Mindfulness Meditation is a gentle discipline of focusing on your breath with awareness. Focusing on the breath has been used for thousands of years to train the mind to be aware of “what is” in the present moment. It helps you to be present and to pay attention in a focused, curious, non-judgmental way. You learn that the most important time is now. You learn to let go of regrets about the past and worries about the future. You begin to understand that if you take care of the present, you take care of the future. If you take care of the present, you heal your regrets about the past. You begin to live more fully in the present.
Meditation helps you to be more mindful of what is going on in your body, in your feelings, in your mind, and in the world. As you learn to be more mindful, you become more accepting and gentle with yourself and with others. Your relationship with life changes from a wrestling match to a dance as you learn to accept the cycle of ups and downs, of suffering and joy. You learn not to look away from the joy that comes your way just because there is also suffering.
You begin to appreciate who you are without being caught in expectations of who you should be. Through awareness, you can transform habit energy from negative to positive, from anger to acceptance, from apathy, resignation and despair to action. But when anger and despair do arise, you learn to face them directly. When you touch your negative emotions deeply you gain understanding and transformation.
When you are lost in your thinking, your anxieties and worries, you don’t realize that you have a safe harbor within yourself. You don’t realize that you have an aspect that is always, strong, solid and calm. When the sky is cloudy, you know that the sun is still there. The clouds don’t destroy the sun – they just hide it from view. The sun is always shining even during the darkest days and nights.
In the same way, your habitual way of thinking and reacting has not destroyed your safe harbor –your strong, solid and calm self. You just need to clear your mind by focusing on your breath and by paying attention to what is happening in your body, your feelings and your thoughts – when you do that you will be able to find that quiet, soothing place within yourself.
When you are lost in thinking about the past or planning for the future your mind is in one place and your body is in another. Breathing mindfully is a bridge that can help bring the body and mind together. When you can do these things you will move through life with a greater sense of freedom and joy.
You will learn how to have opinions without being opinionated and how to be discerning without being judgmental. You learn that the most important person is the one you are with now, and the most important task is what has to be done now. That is not to say that your family and friends are not the most important people in your life, but you learn to focus completely on the person who is with you at the present moment, and to focus on the task at hand without becoming distracted by your thoughts of other people and other obligations.
You will also learn to forgive yourself when you fail to be present as often as you would like to be.
This wonderful way of being is accomplished through the simple practice of paying mindful attention to the breath. As your mindfulness expands, you can be present with and appreciate the simple and beautiful gifts that you posses, the sunshine, soft breezes, flowers, the smiles of children and friends, without being lost in your expectations of the future and your regrets about the past.
Mindfulness may be practiced formally in sitting and walking meditation, informally throughout the day and in various circumstances. If you are present, paying attention with full awareness and without judgment then you are practicing mindfulness.
While focusing on your breathing, let go of your worries, fears and concerns. Put a half smile on your face and maintain it throughout your meditation. If you find it difficult to smile, think of people or things that you love. Remember happy times – happy scenes. And if you cannot smile, simply remain aware of how you feel and your facial expression. You may keep your eyes open or closed. If you are sleepy try to keep your eyes open and maintain a soft gaze on the floor about three to four feet in front of you. Relax completely. Settle into your breath. Follow your in-breath – notice the rising of your belly – feel the air moving through your nose. Follow your out-breath – notice the falling of your belly and the air moving out of your nose. Experience your breath fully as it enters and leaves your body. Feel your lungs and belly expand and contract. Watch the qualities of your breath –is it short, is it long, is it shallow or full. Notice the space between your breaths. Don’t try to control anything. Don’t even try to control the fact that you are controlling. Be gentle, kind and calm. Try to breathe normally, quietly and softly. Use your awareness of your breath to be fully mindful of the present moment.
Observe quietness of body. Do not make any body adjustments, changes or movements, unless you are feeling pain. Quietness of body keeps the mind quiet. Quietness of mind keeps the body quiet. Do not try to figure anything out. Be aware of the judging mind. Do not think, “I am meditating incorrectly.”
You may find it helpful to maintain concentration by counting your breaths up to nine or ten. If you miss a count, you begin at one again. You may also focus by using simple phrases. When inhaling you can say mentally “I know I am breathing in.” And when exhaling you can say, “I know I am breathing out.” With the next in-breath, you can say, “Breathing in I calm myself.” And with the out-breath, “Breathing out I smile.” These words help to focus your attention on your breathing and your body in the present moment.
While following your breath notice your body. Notice how the cushion or the chair you’re sitting on is supporting your body – feel the pressure points. Allow yourself to relax without slouching. Are your shoulders tense – are they high up? Let your shoulders relax – let them down. Is your jaw clenched? Relax your jaw muscles. Relax your face muscles. Relax your body.
You will most likely encounter distractions as you meditate. You may feel various bodily sensations pleasant and unpleasant. Certain emotions and memories may arise; you may hear sounds, and get lost in thoughts. When this happens, simply return your attention to the breath. With experience, your awareness will be able to embrace whatever is happening without getting lost. However, in the early phases of your practice it may helpful to stay with your breath and your body. After your awareness is firmly established in the breath and the body, you may begin to expand it to include sounds, feelings, and thoughts, though each practitioner will find his own way.
When your mind wanders and you are lost in thoughts do not think, “I am not meditating correctly.” Do not think, “I am not a good meditator.” Simply return to awareness of the breath. If your judging mind appears, simply notice it, label it as judging and return to awareness of the breath. Stay soft and gentle with yourself. If you continue to return to awareness of the breath, if you remain kind to yourself, then you are a good meditator.
If feelings of sadness or anger arise don’t try to push them away but touch them fully and directly with your breath. It may be helpful to notice the nature of your thoughts and feelings and to name them with words such as: anger, sadness, judging, remembering, planning or simply thinking or feeling. Do not resist or fight these feelings, mind stories, images, fantasies, and wanderings. Focusing on the breath and always returning to it once you realize you have been carried away by your thoughts and feelings will help you to develop mindfulness. Don’t try to control your breath and never force any thoughts or feelings away. With practice you will become aware of these mind stories as they arise and as they fall away.
If a sound catches your attention listen and be fully aware of it. See all that is connected to it. As your attention to the sound fades, return your full attention back to your breath. If a sensation or pain catches your attention, go to it. Be fully aware of it. If it is pain, observe it. What kind of pain is it? What are its qualities? Then go to its center and relax it. As the sensation or pain fades return your attention to your breath.
In addition to observing and relaxing a pain, you can also use imagery to try to lessen it. You may visualize a soft-healing blue light coming from nearby trees, the earth, the stars, or other forces in the universe, or you may visualize some other healing substance being absorbed deeply into the part of your body that is painful, providing warmth, heat, and healing.
Always remember to be soft, gentle and kind with yourself. As negative feelings, memories and thoughts arise, practice acceptance and forgiveness. Breathing in, I accept myself as I am – the good and the bad. Breathing in I forgive myself. I acted out of ignorance, fear, anger, hurt, pain and confusion. Similarly, you may practice accepting and forgiving others.
To obtain the benefits of meditation, it is best to practice daily. Find a time that is comfortable for you, first thing in the morning, before going to bed or another time that is convenient to set aside for meditation on a regular basis. If you are very busy, even five minutes a day will provide benefits. If you have the time you may chose to sit 15 to 45 minutes.
Practice with others, if possible, for it will help maintain your practice.