Why would you do such a thing? Because meditation is calming. It’s sane. It comes with a host of benefits for body and mind. It will help you discern which of the thoughts and emotions that arise in your mind are worthy of your attention. It puts you back in touch with your basic goodness. The qualities you develop through mindfulness and awareness meditation make your world a better place.
When we meditate, we inject far-reaching and long-lasting benefits into our lives: We lower our stress levels, we get to know our pain, we connect better, we improve our focus, and we’re kinder to ourselves. In mindfulness meditation, we’re learning how to pay attention to the breath as it goes in and out, and notice when the mind wanders from this task. This practice of returning to the breath builds the muscles of attention and mindfulness.
The first thing to clarify: What we’re doing here is aiming for mindfulness, not some process that magically wipes your mind clear of the countless and endless thoughts that erupt and ping constantly in our brains. We’re just practicing bringing our attention to our breath, and then back to the breath when we notice our attention has wandered.
- Take a seat. Find a place to sit that feels calm and quiet to you (possibly away from distractions).
- Set a time limit. If you’re just beginning, it can help to choose a short time, such as five or 10 minutes.
- Notice your body. You can sit in a chair with your feet on the floor, you can sit loosely cross-legged, you can kneel — all are fine. Just make sure you are stable and in a position, you can stay in for a while.
- Feel your breath. Follow the sensation of your breath as it goes in and as it goes out.
- Notice when your mind has wandered. Inevitably, your attention will leave the breath and wander to other places. When you get around to noticing that your mind has wandered — in a few seconds, a minute, five minutes — simply return your attention to the breath.
- Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself or obsess over the content of the thoughts you find yourself lost in. Just come back.
- That’s it! That’s the practice. You go away, you come back, and you try to do it as kindly as possible.
- Close with kindness. When you’re ready, gently lift your gaze (if your eyes are closed, open them). Take a moment and notice any sounds in the environment. Notice how your body feels right now. Notice your thoughts and emotions.
Welcome back. What happened? How long was it before your mind wandered away from your breath? Did notice how busy your mind was even without your consciously directing it to think about anything in particular?
If you experienced these sorts of distractions (and we all do), you’ve made an important discovery: simply put, that’s the opposite of mindfulness. It’s when we live in our heads, on automatic pilot, letting our thoughts go here and there, exploring, say, the future or the past, and essentially, not being present in the moment. But that’s where most of us live most of the time — and pretty uncomfortable, if we’re being honest, right? But it doesn’t have to be that way.
We “practice” mindfulness so we can learn how to recognize when our minds are doing their normal everyday acrobatics, and maybe take a pause from that for just a little while so we can choose what we’d like to focus on. In a nutshell, meditation helps us have a much healthier relationship with ourselves (and, by extension, with others).