An interesting meditation exercise is to review your activities from your day before going to bed. I do it in bed as a convenient technique to help me fall asleep. Works every time. You only need five minutes or so but you can extend it as long as you like. The technique is simple yet deceptively powerful and provides some interesting insights. You can do it lying down or sitting in a chair.
So, just close your eyes and picture your day from start to the finish in your mind’s eye. You can scroll through pretty quickly or plod along slowly. Play with it. Try to see the day as a video with sound but also bring in anything you touch, smell, or taste along the way. Try to get all your senses involved and try to spot any emotions you felt during each point of the day. But it’s important to not get too involved with the images or question your actions. Just observe. Your insight will come from repeatedly observing without judging. And don’t worry that the images may not be very clear initially. This takes practice and the movie will become sharper over time.
Now, here’s the catch. When people do this exercise many times they will report that they can’t think of very much. They know they did lots of things during the day but during their nightly reviews all the details are gone. Same deal with me. However, what I discovered was that if I could not remember much at night that meant I was not especially mindful during the day. So, to overcome this, during the day I tried to just focus on my activities without thinking very much. And by that I mean I tried to cut the garbage thinking not directed related to whatever activity I was doing. I tried to kill the random thoughts, basically. This helped me stay more in the present moment. And that made all the difference in the world. I was really very surprised at how much more detail I could effortlessly remember at night by just doing that one technique during the day.
This can get pretty amusing too. Many times during a review I would be remembering in great detail a walk home, for instance. Turning right here, passing this building, hearing a conversation between two girls in front of me, feeling a motorcycle vibrating to my left, seeing an interesting car drive by on the right, noticing the expressions of various people walking by, etc. And then a moment later the entire scene would just stop. Nothing. It’s wild. It’s like you can’t move forward because there’s no data. Now, intellectually, I knew I kept walking in reality because I got to the train station — but I could not remember a single detail! The movie pictures running in my mind just stopped cold. Initially, I thought that was because I was getting tired and perhaps I was falling asleep. But over time I came to understand that when the movie review stops abruptly in my head at night then that’s the point I lost my mindfulness during the day. At that point I let my mind wander to some crap thought about work or some meaningless experience in the past I’ve thought of a million times before. I lost my awareness of the present moment. My body was obviously still walking — but my head was roaming around somewhere else.
When you practice this technique every night you start seeing holes like these during your day — blocks of time where all the details are lost. They become blatantly clear. Not only does this phenomenon become clear at night when you review your day but over time it starts to become clear during the day as well. You literally see the change taking place in real time as you lose your mindfulness. That observation is extremely valuable because most people go along all day without having any awareness of being mindful of anything.
So, why do this? Well, over time this technique helps you remain present during activity and that’s always helpful for getting through your day without feeling so powerless. It also helps you gain insights into the non-productive things you do repeatedly every day — and especially the utterly inane thoughts you think day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Insane. You are just better able to see the patterns and deal with situations as they come up in every moment. But even more importantly, being mindful during the day is quite literally a prerequisite for attaining mindful awareness at night. And that’s my ultimate goal here — to be lucid during sleep. More on that later.