A Simple Mindfulness Meditation

    • Find a quiet place where you will not be interrupted for a half hour or more.  Turn off the phones, the TV, the stereo.  If you have pets, make sure they won’t distract you.  I find it helpful to turn on a fan, for the cooling effect and for the quiet noise.
    • Sit in a comfortable position.  If you want to sit on the floor, it helps to have a thin pillow under your butt.  Tuck your feet under your knees, but don't strain.  Sit upright, with your back straight.  Let the weight of your head fall directly on your spinal column.  If you want to sit in a chair, try to put your feet flat on the floor, hands in your lap or at your sides.  Again, sit upright, with your back straight.  Posture is important, because it helps keep you from falling asleep.
    • Close your eyes, and start to breathe slowly and deeply.  Not so deeply that you strain yourself, just comfortable.  As you breathe, you may find it helpful to focus on a word or phrase, timing it to your breathing.  "In…Out."  You can change this to suit your mood.  When I'm fighting craving, I think "Wave…Rock."  The waves are very powerful but the rock remains.  Other times I like "I am here…I am home."  You will find phrases that are good for you.
    • Focus on your breathing.  As other thoughts or feelings come to mind, let them pass, and return your attention to your breathing.  Visualize these distracting thoughts and feelings as bubbles rising to the surface of a calm pool of water.  They rise and burst, the ripples spread out and disappear.  The pool remains calm.  Return your attention to your breathing.
    • Don't judge.  Don't try to do it right, just try to do it every day.  Remember that the distracting thoughts and feelings are the normal noise in your brain.  It takes practice and skill to get in touch with the quietness underneath.
    • When I'm preparing for meditation, and when I feel restless, I like to remember the perspective of Anh-Huong Nguyen, a disciple of Thich Nhat Hanh:  "If you have a fussy baby, do you shout at the baby?  Do you get angry at it?  Do you shake it?  No—you build a cradle for the baby."  That's what we have to deliberately practice: to treat ourselves with care and concern.  That's also what meditation does for our restless, anxious minds; it builds a structure we can feel safe in.
    • You will find yourself frequently distracted by intrusive thoughts—sometimes nagging thoughts about chores you have to do, sometimes memories that may be pleasant or unpleasant.  You may also be distracted by emotions—primarily impatience and anxiety.  Remember that these intrusive thoughts and emotions are the normal noise your brain makes because it’s so used to functioning under stress.  Even the most adept meditators can still get hijacked this way.  It may help to visualize, for instance, putting these thoughts into a box or on a list that you can look at later.  Or simply say to yourself, “No thank you.”  Don't get upset with yourself because you do get distracted; don't tell yourself you're not doing it right, simply return to the focus on your breath.  Judging yourself is another habit, one you can put aside while you're meditating.
    • If you get distracted, or get upset, try to cultivate compassionate curiosity.  Approach your frustration with an attitude of openness, of understanding, of friendly interest.  “I wonder what could be going on here?” rather than “I can’t do this right.”
    • Twenty minutes is fine to start with.  (Less time doesn’t have much effect.)  When you are ready to stop, open your eyes.  Stay seated for a few moments while you appreciate the calm state you are in.
    • If you have to use an alarm, make it something quiet, not jarring.  You can get a tape or CD with nothing on it but temple bells at regular intervals; it's much nicer than any alarm clock.  Or you can program the timer on your cell phone or PDA to alert you with your choice of sounds.
    • Try to meditate at roughly the same time every day, but don’t do it when you’re overtired or overstressed or have just eaten a big meal.  One of the best ways to achieve lasting health and happiness is to give yourself an hour every day devoted to exercise and meditation.  I very much enjoy meditation while I am cooling down from exercise.

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