A simple guide to mindfulness

Deciding to begin meditation is the first and most important step. The next is maintaining it.

The benefits of mindful meditation are plenty: improved memory, decreased stress, enhanced concentration, positive hormonal and metabolic body changes, and brain plasticity are just a few.

mindfulness

What Is Meditation

Now, meditation isn’t just a spiritual, esoteric or complicated practice. While it has spiritual roots, mindfulness meditation is grounded in evidence. Spirituality is not a prerequisite for beginning meditation. Wanting to improve your life is. 

The meditation I will refer to is mindful meditation.

Mindful meditation in a single word is “acceptance”. It’s about acknowledging your present experience without judgement or resistance.

Here is the scientific definition of mindfulness.

Self-regulation of attention, with an attitude of acceptance, curiosity and openness.

Mindfulness

Let’s unpack this definition.

Self-regulation of attention

Self-regulation of attention means choosing where to focus your attention in the present moment. You can use your breath as a common attention anchor during mindful meditation. Your mind will wander; this is natural and assured. When you notice your mind wandering, gently bring your attention back to the breath.

Acceptance, curiosity and openness

Your mind will resist giving your attention to a single aspect of the present moment. It likes to be in a state of perpetual thought. Although frustrating, this flurry of thought makes sense. Evolution wires us for survival and threat. For most of us, the threats are gone, but the programming remains. Mindful meditation is about changing this programming. 

Acceptance, curiosity and openness are the second keys to mindful meditation. When you become aware that your attention has drifted – or you’re swept up in uncomfortable thoughts and feelings – is when you practise acceptance, curiosity and openness. You allow the pain, the thoughts, the feelings to be there. You accept them. 

While you accept these thoughts and feelings, you mustn’t indulge them. Making space for them to be there doesn’t mean devoting space to them. Instead, you bring your attention back to the breath while letting these sensations, thoughts, and emotions do their dance. You become a third party, detached from the problem-solving process.

You create space between yourself and what is happening within your mind. With this space, you have the power to recognise that you are neither your thoughts nor feelings but the conductor who watches from above. 

Beginning Mindful Meditation

  1. Sit down.
  2. Bring the mind to the breath or whatever anchor you choose.
  3. Focus on your breath while allowing all thoughts, feelings and sensations to be there. No matter how debilitating or strong the urge to get swept up in your thoughts is, remain attuned to the breath. Don’t suppress or avoid these thoughts and feelings. Make space for them. 
  4. When the mind wanders or gets pulled into your thoughts or sensations, gently bring your attention back to the breath.

The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.

Chinese Proverb
Published in Psychology, Self Improvement
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