With a name that literally translates to “peaceful,” Shantum Seth seemed destined to lead a life dedicated to mindfulness. As an Ordained Teacher in the Zen Buddhist lineage learned under the great Thich Nhat Hanh, he has led pilgrimages and lessons on mindful living worldwide. Shantum even names celebrities like Drew Barrymore and Sting as students.
But despite a prolific career, Shantum’s most profound mission is for everyone—from children to business leaders—to embrace the small moments hidden within our everyday lives. He also believes that this unique time away from normality can act as a special, rare opportunity to practice doing so.
Rather than thinking of daily habits like eating breakfast, checking emails, or running errands as uneventful routines, Shantum challenges us to view them as the miracles they truly are. By pausing to mindfully reconnect with the present, we can better appreciate the beauty in each second—no matter what’s going on around us.
“This is a time not just for reflection in understanding yourself but others as well,” says Shantum. “The existential questions of life are easier to tread when you’re steady and in one place. Use this time for that.”
Using Isolation to Practice Mindfulness
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our lives in countless ways. One of the most notable is increased isolation—maybe not from those in your household, but almost certainly from family, friends, co-workers, clients, and outside passions. Whether you consider yourself a social butterfly or a homebody, there’s little doubt that you’ve felt the effects of this suddenly smaller world.
This is undoubtedly a trying time. But as with everything, Shantum knows there’s a silver lining. With our “normal” routines and obligations already upended, leaders have an exciting opportunity to find space and start a lasting mindfulness practice.
We can even take a different approach to something many miss—travel. Instead, seek out new destinations within ourselves while opening your eyes to what does surround us. “We have so many wonders right here in this present moment,” says Shantum. “You have all of the tools available to travel within,” says Shantum.
The first step in taking that journey starts with, in a sense, doing nothing. Find a quiet place, sit down comfortably, and simply focus your breathing. “Pause,” says Shantum. “Stop getting distracted. It’s easy to get distracted by the TV or getting your next drink and start watching that inner-TV. It will take a little time to tune it.”
To begin tuning that inner-TV, avoid that natural impulse to do something and continue sitting. “Just give yourself a few minutes,” says Shantum. “Watch whatever your mind is coming up with. Watch it like a passing cloud. Don’t get attached to it. If you see a thought coming up, come back to your breath. Use your breath as an anchor, always.”
Initially, you might not notice much. But remember—mindfulness and meditation is a lifelong practice. Soon, you’ll begin uncovering incredible things about yourself and the world. “You’ll start recognizing who you are,” says Shantum. “You’ll recognize your habit energies, your wants, and your dislikes. It’s a wonderful journey!”
Finding Mindfulness in Everything
Practicing mindfulness with at-home meditation is a fantastic way to live with more awareness and appreciation. However, it’s far from the only way. Nearly every action in our lives offers us a chance to be more mindful. You can practice mindfulness for several days during a retreat, a few minutes in the morning, or even a split second of sincere awareness.
“And it’s not just mindfulness,” Shantum clarifies. “You have to do mindfulness of something,” he emphasizes. “Mindfulness of the breath. Mindfulness of eating. Mindfulness of tasting.” He also notes that it’s easier to practice mindfulness in silence.
One of Shantum’s favorite ways to practice mindfulness is mindful walking. For him, going on a walk isn’t about getting from Point A to Point B. He’s discovered it to be one of the most powerful ways to connect with himself and become more aware of the world around him. In fact, it was during a walking meditation that Shantum says he “touched peace for the first time,” while with his teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.
“You may have a destination,” says Shantum. “But you often miss the reality of the moment when walking with only a destination.” We all do this. From walking your dog after work to catching the train to picking up groceries, our minds are solely on the goal. We aren’t aware of the infinite amount of wonders within the journey itself.
“Walking meditation is about arriving at every step,” says Shantum. “It’s not easy. Our habit is to think ahead.” With walking meditations, it’s OK to have a goal or destination in mind. However, it’s not the focus. “Don’t hurry. Be attentive of whatever may come up on that walk,” he continues. With each step, focus your awareness on every sensation—the feeling of the ground beneath your feet. The sound of birds chirping. The clouds against a blue sky. “The fact that we can hear is a miracle. The fact that we can see and that we’re breathing. These miracles all happen in this present moment.
“As we touch the present, we touch that miracle,” says Shantum. “We call that the miracle of mindfulness. It’s that energy of mindfulness that we’re cultivating by being present.
“This is it!”
The conversation with Shantum Seth continues on the Leading with Genuine Care podcast. You’ll hear more wisdom on living with mindfulness including a beautiful meditation. Don’t miss an article or episode of the podcast by signing up for my mailing list. You’ll also get a free guide to my favorite mindful resources. I’d love you to connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn and keep up with my company imageOne and our new smart health solutions.