PART 2: MINDFULNESS: How to do it?
Mindfulness practice is simply “time in” – a type of contemplative or reflective exercise. You can practice during a circumscribed period of time, as well as incorporate the practice “on-the-spot”, as you are engaged in day-to-day activities and interactions.
What to do:
Observe: Just notice the experience. Don’t push away your thoughts and feelings, don’t hold on to them. Just let them happen as they will. Focus your attention. Redirect when your mind when it wanders. Let go of distractions.
Describe: Put words on the experience. Describe events inside your body (thoughts, feelings, sensations, urges) and what is happening in the situation. Use the preface “I notice…” Notice but don’t: Judge as good/bad or right/wrong, interpret or analyze.
Mindfulness requires regular practice:
1. Take a moment to prepare – sit down and slow down.
2. Reorient your attention to the present moment – where you are, what you are doing.
3. Notice what you’re experiencing (sensations, emotions, thoughts, urges) without judgment. What are you sensing? What are you feeling? What are you thinking? What do have an urge to do?
4. Turn attention to the situation. Notice where you are, the situation you are in, the context that surrounds you. Notice the “who, what, where” of the present moment.
5. Remember to describe using non-judgmental, non-charged language; state the facts vs. your interpretation the experience.
6. Separate out your experience of reality from reality by using the preface “I notice a…sensation, feeling, thought, urge”.
Tips on Mindfulness Practice:
There is no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness meditation. However, here are some tips that may help you to establish a regular mindfulness practice in your life:
1. Try to practice on a regular schedule, i.e. a specific day and time. Tie your practice to something you do routinely each day e.g. add your practice to your morning hygiene ritual (“brush your teeth, brush your mind”).
2. Start small. If your baseline is zero (not practicing at all), start with 10 minutes three times per week. When you are able to maintain this level of practice for a few weeks or more, add another day or two, and/or add 5-10 minutes onto your practice. Twenty to thirty minutes of mindfulness practice several days, if not every day, per week is suffice to reap great benefits over time.
3. You may want to start with an easier practice, i.e. observing and describing your immediate surroundings. Do this several times before beginning to observe and describe your internal world. Eventually, combine the two.
4. Often beginning practitioner’s first attempts at meditating occur at night, in bed. Although this may help with relaxation and being able to fall asleep, the goal of mindfulness practice is increase awareness and focus. Thus, it is important that you conduct your practice when you are awake and alert.
5. Know what to expect and prepare yourself. Some people find mindfulness practice easy. However, this is not the typical experience for the beginning practitioner. As you attempt to clear your mind and focus your attention, your mind will naturally wander within minutes if not seconds. Simply say “I notice wandering” and gently redirect your mind to the present moment. In the beginning, the practice is not about sustaining awareness of the present moment, but about redirecting your mind. Similar to doing a sit-up or crunch, stomach muscles are strengthened via the movement of lifting upward, not when we are lying down or sitting straight up. With regular practice overtime, the “muscle” of attention or focused awareness is strengthened. Like a well-trained dog that obediently and swiftly follows their owner’s commands (come, sit, stay), you will be more in control of your mind and where you place your thoughts.
6. Solo or group practice: There are benefits of both types of practice, as well as combining the two. Group practices are usually guided by “an expert” and accompanied by a lecture or “dharma talk”. Practicing with a community of people can be both energizing and motivating. If you think you would like to try practicing with a group, research meditation centers and/or classes in your community and “sample” a few to see which one suits you best. With regard to a combination, you might try short practices on your own during the week and attending a group practice at a meditation center on the weekend. Many community colleges and recreation centers offer meditation classes. Attending a “Mindfulness 101” class is a great way to learn more about “the what’s and how’s” of meditation practice.
7. Independent or guided practice: I suggest starting your meditation practice with the help of a guide. There are many forms this can take, you can attend a meditation center or class, purchase a meditation CD/DVD set, or download one of several meditation computer applications available. The application I recommend is Head Space. The first 10 sessions in the “Foundational Series” of Head Space are free to try, no need to even enter your credit card information! If you like the practices offered, you can then purchase a membership which allows access to additional foundational practices (two more series of 10 meditation practice each), as well as practices focused on a variety of topics (health, relationships, performance, etc.)