Mindful Meditation made easy.

Ask most people what meditation is all about and in most cases the answer you get will be a mix of sitting still, eyes closed, breathing, making om sounds and detaching yourself from reality as you search for a higher plain. Perhaps some sort of meditations do just that, i don’t know but what i do know is that Meditating in a mindful way is nothing like that, in fact i would say it is the exact opposite (although sitting with your eyes closed is a great way to start to learn). Sounds are not normally made but i supposed they could be, sitting still can certainly be used but so can walking, reading, drawing or any other activity you might like to think off. Eyes closed can help, but not if you are walking. And the only reality you are searching for is the one you are living right now. In fact being aware of your reality is probably about as clear and simple a definition of mindful meditation as you can get.

In this blog we are going to look at the key concept (yes there is just one), of mindfulness meditation and some of the ways you can apply it through different mindfulness exercises, including sitting still, with your eyes closed.  Well we need to start somewhere, so why not there.

 

The basic concept of mindfulness

The basic concept of mindfulness is to be aware of what you are doing as you are doing it and that is pretty much it. Sounds simple I know, but as the saying goes, just because something is simple doesn’t necessarily make it easy.

One tip before we start. Your mind and your attention will wander… probably a lot… as you try these exercises.  Most people are doing well if they become aware for as little as 3 seconds at a time so go easy on yourself and don’t expect to much at first. Really experienced people can go for up to 10 seconds before metal interruptions drag them them one way or another, so if you can go for 3 seconds then you are all-ready one third of the way to being a master. The object is not to try and stop you mind wandering, it is simply to notice when it does and then return your attention to the exercise.

 

Mindful exercise 1. The breath meditation.

This is a very simple mindful meditation but it is also of key importance because it is the foundation of all mindful meditations. If you can only do one exercise on any given day and you only have a few minuets then this would be your go to meditation exercise. To give you an idea of time. I would start by doing just 5 minutes. The same goes for all these exercises. You can of course practice for as long as you like but starting at 5 minutes and working up to 10 or 15 minutes over a few weeks would be fantastic. It is much better to do a few 5 minute sessions a week than one longer session. To time your sessions you can use a stop watch or a meditation app. There are are loads of free apps you can download onto your phone. Most have simple timers that you can set to any time or staggered times you like. I like to set a gong to ring every 2.5 minutes. So 2 bells means my 5 minutes are up. The 2.5  min bell can also be a great way of reminding you what you are doing and can be a trigger to bring you back to the moment. You can also use it to signal you to move from one meditation to another, which you will see a little later. 

First, find a quiet spot and sit on a chair or on a cushion on the floor if it gets you more in the mood.

Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. 

Focus all your attention onto your breath. Feel it going in through your mouth or nose. What does it feel like? Feel it going out again. What does this feel like? Can you feel you chest rising and falling. Remember, all we are trying to do is to experience the moment; to experience what we are doing as we are doing it. You may try counting how long each part of your breath takes. Or saying to yourself, as you breath in, “As i breath in, i am aware that i am breathing in. As i breath out i am aware that i am breathing out. If you mind drifts, which it will do every few seconds, just be aware that your mind has drifted. Recognise where your mind has drifted to. For example you might say to yourself, “I recognise that my mind has drifted to the fact that i forgot to feed the dog this morning.” Do not judge yourself for your mind drifting, just notice and acknowledge it. Then bring your attention back to your breath.  Has your breath become longer, shorter or deeper. Have you noticed more sensations in your body as you breath. Play with your breath and the different ways you can sense it, paying as much attention to what you are doing as you can. 

As you can see mindful meditation is not about drifting away it is very much an activity, an activity in being aware. 

When you come to the end of your five minutes. Slowly open your eyes.

The breath is the foundation of all mindful meditations and no matter what else you re trying yo do, it is a simple act to bring your attention back to the breath after any distraction.

If you are doing 5 minutes of a breath meditation you can break it into two halves if you like. The first 2.5 minutes just focusing on how the breath feels, then when the half way bell gongs switching to timing your breaths. Play with the format as much as you like. There is no right or wrong with it, just as long as its purpose is to keep coming back to the awareness of the breath.

 

Mindful exercise 2. The body meditation.

Just as with the Breath meditation you can start the body meditation by just doing 5 minutes, or you can see how going a little longer feels. A nice way to introduce the body meditation is to sandwich it between two 2.5 minute breathing meditations. For example you might time it as follows.

  • Awareness of breath 2.5 minutes.
  • A body meditation 2.5 minutes.
  • Timing the breath 2.5 minutes.

Or if you just want to do 5 minutes then you might time it like so.

  • Awareness of breath 2.5 minutes
  • A body meditation 2.5 minutes

Either way, once you have come to the body meditation you are going to turn your attention from the breath to some other aspect of your body. You might start by examining your skeleton. To do this you might start at the head, but you could start anywhere. With your mind begin to explore what your skull looks like. Feel the bones with your mind, their shape, texture, hardness. Move your attention to the eye sockets and down and around the nose and over the chin and along the jaw line. Go around the back of your head to your neck and start to work down the vertebrae. Focus your attention across your scapula to your shoulder and down your arm. Across the wrist and out along the fingers. Spend as much time as you like at each and part of the skeleton your mind encounters. 

Carry on this way until the time runs out or you get through the whole of your body (the whole body takes quite a lot longer than the 2.5 minutes you have allotted this time around).  Again, when your mind drifts simple acknowledge that it has shifted and to where it went, then bring it back to your body or to your breath and from the breath back to the body.

