Simple, everyday activities can connect us with our inner world in ways very similar to how spiritual practices such as meditation, ritual dance, or prayer do for believers. According to psychologist MihalyCsikszentmihalyi, from the University of Chicago, some crafts make it easier to focus on the present because we reach a state of concentration and immersion so deep in that action that nothing else worries us.
For this reason, we selected 6 activities that set trends around the world as alternatives for those who are intimidated by traditional meditation practices but want to develop their spirituality or simply take a break from the frenetic pace of these times:
Knitting, creativity and patience
Choosing the type of thread, finding the desired pattern, inserting and removing the needle, counting the stitches; there is nothing like plunging into the rhythmic and repetitive flow of knitting to really be in the present moment. Counting each movement of the needle could be compared to the constant chanting of a mantra.
For Betsan Corkhill, physiotherapist and author of the book Knit for Health and Wellness, “knitting could help a much broader population to perceive the benefits of meditation, since it does not imply having to understand, participate or accept a long training period of a practice. Rather, it occurs as a natural side effect to the tissue”.
Among the benefits of knitting are the development of spatial awareness, hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills. In addition, knitting encourages creativity and problem-solving, teaches perseverance and patience, exercises memory, gives a sense of achievement and pride when finishing a piece, relaxes, and also releases stress.
In her research, Corkhill found that knitting in a group can generate a greater sense of happiness than knitting alone. And it is that another important characteristic of this activity is that it facilitates social ties, the exchange of knowledge and communication between generations. Those who knit know from experience that grannies store up the best tips and tricks, and that this is a value worth preserving and passing on.
Clean and organized spaces
For Keisuke Matsumoto, “the environment that surrounds us reflects our mind: when that environment is disordered, so is our mind. If we keep our house beautiful, our mind will be very clear and calm”. In his book A Buddhist Monk’s Cleaning Manual, this author compiles a list of daily habits carried out in temples and adapts them so that anyone can make cleanliness and order an exercise in finding serenity.
Some of the activities that Matsumoto proposes are taking care of objects as we take care of people, equitably dividing household chores with those we live with, not procrastinating homework, doing general cleaning when we get up in the morning, and putting everything in order at night to make chores easier. The next day, open windows and let the energy flow before cleaning.
This oriental vision of the close link between our spiritual state and the place we inhabit is also reinvented by the Japanese Marie Kondo. Her famous method is committed to keeping only objects that internally ignite “a spark of happiness”.
Matsumoto and Kondo agree that a frugal life is key to achieving well-being. Both suggest thanking things that have fulfilled their function and, if we no longer need them, give them new life by giving them to someone who makes good use of them. “We can compare the union of these broken pieces with our own fragmented life: how we reorganize certain experiences to give them a new meaning, what we learn from those events that have made us feel ‘broken’, how we reinvent ourselves”.
The beauty of rebuilding an object
Another way to develop the spirit through the care of objects is kintsugi. It is about the reconstruction of fractured pieces of ceramic, porcelain or wood joining their parts with a special resin or lacquer mixed with gold or silver dust.
Kintsugi derives from a Japanese philosophy of life and aesthetic current called Wabi-Sabi, which invites us to seek beauty in imperfections, enjoy the rustic and simple, accept the passage of time and the impermanence of things. Beyond being an ancient technique, kintsugi can work as a therapy to heal us. We can compare the union of these broken pieces with our own fragmented life: how we reorganize certain experiences to give them a new meaning, what we learn from those events that have made us feel “broken”, how we reinvent ourselves.
The result of kintsugi is always unexpected. Irregular but organic patterns appear decorated with that metallic shine that enhances the value of the object and its function. It also reflects the patience and thoroughness of the craftsman. It is proof that accidents do not exist as long as we have the capacity and resilience to transform ourselves into something better, more beautiful and more complex.
Putting the words “garden” and “meditation” together probably brings to mind Zen gardens, those sober landscapes of very large rocks surrounded by undulating lines of sand. An environment specially designed to quiet the mind.
However, contemplation can be practiced in any type of garden or small orchard. Although having plants requires a certain demand and time, no more techniques or knowledge are needed. The view will be essential to distinguish progress or mistakes: pest attack, if there is a lack or excess of light or water; trying out and mistaking are just parts of this journey.
Gardening should be taken as entertainment, never as an obligation. Removing weeds, turning the soil, watering and other routines must be done with all the senses awake and observing how the plants react to our care. A garden teaches us to respect life cycles. There is no way to force or rush processes. We become direct witnesses of how life does not stop, how everything around us is constantly growing and how each species plays an important role. “The sensation of placidity that is produced by seeing the flight of a butterfly, listening to a waterfall or smelling the wet earth improves the ability to concentrate and memory”.
Walk in the woods
The term shinrinyoku comes from Buddhism and the Shinto religion, and means “forest bath”. It is about merging with nature during a walk in the woods. The Japanese are pioneers in the “forest bath” and consider it a traditional medicine of a preventive nature. Since 1982, it has been part of its national health program, and in some companies it is added to the recreational activities for employees.
Yoshifumi Miyazaki, anthropologist and vice director of the Center for Environment, Health and Field Studies at Chiba University, explains that during our evolution we have spent 99.9% of the time in natural environments, and that our physiological functions are still adapted to this environment. For this reason, contact with these environments makes us feel renewed. His study, with more than 600 people, showed that forest baths manage to lower cortisol levels (stress hormone) and blood pressure, compared to urban walks. In this regard, the incidence of heart attacks was also reduced by 5.8%.
Before and after a “forest bath” session, blood pressure and other physiological variables are measured so that the participants can verify the efficacy of the treatment. Then they enjoy a 2-hour walk at a relaxed pace accompanied by breathing exercises conducted by guides or “forest therapists”. Reaching that feeling of placidity that is produced by seeing the flight of a butterfly, listening to a waterfall or smelling the wet earth repairs our ability to concentrate and improves short-term memory.
Mindfulness at the dining table
In recent years, we have all heard about mindfulness, a practice that also originates from Buddhist customs adapted to the West. Mindful eating is not just about choosing healthy and nutritious foods or knowing how to cook them. It consists of observing the way in which we consume food. Appreciate the textures, flavors, temperature of each bite; think about why we eat what we eat. It seems simple, but it is quite a challenge in this time of troubles and distractions.
In order to enjoy a comforting mindfulness eating session, you can follow these steps: Thank the food that is going to be consumed, the beings and processes that have made it possible for that dish to be on the table; use all the senses in each bite; serve small portions and avoid excesses; chew slowly while taking a deep breath; learn to distinguish when you are satisfied or satiated; do not skip meals and try to have healthy snacks on hand; eat only when your body needs it.
For this practice it is essential to drop the cell phone, turn off the television, and isolate yourself from any unnecessary stimulus. The experience improves when you inhale and exhale deeply a few times and then have a first approach to food through smell. The meal is a moment of tranquility, necessary to nourish the body and experience peace and gratitude.