The beauty of Mindfulness is that it starts to get… sticky in that it begins to linger and you begin to take it out into daily life where somebody says something rude to you and you let it go and you come back to center. Or you hear some violent thing happening on the news and you realize it doesn’t have any value for you. “No, there’s nothing I can learn from this.” You let it go. You get to choose. Does this have value? Can I learn?
If not, let it go. With Mindfulness you develop that skill of letting go. Remember what we called it? Teflon mind. A nonstick surface for the mind.
What’s interesting about the experience of meditation is that it changes. Many people go into meditation to experience a sense of peace. That can happen. And then at other times, it will seem like, for the whole 10 minutes or 20 minutes, whatever you choose as your time, the mind is just busy, filled with thoughts and you think, “well, this isn’t working.” But the experience during mindfulness has little to to with the benefits that are happening in the body. A group of meditators were involved in research, back in the 70s, where they had them sit with one of those compression bands around their chest and their arms going through a drape. On the other side of the drape they had an I.V. in their arm and researchers were taking blood and they were tracking their blood pressure and their pulse. When they hooked them all up they said, “okay, now close your eyes, and meditate.” The subjects experience was “What? How can I meditate with all of this going on?” And people complained that they had a shallow meditation because of all of the pockings and proddings. But in fact, the measurements showed them being deeply, peacefully quiet.
That their body went twice as deep as sleep. And stayed there for the whole meditation period. So you don’t always know subjectively if it’s working or not.
Which is why what we tell people is you don’t meditate for an experience. You don’t meditate until you’re peaceful. You don’t meditate until your mind quiets, you meditate for the time you planned.
You set aside the time; When I learned Transcendental Meditation. It was 20 minutes in the morning, before breakfast and 20 minutes in the afternoon, before dinner. And you didn’t decide; “Well, I’m done. I’ve been doing it for 10 minutes. It’s not working.”
What is this? When you hear I did it for 10 minutes and it’s not working, what is that? It’s a thought. What do you do when you have a thought? You let it go and come back to your focal point. Exactly. So the idea was you meditated 20 minutes, regardless of the thoughts or feelings.
So what, I how I learned to do it was I would look at my watch and say, OK, it’s 1050 right now. I’m going to meditate for 20 minutes. That means my watch will say 1110 when I finish. So I would just close my eyes and start my mantra, and when I thought, OK, it’s probably 20 minutes, I’d peek. If it didn’t say 1110, I close my eyes and I’d keep going.
And when it did say 1110 then stop repeating my mantra and I would just relax for a couple of minutes; you just stop meditating and you just sit and relax for a couple of minutes and then return to a sense of balance and then begin your day.
We used to tell people, to start, take about a half a minute to just sit center and then begin focusing, putting your attention on your focal point. And at the end of the meditation, you just stop and sit with your eyes closed, relaxed for a minimum of two minutes.
I remember the metaphor was, imagine that you’re in your car and you put your car in reverse, and now you’re going backward. You don’t shift into forward gear and gun it. If you’re going backward, you put it into neutral. Slow to a stop. Shift it into forward and then you go forward. So in the same way with meditation, you’re sitting and you’re practicing, you’re going deeper in to mindfulness. You stop, kind of slow to neutral and then you go back out into activity, get a couple of minutes.
That’s really the art of mindfulness. Now, remember, there are two types of practice. Mindful Being where you’re actually doing a sitting practice, of just noticing thoughts and returning to your focal point, noticing thoughts and returning to your focal point, whether it’s your breath, Your hands. A mantra, or the sound of some quiet music.
And then Mindful Doing where you’re engaged in the process of doing something and all of your attention is on the doing of the dishes or the making of the bed or the vacuuming the floor or the opening and closing of the hand.
Mindfulness has become one of the most popular things in mental health because it’s the most powerful. So I encourage you to explore it. Go on YouTube and type in the word mindfulness, you probably get a thousand hits on people teaching you how to do mindfulness. There are lots of courses available online.
And yet it is really quite simple. Sit, with a focal point, and listen.
Your mind will wander, often. Don’t fret. It’s supposed to. For the rest of your life, you will have thoughts in meditation. The Art of Mindfulness is not in stopping thoughts; you can’t. The art is noticing that you are thinking and then returning the mind to the focal point, that one sense you are focused on, over and over, without judgment. Without judgment means without beating yourself up for having a thought. Thoughts are part of the process. They are the mind, throwing off stress. Notice your mind has wandered, and return to your focal point.
You are Meditating!
Tips on Mindfulness
- Chose a regular time to practice, twice a day is ideal
- Set a regular length of time and stick to it; I recommend 15 or 20 minutes
- Find a quiet place to sit; turn off the telephones
- Posture can be important; sitting upright reduces sleepiness
- Notice what the time will be when you finish “I will end at 10:40”
- Sit for 30 seconds and notice your body; then begin
- If thoughts or emotions arise, and they will; notice them and return your attention to your focal point
- Thoughts are a part of the practice but not important in and of themselves
- Thoughts during meditation have no value, they are stress being released
- Noise is no barrier to mindfulness – noticing a sound is just another thought
- Don’t resist thoughts, sounds, emotions – don’t resist anything – notice and return to your focal point
- When the time is up, continue to sit easily for a minute or two, relaxing
- Begin your next activity easily
Observe – Just notice the experience, without reaction
- Cultivate “Teflon Mind” a non-stick surface where the mind can let thoughts come and go, without sticking
- Control your attention – push nothing away, cling to nothing, just notice every thought, feeling, and action.
Describe – Put words on the experience. When a thought or feeling arises, name it. “A thought about food.” “A feeling of disquiet.”
Participate – In life – do what is needed. Practice your skills as you learn them until they become part of you.
Respond – Don’t React – Pause before acting. – Take a breath – Choose your next word or deed.
“When hungry, eat your rice; when tired close your eyes. Fools may laugh at me, but wise men will know what I mean.”
Indeed, this saying does seem comical, but its simplicity is powerful. In our day to day lives we find a way to complicate everything. The food we eat, the work we do, the way we talk, the way we walk; everything has to “mean” something. Life would be much easier if you just responded to things appropriately. If you’re hungry, eat something. If you’re tired, get some rest. If you have work to complete, do your work. Stop wondering why you’re hungry, why you’re tired, or what the best way to do your work is and take a page out of Nike’s book. Just do it. It’s possible that your life could be much simpler than you make it out to be.