Meditation and Mindfulness

Mindfulness is not thinking, interpreting, or evaluating; it is an awareness of perception. It is a nonjudgmental quality of mind which does not anticipate the future or reflect back on the past.

Any activity can be done with mindfulness. Talking on the telephone, cleaning your home, driving, working, and exercising can all be incorporated into a mindfulness practice.

Throughout the day, inwardly pause and become very aware of where you are, what you are doing, and how you are feeling. Try to do this in a way that doesn’t cast value judgments on your experience. For example, if you notice that you are nervous, don’t think “Oh, I’m nervous, that’s so stupid of me…” Simply note, “I am feeling nervous,” without evaluating whether it is good or bad. Just notice that the nervousness is present.

When mindfulness is the primary tool of meditation, the awareness that we apply to our breath (or to whatever our object–or focus–of meditation is, such as a word, image, sound, or physical sensation to which we return our attention after becoming distracted) can be expanded to include all physical and mental processes so that we may become more mindful of our thoughts and actions.

It is commonly thought that meditators hope to stop all thoughts and rest their minds in thoughtless peace. A common complaint of beginning meditators is that they cannot meditate well, because they cannot stop thoughts from arising in their minds. Actually, having thoughts is perfectly normal, and not a problem at all. In fact, it’s what’s supposed to happen! Dealing with thoughts is how mindfulness meditation works. When you notice that you are distracted by thoughts, gently bring your attention back to the object of your meditation. This is how you become able to relate differently to distractions and increase your ability to focus and concentrate.

There are many, many forms of meditation–many flavors! Typically, the best way to learn any kind of meditation is to find a local meditation teacher or sitting group in your area. Local yoga centers, gyms, senior centers and houses of worship may offer meditation instruction. You can also try asking a health care practitioner. You may have to search around until you find an instructor, group or setting that you are comfortable with.

Here are some basic instructions for mindfulness meditation by Steven Smith, a guiding teacher of the Insight Meditation Society.

Instructions for Mindfulness Meditation Practice

by Steven Smith

Begin by sitting in a chair or on a cushion on the floor, with your back straight. Relax into your sitting posture with a few deep breaths. Allow the body and mind to become utterly relaxed while remaining very alert and attentive to the present moment. Feel the areas of your body that are tense, and the areas that are relaxing. Just let the body follow its own natural law. Do not try to force or fix anything.

Let your mind be soft, and allow a spacious awareness to wash gently through your body.

Simply feel the sensations of sitting, sidestepping with your mind the tendency to image your body, to interpret, to define or think about it. Just let such thoughts and images come and go without being bothered by them, and attune to the bare sensations of sitting.

Feel your body with an awareness that arises from within your body, not from your head. Awareness of the body anchors your attention in the present moment.

Gently sweep your awareness through your body, feeling the sensations with no agenda, no goal. Allow your body to anchor awareness in the present moment by just staying mindful of these sensations.

After some time, shift your awareness to the field of sound vibrations. Awareness of sounds creates openness, spaciousness, and receptivity in the mind. Be aware of both the pure sound vibration as well as the space or silence between the sounds. As with body sensations incline your awareness away from the definition of the sound, or thoughts about the sound, and simply attune to the sound just as it is.

After some minutes of awareness of body and sounds, bring your attention to your natural breathing process. Locate the area where the breath is most clear and let awareness lightly rest there. For some it is the sensation of the rising and falling of the abdomen. For others it may be the sensations experienced at the nostrils with the inhalation and exhalation.

You can use very soft mental labels to guide and sustain attention to the breath. “Rising/falling” for the abdomen and “in/out” for the nostrils. Let the breath breathe itself without control, direction, or force. Feel each breath from within the breath, not from the head. Feel the full breath cycle from the beginning through the middle to the end.

The awareness is a combination of light, open spaciousness and receptivity, like listening, and alert, attentive presence, touching the actual texture, shape, and form of sensations.

Let go of everything else, or let it be in the background. Just let the breathing breathe itself. Rest in a sense of utter relaxation, in that mindful feeling, with the sensations of the breath.

As soon as you notice the mind wandering off, lost in thought, be aware of that with nonjudging awareness, gently connect it again to your anchor. Just feel from within the stream of sensations.

Toward the end of your sitting, not striving or anticipating, not pouncing on sensations in the present, not bending back to what was just missed or reflecting on what just happened, keep inclining to the totality of the present moment. Keep anchoring easily, deeply, restfully. Just one breath at a time.

Mindfulness of breath begins to collect and concentrate the mind so that the initial distractions of thoughts, emotions, sensations, and sounds soon become objects of awareness themselves. Insight is gained into the true nature of the body and mind.

As concentration grows, mindfulness opens to the entire “flow” of body/mind experience through all the sense doors — sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch and mental/emotive.

Seeing things as they are begins to untangle the tangles of attachment, fear, and confusion. One is able to live more from a place of joy, compassion, equanimity and wisdom.


Steven Smith is a guiding teacher of the Insight Meditation Society, the Kyaswa Retreat Center in Burma, Vipassana Hawai’i, and founder of the MettaDana health and education project in Burma. As an advisor for the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, he develops and teaches meditation programs to national environmental leaders, business executives, lawyers, and philanthropists.

 

Links

The chapter on Mindfulness (sati) from Mindfulness in Plain English. Deals with Buddhist Vipassana meditation; from Buddhasasana