How many times have you heard this or other, similar phrases such as “practicing awareness,” “Being Here Now,” or “Being in the Moment?”
But what does it mean?
Mindfulness is a form of meditation. It is the practice of becoming totally aware of the moment in which you are existing; being aware of every single thing that is happening to you in that moment and, if done correctly, a few moments of mindfulness meditation can be as effective as an entire hour of traditional focused meditation, which is particularly helpful if you are pressed for time and desperately need to clear out your head.
But mindfulness is not just a “quick fix” for the stressed or an “easy way out” for those who have difficulties sitting still for traditional meditation. Mindfulness can become a way of life, with your focus “on the moment” becoming your default state and the pressing concerns of past and future demands taking a back seat to the wonder of this moment in time.
Before you Begin: When beginning mindfulness meditation it is a good idea to choose a place where you can work undisturbed. As you become more proficient in this approach to meditation you will find that you will be able to practice it anywhere at any time simply by focusing, but that can take time and practice. Also, this meditation can, once mastered, be done while one is moving, which makes it distinctly different than traditional approaches to meditation. To begin with, however, we will start in a sitting position.
- Find a quiet place in your home or office and sit yourself comfortably in a chair, back straight, feet (preferably barefoot) flat on the floor, hands placed palms down on your knees.
- Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
- With your eyes still closed begin at the soles of your feet and feel. What is under your feet? Is it a carpet? Linoleum? Wood? How does it feel on your feet? Warm? Rough? Smooth? Cool?
- Maintaining the awareness of your feet, move up to your calves and knees. Can you feel the bending of your knees? Are you wearing stockings? Can you feel them against your skin? Can you feel the fabric of your slacks? Where is it touching your skin?
- Keep your feet and knees and mind and move upwards to your thighs. Can you feel them pressing against the chair? How does the chair feel beneath your backside and thighs? Are you tensed or relaxed? Try tensing and relaxing your buttocks so that you can feel the difference.
- Move up to your lower spine. Feel where it presses against the back of your chair, does it ache? Can you feel how it supports your spinal column? Can you feel the fabric of your slacks or skirt against you?
- Move your awareness up to your shoulder blades. Feel how they touch the back of the chair, how the material of your shirt skims them.
- Now concentrate on your shoulders. Are they tensed? Try relaxing and tensing your shoulders so that you can feel the difference, feel where the fabric of your shirt touches. Try throwing your shoulders back so that as much of them as possible touches the chair. How does that feel?
- Now move down your arms to your palms. Feel the fabric of your slacks or skirt on your palms, the warmth that comes up from your legs into your fingers. Move your fingers very slightly and feel how the material feels as your fingertips shift.
- Now bring your concentration up to your neck. Straighten your neck so that it is in alignment with your spine, not bent forward under the weight of your skull. Feel the little hairs on the back of your neck move as you focus on them.
- Now bring your attention to your head. Feel the hair where it lays across your skull; your breath as it moves in and out of your nose and mouth, how your lips touch each other and where your teeth touch your lips inside of your mouth, how your eyelashes feel as they touch the skin beneath your eyes. With your eyes still shut move your eyes; feel them move in their sockets, move your tongue inside of your mouth and feel how it touches your teeth and where it lays against the bottom of your mouth. Swallow and feel the muscles move down your throat.
- Now, focus on what you are hearing around you. Do you hear the furnace? A bird? A shifting in your floorboards? Cars moving by on the street outside? The breath whooshing in and out of your lungs? The beating of your heart? Don’t focus on any one sound, but simply hear them – let them all be.
- Do the same with scent. Keeping your eyes closed; take a deep breath through your nose. What do you smell? Do you smell furniture polish or rug shampoo? Can you smell the soap you used in the shower?
- Now, take another deep breath and let ALL of the feelings you just felt happen at the same time. Don’t focus on just one this time, but be aware of each and every one all together. Let the sensory input wash over you. Hold that focus for as long as possible.
When you have mastered the ability to feel all of this sensory input at the same time for more than a few seconds without losing your focus, then you are ready to attempting the same thing but with the added input of sight.
Sight is a very powerful – and very distracting sensory input. While sensory input from the nerve endings in our skin, our taste buds, or noses, our eardrums; all of these senses get translated on their way to the brain into feelings. But what we see – what we see goes straight into our brains through the optic nerve with absolutely no interpretation until it has already been seen inside our heads. That is why sight is such a powerful tool and such a huge distraction when it comes to meditation.
But even so, sight can be used in mindfulness meditation, though it is not recommended until one has been able to successfully maintain awareness of all the other incoming sensory data for more than one full minute.
So, once you are comfortable practicing mindfulness with your eyes closed, try opening your eyes and actually seeing what is in front of you. To begin with don’t shift your focus away from what is straight ahead of you but only see what is visible without turning your head or indeed, without shifting your eyes.
See everything. Don’t dwell on any one thing. See the wall in front of you, the paint, the scratch on the surface, and the thumbprint by the light switch, the nick in the baseboard – hold it all in your field of vision, now add all your prior sensory input and see how long you can hold it. Don’t try to focus your mind on any one thing, relax your mind, and let it see everything. If you need to let your eyes relax so that they go a bit out of focus, this can actually help when you are beginning to tie it all together.
Eventually you will get to the point where you can practice this without having to run through the body parts from feet to head, but by simply taking a deep breath and letting yourself feel and see everything, and once you have mastered the ability to practice mindfulness without having to close your eyes you will find there comes a time when you can slip into this state of mind even while you are moving about.
And once that happens you may very well find your perspective on reality beginning to shift as mindfulness begins to become a way of life.