Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mindfulness Going Mainstream

Mindfulness has made the cover of  Time magazine.  This is good news.  It means people who otherwise wouldn’t know about mindfulness will read the essay.  The essay states what mindfulness is and why we need it. 

Mindfulness is awareness of the five senses—what we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell—and awareness of our emotions and thoughts.  Along with this is an acceptance of those senses, emotions, and thoughts.  This is often the more difficult part of mindfulness because we quickly judge or label our senses, thoughts, or emotions.  Acceptance is acknowledgement of the present moment. Often, however, we’re too hurried, busy, distracted, and caught up in storylines that don’t really involve us to even notice the moment, nonetheless accept it.   Acceptance doesn’t mean we like or dislike it.  Acceptance means this is what is right now.  So seldom do we realize this.

The Time essayist also wrote a lot about how technology has distracted us and how this use of technology, in particular cell phones, has created the current interest and need for mindfulness.  Being mindful of when we use our cell phones is more than societal courtesy; it’s about being more aware of the moment.  She writes about how, for example,  two people are at a restaurant, one leaves, and the other immediately gets on his or her cell phone.   Mindfulness encourages us to just notice where we are rather than use our phone for whatever reason.  Using our phones during conversations is just as prevalent, and again, mindfulness would encourage us to temporarily turn off our phones and just be aware of the conversation—the other person and ourselves--the true present moment.  Mindfulness doesn’t mean never using your cell phone to text or look up something on the internet, but it does mean becoming more mindful of when and why you are using it.   

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Counting Your Breath Meditation

Counting your breath is a good practice to calm yourself and center yourself.  Simply count one to ten and then start over again.  Count each breath.  I do this while I meditate in the morning for ten minutes. I'm surprised how often my mind has drifted and I've lost track of counting.  As soon as I do, I simply start counting my breath again.

We often think meditation needs to be a formal activity where we sit down on a cushion and meditate, but we're not sure what "meditate" means.  I believe it means sitting still for an extended period of time, and in the process trying to get your mind to sit still.  This is difficult.  We tend to think.  Even in meditation our mind thinks. It wanders to the past, present, and future. We plan, we remember.

But when you count your breath, then your mind has a different task that requires concentration.

Sometimes instead of sitting on the cushion and doing formal meditation, I sit on the couch and meditate more informally.  I set a timer, usually for ten or thirty minutes.  Sometimes I just sit; sometimes I drink a cup of tea.  I am not leaving the couch to do something.  I am not reading or writing or looking around.  I remain still and even if I'm drinking the tea, I minimize the movement by keeping the tea on my lap.   I count my breath during this time.  

I encourage you to try this informal meditation.  As I mentioned earlier, counting your breath is a helpful way to prevent your mind from wandering because you are concentrating on counting your breath.  You notice the living room, you notice the sounds. That is being mindful of your surroundings.  But you just notice them. You don't judge them. You don't think about them.  You don't tell a story about them.  Why? Because you also know that the next thought is the next number of your breath, and if you don't pay attention to the breath and the number, then you forget and lose track. If you do lose track, no big deal; just start at one and start over again.  You might start over many times. That's OK.  It's simply an indicator that my mind is a bit distracted. Don't judge yourself. Don't judge your meditation. Don't say "good meditation" or "bad meditation."  Just say "meditation."

Give it a try.