More Simple Ways To Practice Mindfulness [Happiness and Well-Being, Part 10] by Audrey Berger, Ph.D.
“Give yourself permission to allow this moment to be exactly as it is, and allow yourself to be exactly as you are.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn
A Review Of The Basics: As we discussed last time (Happiness and Well-Being, Part 9), mindfulness meditation is a specific way of paying close attention to moment-to-moment experience, without judging or trying to alter the experience in any way. Mindfulness skills take time to develop, and when first learning mindfulness, expect your mind to wander a significant portion of the time. But, with practice your concentration will improve.
Begin a mindfulness meditation by selecting an object for focus, such as concentrating on the sensations in your nose or your abdomen as you inhale and exhale. Once you have established concentration, you can begin to widen your focus to include your sensations, thoughts and/or emotions. As you do this, you may find yourself noticing things that you might ordinarily overlook. The goal is to notice them without judging, accepting or rejecting them: just acknowledge your experiences with an attitude of curiosity, and then allow them to pass. As you practice mindfulness meditation, you may begin to recognize that all thoughts, emotions and sensations are temporary. While meditating, if you find yourself latching onto particular experiences, or thinking about the past or future, you can return to the present moment by once again focusing on your breathing.
SOME SPECIFIC APPROACHES TO PRACTICING BASIC MINDFULNESS MEDITATION
Body Scan: This approach to mindfulness practice involves simply noticing the sensations in different areas of your body. Begin at the top of your head, and slowly and methodically work your way down to your toes. Notice the sensations in each area as you scan, and just allow those sensations to pass. Do not attempt to relax or tense your muscles. If you are drawn to scratch an itch or shift position to get more comfortable, try instead to just notice it and let the sensation pass. The goal is to become more aware and accepting of your experience, not to change it.
Attending to External Stimuli: Anything you can perceive may be used as a platform for mindfulness meditation. As with other approaches to mindfulness, try to simply notice your sensations with an attitude of curiosity, and then allow them to pass. You can focus on any of external stimuli impacting your senses, or you can choose to concentrate on one specific type of sensation. Practicing mindfulness of external stimuli can help you to become less reactive to them.
Awareness of Emotions: In this type of practice, you simply notice and name your emotions, allowing them to pass without judgment. Part of the purpose of doing this is to begin to recognize that emotions – even painful emotions – come and go, and don’t last forever. When choosing mental events as the object of meditation, resist the temptation to analyze your thoughts and feelings. By building your capacity to notice and experience thoughts and feelings as they come and go, you can diminish your reactivity and enhance your ability to tolerate difficult experiences and painful emotions.
Cultivating The Skill Of Nonjudgmental Awareness: Sometimes people find the goal of nonjudgmental awareness to be elusive because self-judgment can be a deeply ingrained habit. If you find it difficult to suspend self-judgment during meditation, here are a few strategies that can help:
Meditating on self-judgment: Begin by focusing on your breath for a few minutes. Then shift your focus to watching your thoughts, and whenever you notice a judgmental thought, just silently say “judging,” and then return to watching your thoughts.
Loving-kindness meditation: This approach also begins by focusing on the breath, and then shifts to silently repeating a mantra such as “may I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I be free from suffering,” or “may I accept whatever comes,” and/or other similar mantras. After you get comfortable with directing a loving-kindness meditation toward yourself, you can then expand it to include others.
Using imagery: Another way to avoid latching onto judgmental thoughts during mindfulness meditation is to utilize “letting go” imagery. Begin by focusing on your breath, and then widen your focus to include your thoughts. As you begin to focus on your thoughts, instead of simply noticing them, imagine that your thoughts are bubbles in a stream and watch as they appear and disappear. (Any visual metaphor that similarly depicts the concept of impermanence can be substituted.)
The forgoing techniques are just a small sampling of some basic ways to begin to practice mindfulness meditation. Since these descriptions are necessarily very succinct, you may wish to get more detailed descriptions of these strategies by looking at one or more of the suggested readings below. In addition, if you want to more fully experience the large array of benefits that mindfulness meditation can bring, you will need to learn more about it by either taking classes, finding a mentor, and/or seeking out additional resources on the topic. You can also download guided meditations from the web (e.g. http://www.mindfulness-solution.com/DownloadMeditations.html). No matter how you choose to learn about mindfulness meditation, if you are willing to make a commitment, invest time and energy, and practice on a regular basis, mindfulness can have a powerful positive impact on your happiness and well-being.
REFERENCES AND SUGGESTED READINGS
Boyce, B. (Ed.) (2011-03-08). The mindfulness revolution: Leading psychologists, scientists, artists, and meditation teachers on the power of mindfulness in daily life. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com
Hanh, T. N. (1991). Peace is every step: The path of mindfulness in everyday life. New York, NY: Bantam Books.
Hanh, T. N. (2012-02-07). The art of mindfulness. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com.
Goleman, Daniel (2011-04-12). The brain and emotional intelligence: New insights. More Than Sound LLC. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990) Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness. New York, NY: Dell Publishing.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2012 ) Mindfulness for beginners: Reclaiming the present moment and your life. Boulder, CO.: Sounds True, Inc.
Mingyur Rinpoche, Yongey (2007). The joy of living: Unlocking the secret and science of happiness. New York, NY: Harmony Books.
Siegel, R. D. (2009) The mindfulness solution: Everyday practices for everyday problems. Guilford Publications [Kindle Edition]. Retrieved from Amazon.com.
Happiness & Well-Being, Part 1: Can You Make Yourself Happier? Happiness & Well-Being, Part 2: Developing Happiness Habits Happiness & Well-Being, Part 3: Rewire Your Brain for Happiness
Happiness & Well-Being, Part 4: Cultivating Optimism Happiness & Well-Being, Part 5: Overcoming Pessimism and Self-Criticism Happiness & Well-Being, Part 6: Developing A Growth Mindset Happiness & Well-Being, Part 7: Savoring Happiness & Well-Being, Part 8: Positive Reminiscence Happiness & Well-Being, Part 9: Mindfulness
“More Simple Ways to Practice Mindfulness Meditation” by Audrey Berger, Ph.D. was originally published on the Transition Network website.