Mindful Meditation: How to
Mindfulness meditation is all over the internet. It’s hardly new, but people have begun to figure out it is useful for pretty much every part of your life. Every time you read a listicle about the “Top 10 Things You Can Do to Make a Gazillion Dollars and Live in Infinite Bliss” meditation is going to be on that list somewhere.
1. Get into a comfortable position.
Monks and nuns, and people planning to become monks and nuns, don’t get to rest their backs against anything. They are required to arrange their legs in ways that most people have not done since childhood. You, though, can get comfortable. Sit in a comfortable chair, cross your legs if you like. It’s best not to lie down unless you physically need to. If you are even slightly sleepy, you shouldn’t close your eyes. Rest your gaze on a random spot a few feet in front of you.
2. Direct your attention to your feet
Wiggling your toes will help you find them. Hold your feet in your attention for about two slow breaths. Then move your attention to your lower legs and take two more slow breaths. Then move up to your thighs. And then on to your belly, chest, back, arms, hands, head, face. Don’t hurry. Give each part of your body your attention. You don’t have to breathe in any special way, just two ordinary breaths will do.
3. When you have focused your attention on all your body parts, rest your attention on your breath and now you are ready to go.
Your breath is portable. It’s always with you. If not … you don’t have to worry about any of this. Jon Kabat-Zinn once said “As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than there is wrong…”
So focus on your breath. Feel your chest rising and falling and follow the way the air feels as it comes up and out of your nostrils and the way it feels when you pull the air back in again.
Your mind evolved to think thoughts. It’s what it does. Thinking thoughts is one of its major jobs. (It has other super-important jobs like keeping your heart beating, but you don’t have to think about that.)
Therefore, while you’re paying attention exclusively to your breath, your mind will start doing its job thinking thoughts.
4. The next step is key
Once you get settled paying attention to your breath, your mind will get bored and wander off to something more interesting. Maybe you start to plan what you’re going to do for lunch.
When you notice that that has happened, label the lunch plans “thinking” and refocus your attention on your breath.
When your neighbor cranks up the leaf blower or somebody starts loud music in the next room mentally say “noise” and return your attention to your breath. You will label your thoughts and return to your breath over and over and over (and over and over).
That is exactly what you should be doing. If you are doing that you are succeeding!
Sometimes you will realize you have been lost in your thoughts for quite a while. When you noticed you did that, you succeeded!
Sometimes you will notice you have been thinking random thoughts or reliving past events, or having imaginary conversations for ages. No worries. Noticing you did that, is the right thing to do. Success!
The 3-Step Process
That 3-step process is your goal. You do not fail when your mind wanders — that’s what minds evolved to do! You succeeded when you noticed your wandering mind.
The three steps are: 1. You notice your mind wandered; 2. you label that line of thought “thinking”; and 3. You return your attention to your breath.
An empty, quiet, non-thinking mind is not the goal. Noticing thoughts, letting go of those thoughts and returning your attention to your breath is the goal.
That is the work you are doing and every time you complete those three steps you have achieved a victory.
But I don’t have time for this nonsense!
A few minutes a day will do. If you are waiting at the doctor’s office it’s a good time to relax and pay attention to your breath. If the kids aren’t coming home for a half-hour and the house is quiet, treat yourself to paying attention to your breath and letting thoughts about dinner and the evening plans go for a little while. Pro-tip: open a book at random and put it in your lap. Gaze at the page and meditate. It’s nobody’s business what you are actually doing.
Now everybody stand back, I’m about to commit heresy.
Don’t set a timer for 20 minutes, or 10 minutes, or two minutes. Set no timer.
There. I said it.
Remember, it feels good to do this practice. Do it as long as you like and stop when you feel you’re done.
What’s the point?
Well, maybe a gazillion dollars and infinite bliss are your goals and maybe they aren’t. But a lot of research has gone into how effective meditation is to help with all kinds of things like stress reduction, addiction recovery, chronic depression, chronic pain and anxiety. It’s not a magic wand, but acquiring the skill of training your mind to pay attention will bring you amazing benefits.
It’s lightweight and portable, it’s easy, and the price is right. Try it and see what you think.
The above article is an excerpt of my forthcoming book on meditation. Meanwhile, you might enjoy:
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