Mindfulness Meditation is actually quite simple. Mostly what it needs is just practice. The practice of mediation. A meditation practice. Sounds like a Gertrude Stein poem.
Its really useful to make up your mind to have a daily practice at the same time of day every day for a set time. Even better is to have a meditation room, or corner, or chair, and to meditate daily in the same location. That way every time you notice the chair it will beckon you, and more important you will develop a kind of meditation “energy” there, just like the feeling you get when you enter a sacred space like an old growth forest or a catherdral.
Deciding to pay attention to your breath sensations is a kind of Mindfulness. Deciding to be consciously aware of anything is mindfulness, but its best to start with the in and out breath.
First take a moment and be aware of your whole body in this moment in time and space. Feel the sensations on your skin: where you are in contact with your clothing, with the chair you are in, even the air on the exposed parts, like your face and hands. Take a moment in feel the pit of your stomach. Is it tight or relaxed? What does your chest feel like? Right in the center where we feel emotion, is it full or empty? heavy or light? Like a stone or like a cloud? Take note of your jaw. Tense or loose? This should all be about 5 minutes.
Next locate your breath sensations. Pay attention to where you feel your breath coming in and going out. Probably you feel it in your nose, throat, chest and stomach. The stomach expands and collapses on the in and out. The chest rises and falls. The air passes in through the nostrils and out through the nostrils and across the mustache area.
Be alert to the quality of the breath sensations. See if you can notice how the air is warm in your nose and across your mustache on the out breath, but cool on the out breath. Notice if your breath is relaxed or tense, hurried or slow, smooth or rough. Probably it will gradually become more relaxed, slow, and smooth, and over time you may very, very gently guide it in that direction.
Notice, that over time, and with practice, you become more and more absorbed in the breath, and that you feel nourished by it. This is very valuable, as we often nourish ourselves by things that are not productive, like the negative words of other people, for example. We exhaust ourselves with our constant mental chatter. What a relief not having to think is.
Stillness, calm, silence, equanimity.
Tension. As we concentrate we may have the habit of tensing up. This is not necessary or helpful. Be alert for this, and if you notice it happening, spread the breath energy out from its natural locations to unnatural ones. What I mean is, have a sense of your whole body in space while paying attention to the breath, rather than focusing just on the lungs and nostrils.
You can even be creative and pay attention to the sensations in you navel or solar plexus or chest or back of the neck while maintaining awareness of the breath.
Sleepiness. Our brain tends to associate relaxation with sleep. So if you notice your mental field lacking focus, or that you are getting drowsy, “sharpen” your awareness– pay closer attention to the qualities of the breath and locating them exactly. Pay attention to the first second of the in breath and follow it closely to the end, then reestablish contact with the first moment of the out breath and follow it to the end and keep on going.
Creativity. In fact, it is very useful to be creative in your meditation practice. Meaning, as you progress you don’t have to do the same thing ever time. Some days you may be strict in following the breath sensation exactly where they naturally occur. Other days it will feel as if your whole body is breathing in and out. That is actually quite great. You want to become really immersed in the breath.
Distractions. Distractions are natural and bound to occur. This moment you become aware that you are lost in a distraction, simply return to the breath. Neither hold on to nor push away the distraction, just move slowly and gently, without judgment, with kindheartedness, to the breath. Over and over and over again. Each time. Just get back on the bike.
What are distractions? Once you decide to sit and pay attention to a single thing your mind will wander. It will be distracted by thoughts, memories, ideas, feelings, sensation, sounds, smells, tastes, urges. You are on the breath and suddenly you realize you are listening to the leaf blower. Maybe you hate leaf blowers, so you start to feel tense in your shoulders and think, “gosh, i hate those things.” Maybe you feel angry at the noise and air pollution from them. Maybe you had an argument with your deceased parent once about them and you feel sad, and your back aches. Maybe your knees hurt. These are all distractions. In the beginning, as soon as you notice you have lost the desired object of your awareness, the breath, just return to it, softly and gently.
If you feel the distraction exerting a power over you, you can very gently note or name the distraction. This has a kind of magical property–by acknowledging the distraction it weakens a bit and allows us to return. It weakens its hold because we have brought it out into the open space of the conscious mind.
For example: you heard the leaf blower and was tense and angry and had a thought about it, you could note: “hearing, thinking, tight, angry, ” Or you have burning ache your knees, you would note: “burning” “aching”. You had a visual day dream/memory that left you with a sad feeling, “seeing, sadness.” Maybe with that one you notice a sinking sensation in the chest, you could note that. “Sinking” And then return to the breath. Don’t get lost in the noting process, just use it as a tool if you need to, to loosen the hold of distractions and bring things out into the open.
With physical sensations, try to softly note their quality, just as we notice the qualities of the breath. If its pain, what kind? Burning, aching, sharp, dull.
Notice the aversion you may feel to the physical discomfort, and notice how aversion has both a nervous system aspect and an emotive one.
Over time you will learn how to work with the distractions themselves. You hear birds, its pleasant, you know that it is pleasant, you can absorb yourself in that pleasantry, while noticing the sensations of attraction to pleasant absorption with awareness. Use the awareness of your breath sensations as the ground for this alert experience.
You hear a leaf blower, it is unpleasant, pay attention to the aversion you feel, the tension it provokes, the mental chatter or stories it produces. You are softly, gently, kindly, alert to your tension and anger, to your stories and thoughts, and over time they soften and weaken and become less important, kind of like the doppler effect. Thinking, thinking, thinking, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, …….
gradually silence. What a relief to not have to think.
There are no taboos, per se. Meaning, if, while meditating you are lost in an awful daydream, there is no need to hate your self for it, to beat yourself up. Its just thinking, a process, not a fixed thing. Obviously you need to have a moral code and not be unaware of that. If you have a problem, do go to a therapist, or exam yourself. But every sinner has a future, and every saint has a past.
So, note the process, “thinking”, and note any sensations and feelings associated with the thinking process, whether joy or hatred, anger or love, nausea or elation, disgust or admiration. By so doing the thing, the daydream, what’s underneath the daydream, your angers and fears, your human issues, get weakened, the attachments don’t hold so well. You were wronged. You did wrong. The gunk underneath begins to soften, especially as you are nourished over and over again by the absorption in the breath energy.
The starting point is turning on the lamp of awareness, making the decision to begin seeing things as they are. That is one of the processes of Vippassana practice, from Theravada Buddhism, of which Mindfulness is one practice.
May all beings find True Happiness.
With gratitude to my teachers:
Much of what is useful in this essay comes from my studies with a monk name Thanissarro Bhikku who lives in the Metta Monastery in Escondido, California.
He is in the tradition of the Thai Forest Monastics. They have a website.
I have also learned alot from my study with Joseph Goldstein of the Insight Meditation Centers. They also have websites.
Other stuff comes from Stephen Levine, who wrote “Who Dies?” I don’t know who his teachers were.
This is not copyrighted. No permission is needed to reprint. Thank you.
Ayurveda, Acupuncture, and Chinese Medicine in San Diego