As well as using the skeleton you can use the blood or the muscles or the skin, or anything else about the body you can think of. You can mentally probe your body for tension or damage or even for where feels soft and relaxed.  The purpose is to practice being aware, aware of what you are doing as you are doing it. Nothing more.

 

Mindful exercise 3. The world meditation.

Our third exercise, The World Meditation, builds on the previous two.  Start with the breathing meditation, then move onto the body meditation and then move onto the world meditation. Spend 2.5 minutes at each stage, or if you only have 5 minutes then move straight from the breathing meditation to the world meditation. 

The world meditation can be done with the eyes open or closed, or a mixture of the two. For this example i will go with an eyes closed version.

After the breathing or body meditation take your attention outside of your body into the world beyond. Because your eyes are closed you will be focusing on what you can hear and what you can feel. Explore your surrounding, what do you hear? Pick out individual sounds and examine them closely. Are they high or low? Can you tell where the sound is coming from? Can you tell what is causing it? Is it coming from inside the room, outside the room, outside the building? And what about what you can feel. Can you feel any of your clothes on your skin? If so what fabric is it and how does it feel, soft, course, warm, cold? How about the air? Is the room cold, warm or hot. Can you feel any air moving over any part of your skin? The world starts where your skin ends, explore it, reach out into it and let it reach out to you.  

 

Mindful exercise 4. The dishes meditation.

You might remember right at the start i mentioned that mindful meditation can be done anywhere, while doing anything… well it is time to get out of your chair or off your cushion and to put that claim to the test with the washing the dishes meditation. 

This has to be one of my favourite teaching tools when describing what it means to be mindful, because it cuts to the central premise of why we practice mindfulness at all. As humans we have the wonderful ability to use our big brains to view the stories from our past and future, so we can better learn from the suffering of the past and preempt and avoid any possible suffering in the future. The problem is that we have become so good at it, (I give, movies, novels, plays, music, art and poetry as examples), that we tend to spend most of our waking moments either reliving the past or anticipating the future and as a result we completely miss the most important bit between the two, the living bit. And i can think of no better way of describing this than with a chore most people find both annoying and boring. The washing of the dishes. And yes i realise most people now have a dish washer but for this exercise i suggest you throw off the shackles of technology and get your hand wet and sudsy for a few minutes. 

Start by doing 5 to 10 breaths just to get your self into the mindfulness state of mind and then start to wash some dishes. As you wash the dishes be aware only of what you are doing. What does the water feel like. Is it hot or cold? How does it feel on your skin? What do the dishes feel like in your hands. Does the food on the plate come off easy? And their harder bit? What stains are coming off, what made them? How clean are you getting the dishes?

If you find your mind drifting to something from your past then take notice that you have done so and understand that we remember the past to remember sufferings so as to best avoid them in the future, so to dwell their is to suffer. Return your attention to the dishes. If your mind wanders to what you might do after the dishes, such as watching something you want to watch on TV, then take notice of it and remember that if you are only doing the dishes to get them done so you can do something else then you are living in the future because you see it as better than the present and this means you are suffering in the now. Return to the dishes. 

Of course any chore or job will work just as well. Cutting the grass, vacuuming the floor, making the bed. It really does not matter. The objective is to step away from the past and the future and just to be, even if it is only for a few minuets. As you do this exercise you will begin to notice that it is perfectly possible to feel perfectly content as you watch the dishes. And after they are done you still get to watch the TV, you just manage to relieve some suffering from your life before doing so. Either way the dishes were done and the TV was watched but only in one way was suffering reduced.     

  

Mindful exercise 5. The walking meditation.

Walking has become a bit of a sport nowadays. Like everything else we do it tends to be done fast. The object seems to be to get the heart rate up and to get job done as quickly as possible just so we can get even more done afterwards. Just as with washing the dishes, if the purpose of the walk is to get it done just so more things can get done then we are never truly in the walk, we are always living in the future. This makes the walk a source of suffering because it is never the goal, it is only ever an obstacle to the goal. The goal being to finish the walk. The walk becomes something to be endured rather than enjoyed, to be rushed rather than to be experienced for what it is… a walk. Try walking to walk, rather than walking to get somewhere or just to tick some box, or to reach a certain number of steps or to burn a particular number of calories. Try walking just to walk. It truly is a most wonderful thing to do.

When walking to walk, you can of course take note of your breathing as a means of being present. You might count how many steps a breath takes. If you find it hard to breath and count your steps slow down. The tendency to walk to fast is a hard habit to break at first but when you do, observing the moment becomes a lot easier and you suddenly find yourself seeing, hearing and experiencing things you never realised where there. Try listening as you walk. What can you hear? Try looking, what do you see? What colour is the sky and the trees? Can you see or hear any birds or insects? How do you feel? Can you feel your feet as they take each step? Perhaps you can feel you fingers heating up or the wind in your hair. 

Of course jogging can also be done in this way, as can any exercise. Exercise does not always need to be about go go go. Sometimes it can be experiencing just what it is you are doing. At the very least you might get less injuries as you become more in tune with what your body is actually doing… and who knows you might even find some peace and contentment along the way too.     

Mindfulness is not about stopping yourself moving forward or chasing your dreams, it’s about taking more time to live now where you are so that you can see into the future more clearly rather than just racing towards it. It’s about experiencing your world now as it is, rather than just reliving the pain of what once was. Dreaming can be a lot of fun but living is a lot better and remembering can sometimes be sweet as well as painful but making new memories is a lot more fun. 

I hope you enjoy these simple mindfulness meditations. 

Take care, till next time.