Happiness and meditation are a powerful combination. But sometimes it’s hard to find simple basic how-to’s, isn’t it?
The whole mindfulness thing can seem a little … confusing, at best.
One of the reasons for this is because mindful awareness isn’t something you do, it’s something you learn to be.
It’s really a skill-set full of actions that look like nothing is happening.
Everything’s happening on the inside.
If you’re a bullet-point person, here you go.
- Notice what you’re noticing.
- Don’t judge anything you think or feel.
If you want a few more specifics, keep on reading.
Mindfulness, mindful awareness, a mindful meditation practice — all the same thing. It isn’t the same thing as being in the moment.
Being in the moment is the beginning of mindful awareness. One of the great mindfulness teachers in the US is Joseph Goldstein. During a talk in Santa Fe, he used the example of dogs to help us understand mindfulness.
Dogs are very much in the moment. Your dog is right there with you, unless he spots something fun to chase. And then, he’s right there in that moment, the moment of chase. What he isn’t doing is thinking about being there with you, or aware of chasing that butterfly.
Your dog is very much present in each moment. But she isn’t aware that she’s present. She’s not thinking about it.
Humans can do something — chase a butterfly, for instance — and be self-aware at the same time. This is mindful awareness.
Mindfulness is “a nuanced state of mind” that allows you to watch yourself think or feel about something. Further, the nuanced state of mind allows you to understand that not every thought is important, or even about anything real.
It’s that part about watching yourself — the self observation — that creates the nuanced state of mind called mindful awareness.
You’re paying attention, and aware that you’re paying attention. You’re chasing a butterfly, and noticing everything that’s going on as you do it. As Goldstein put it, “Mindfulness isn’t a hobby; it’s a way of living.”
1. Slow (way) down. Usually easiest to do by sitting down in a quiet place and finding your breath. When your attention moves away from the breath (which it will do all the time, no worries), just bring it back to your breathing.
It’s a lot easier to learn to be mindful while chasing your breath, as you sit in a quiet place, rather than trying to learn how to do it while outside chasing butterflies, paying attention to as much as possible every nano-second.
That’s why you see photos of people sitting very still, no distractions, just breathing in and out.
It looks like nothing. It feels like everything.
2. Pretty soon you’ll be able to tolerate sitting quietly, bringing your mind back to breathing in and out. All the time, no matter what, you’ll be thinking about other things, feeling stuff, wondering about this or that or the other thing.
That’s normal, for everyone. The magic begins to happen when you can see the thoughts and feelings coming into your mind, and watch them move on out. Like leaves floating past you in a stream. Or clouds in the sky.
Thoughts come in, they pass on by, they’re gone. Breathe. Feel the breath. Another thought comes in, passes on by, then it’s gone.
Now you’re really cultivating some mindful awareness. You’re aware of the thought. And aware of your breathing around that thought. You begin to feel the rhythm of thinking as no more important than a leaf floating in a stream. That leaf doesn’t have the power to take you down. It’s just a leaf.
It’s just a thought.
3. You’re going to want to start calling yourself a lot of horrible names. Or you’ll begin to hear all the awful things you say to yourself, all the time, all day long.
It may freak you out. Doesn’t have to, though. Use your ability to notice, to pay attention — even to the ways you bad-mouth yourself. Especially to those, please.
Non-judgmental open awareness. Now you’re cookin’ in a mindful sort-of way.
Everywhere. Do it everywhere, anywhere. The world is a glorious toy chest, full of fun opportunities.
It’s your life, my dear.
Whenever you can remember to come home, back into your physical body. Every day is good.
If that freaks you out, do it when you want to. Morning is good. It sets up a fantastic vibe for your day, and everyone you meet.
Mid-day break is good. Afternoon is good. Work days are good. Weekends are good. 10 minutes is good. 20 minutes is really good.
30 minutes? You’re climbing Mt. Everest.
Mindfulness is a practice, a discipline, a play of remembering. Remembering who we are. What we want. How we want to feel.
Remember it as you cook dinner, or order take-out. Remember as you’re walking down the street, or driving up the interstate.
Breathe. Remember. What do you want? How do you want to feel? Right here, right now.