If mindfulness is a different state than our normal default way of being, how can we develop it?
There are many different practices that can support the development of mindfulness, including different types of sitting meditation, movement, or even simply being in nature.
The more you formally practice mindfulness, the more you will begin to experience moments of presence throughout your day.
A new mode of “being” becomes accessible to you so that even in the midst of a whirlwind of activity, you can still act from a place of greater presence and balance.
One way to develop mindfulness is the classic sitting meditation where you observe your breath.
Here is a simple guide:
1. Choose your posture.
One of the most common postures for practicing mindfulness is sitting. You can sit on a chair or a meditation cushion or bench. There is no magic about any particular seated posture, just ask yourself: what would support my being alert and at ease while I practice mindfulness?
If a seated posture is difficult for your body, then try out another posture, such as lying down or standing. Remember the posture supports the practice, it doesn’t define it.
2. Begin with intention.
In beginning any formal meditation practice period, it is often very helpful to spend a few moments connecting with your intention. Your intention to practice is associated with cultivating greater wakefulness and kindness in your life – this intention is very nourishing and a powerful form of self-care.
Reflect on your intention for a few moments, and as you hold it in awareness, notice if you can tune into any sensations in your body.
3. Shift attention to the body.
Let go of the reflection on intention and begin to tune into the felt-sense of your body. Rather than thinking about your body, you want to become attentive from the inside out. Allow yourself to notice the aliveness that is happening inside the body.
Take a few moments to offer kind attention to any places of the body that might need it. You’re not trying to change, fix, or force the body to relax, rather you’re acknowledging the body as it is in this moment. If you notice that you’re bracing against a physical sensation, then take a few moments to notice this relationship (“Oh, I’m bracing against this discomfort / pain … this is difficult …”) and invite the possibility of kindness – in this way, even if there are painful sensations in the body, you can still try softening the way that you’re relating to them.
4. Begin to feel the sensations of the breath.
Begin now to feel the sensations of the breath in the body – wherever you feel these sensations most naturally. For many people the soft, breathing belly is the most supportive place to rest the attention. This deep breathing can help us to slow down and also breathe more deeply since most of us breathe using only a fraction of our capacity throughout the day. Allow yourself to rest your attention with the aliveness of the breathing body.
5. Notice when attention wanders.
At times, your attention will be pulled away from the breathing body to another experience (a sound, a thought train, an emotion) and you will get lost inside that experience – no longer aware that it is just a passing phenomenon. Fortunately, at some point you will “wake up,” recognizing that you have lost connection with the present moment.
Identify your attitude. Take a moment to notice your attitude when you first “wake up” – is it self-critical (“I knew it … I’m bad at mindfulness and I’ll never get it”)? Is it non-judgemental (“Ha! … I was lost … it’s great to be aware again!”)? This will let you see directly how judging and self-limiting attitudes often lead to more moments of being lost and non-judging attitudes support the arising of more moments of mindfulness.
Remember that mindfulness is not about achieving a particular kind of experience, rather it’s developing a steady and balanced mind and heart that can stay present to whatever situation or experience arises. When your mind and heart are steady, balanced, and fully resourced, thoughts are not a problem, emotions are not a problem, sounds are not a problem, in fact, any sense experience is not a problem.
And sometimes it’s best to take a break. There are times in practice when our mind and heart are not able to remain steady, balanced, and open to experience. During these times of practice, the most helpful thing to do is to take a break from formal mindfulness practice.
You’ll know it’s time to take a break if you notice that you are extremely agitated, your body is very tense or you feel like a difficult emotion or thought is in the driver’s seat and your attention is along for the ride.