Mindfulness is very much a buzzword in our society today.
People today live life at a much faster pace than every before, thanks to instant connection and instant messaging, and mobile phone technology meaning that people are somehow ‘on’ all the time.
The lines between work time and private or personal time have also become blurred. Thanks to the Internet people are able to access their emails from home and to be contacted on their mobiles at any time of the day or night.
As a result, today more than ever, there is a great need for the ancient teachings of mindfulness, taught for thousands of years in most spiritual traditions.
The funny thing about mindfulness is that it’s essentially – being present.
Seems that that shouldn’t really be that hard! But being with what is in the present moment – being with exactly what is going on, rather than being lost in thought – turns out to be not such a simple thing after all.
The organisation Mindful in May promotes mindfulness in every day life, using the month of May as a good opportunity to help people practice being mindful.
But we can easily be mindful in each and every moment of our days, whether it’s May, February or December.
Mindfulness can be divided into formal and informal practice.
Informal practice is just practicing presence in your everyday life, checking in with your physical body and sensations, checking your breathing, and noticing whenever you become lost in thought or carried away by an emotion. The next step is then to bring yourself back to presence.
In formal mindfulness practice there are four basic steps. If you would like to take the opportunity this May to be more mindful each moment, then follow these four steps and see what happens as you go through your days.
Before you practice formal mindfulness, set up a place in your home or work where you will not be disturbed:
- Find yourself a good sitting position – ideally crossed legged on the floor but it can also be on a straight-backed chair or with your knees folded under you on the floor.
- If it feels useful to you, you might want to light some incense or a scented candle each time you do your sitting meditation practice.
- Try and practice each day at the same time, in the same place.
This sets up a nice atmosphere and reminds you each time that you sit that you are getting ready for meditation.
Step 1: Mindfulness of the Body
The first step in our formal mindfulness practice is Mindfulness of the Body.
- First find your comfortable sitting position, and take some deep breaths into your diaphragm.
- Hold the breath for some time, before taking a long slow exhale.
- Take another deep breath in and another long slow exhale.
- Then relax your shoulders, and see if you can consciously let go of any tension spots in the body.
- When you feel relaxed, start the body scan meditation: take your consciousness into your feet and really feel both of your feet. Are they warm or cold? Are they tense or relaxed? Without any judgement, just feel the sensations in your feet.
- Slowly move up the body feeling into the sensations in each and every part and just noticing what’s going on. Feel into the lower legs, the upper legs, the hips, the pelvis, the core of the body, the chest.
- Then move down into the shoulders, the upper arms, the lower arms, the wrists and hands and the fingers. Then continue on up to the neck and face and whole head. Once you have scanned the whole body, feel the whole body all together as one.
Come back to your breathing and notice how you feel. What are the effects on you of the body scan meditation?
You can decide how long you want to practice your Mindfulness of the Body for. To get some benefit from the practice the recommended minimum time is about fifteen minutes.
Step 2: Mindfulness of Thoughts
- You might want to practice your body scan meditation for a few days before moving onto step two. Step two, the second part of our practice, is Mindfulness of Thoughts.
- Come back into your meditation position, and take your deep breaths like the first time.
- Find your comfortable seat.
- Tell yourself you are here to practice meditation.
- Then just take some time to tune into your thoughts.
- What thoughts are going through your mind?
- Do your best to not judge any of your thoughts.
- Don’t make any kind of commentary on your thoughts.
- Just become an observer of your thinking mind.
- Be open, and be curious, but not attached.
- See if you are able to sit and watch each thought come and go through your mind space. If you do get stuck on a thought, again don’t judge, just notice this, and let it go.
- Continue again for about fifteen minutes if you can. Notice if this is difficult or easy for you without any judgment.
Step 3: Mindfulness of Feeling States
The third meditation in the series is Mindfulness of Feelings or Emotions.
- Again come back into your meditation position, finding you comfortable seat.
- Light your incense or your candle and take your deep breaths.
- You will need them because this is usually the most difficult of the mindfulness practices for most people.
- Start your practice by bringing your attention to whatever you are feeling right now: it doesn’t matter if you are not sure what you feel, just decide to become present with your feelings.
- Notice what happens. Again don’t be judgmental of your feelings and do your best not to tell any kind of story about them. Just allow them to arise and be present, and take notice.
- Notice if it’s difficult for you or if it comes naturally. Notice if you become aware of feelings that you didn’t know you felt.
- Notice where each feeling manifests in your physical body. Pay very close attention to the physical sensations. Is there heat, coolness, lightness or heavyness? Is there expansion, or contraction?
- Again continue if possible for about fifteen minutes.
Step 4: Radical Acceptance or Open Awareness
This last practice, Radical Acceptance or Open Awareness is like a bringing together of the previous three. You might want to practice the previous three for at least a week before you come to practice this one.
For Open Awareness, come back to your sitting position, again take your deep breaths, and then slowly check in with how you are feeling.
- Start with the physical body – do a quick body scan.
- Then just see if you are able to rest in the being state, in your own conscious awareness, as the witness of your experience. Notice the thoughts that arise and pass away.
- Notice the emotions as they also come and go.
- And notice the physical sensations – comfort or discomfort, ease of disease, pain or the absence of pain.
- Are you able to be radically accepting of absolutely everything that arises for you?
- Are you able to experience all these different states and let each one come and go?
- Are you able to see the true nature of impermanence – the fact that absolutely everything in our mind body state is in a constant state of change. How are you with this realisation? Is it a relief or is it difficult?
- Are you able to accept even your attachments, or you annoyance with the practice as a part of your radical acceptance?
If you can, do one of these four formal mindfulness meditation practices each day of the month.
Spend at least fifteen minutes sitting. Try and do it at the same time each day, when you won’t be disturbed. Then see if you are able to take the same quality of presence into your every day life.
Are you able to, instead of complaining or griping about the weather, just focus on feeling the sensations of hot or cold on your skin? Or of gust of blustery wind or a slight breeze?
Are you able to just feel the cold rain without shrinking away from it?
Are you able to feel the ground beneath your feet with each step you take, instead of being lost in thoughts as you walk to work?
Are you able to use your mindfulness practice to notice your emotional reactions to people without necessarily acting on them?
If you are able to do any of these things, you are making great progress with living more mindfully! Remember to congratulate yourself. And if you notice you can’t yet do any of these things, then that noticing is also progress!
With mindfulness practice, you can’t lose! Each time you catch yourself, each time you are the witness and not the one lost in your thoughts or experience, then your practice is working.
Enjoy your Mindful in May, and make sure to stop and smell the roses! Life is too short not to enjoy their scent as well as their beauty!
Michelle is a writer, musician, meditation and yoga teacher based in Melbourne. She teaches mindfulness courses and leads yoga retreats. She runs her own business called Inner Alchemy and is available as a coach and mentor.