from a place of mindful awareness. Pausing to recognize the privilege and good fortune that I have in that moment—even something as important, simple and often overlooked as having access to fresh, clean, running water—helps me follow through on my deeper intention to not take anything for granted and to be intentionally grateful for what I am fortunate to have.
Another windshield wiper practice I’m working with right now is mindful listening with my children. I have two young kids. The oldest is in kindergarten. And, I work full time. Essentially, my day is packed. When I get home from work, I often just want to jump into cleaning up and getting dinner ready so I can eventually relax, but I also want to connect with my kids. Sometimes the topics they want to share with me aren’t the kinds of things I find interesting. My son, for example, can talk at great length and in great detail about his favorite video game. When he does, I find it too easy to check out mentally and start going through my to-do list. However, whether it’s video games or something else discussed, it’s really important that I make time to offer both my children my undivided attention each day. And, in comes another windshield wiper practice. I make an intentional practice of mindful listening for at least for 5-10 minutes with each child each evening before I jump into the busy-ness of the evening. I notice when my attention wanders and bring it back to what my child is sharing.
Other windshield wiper practices/mindfulness habits I have experimented with over the years include: mindful first bite of the day and last bite of the day; mindful showering; mindful walks to the bathroom at work; and mindful coffee/tea prep.
I encourage you to experiment with any of these practices, or get creative and come up with some of your own! There is ample opportunity to bring mindful awareness to your daily habits even in the midst of a crazy day. And, the crazier the day, the more important it becomes to take a moment to slow down and just be. Even five minutes of being present with your breath, surroundings and sensations can make a difference and even improve the entire trajectory of your day.
Samara V. Serotkin, Psy.D. is a Seattle-based clinical psychologist and mindfulness coach. Dr. Serotkin, the author of “The Relationship Between Self-Actualization and Creativity,” has served as an advisor to multiple startup companies and presented at national conferences on topics ranging from mindfulness meditation to creating behavioral change.