Let’s talk about mindfulness meditation.
Wait! Don’t stop reading now! I promise this will be easy! Even light. Light and easy, that’s my mindfulness meditation mantra for the day.
So, when you hear the words ‘mindfulness meditation,’ which response comes immediately to mind?
[ ] Mindfulness meditation? Never heard of it. Is that some woo-woo New Agey thing?
[ ] Mindfulness meditation? Of course! I spend an hour every morning and another hour every evening sitting on my satin cushion, which I bought from a yogi in Sedona. In between, I do Tai Chi.
[ ] Um . . . Well, ya’ know, it’s sorta like, well . . . OK, I’ll admit it. I keep promising myself to start doing it but haven’t gotten into the habit yet. Tomorrow.
[ ] Look, I do what I can, OK?!? Gimme a break, already. You can take your mindfulness meditation and . . .
OK, let’s get serious. First, a definition from Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Mindfulness meditation means paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experiences moment by moment.” Three points: 1. Mindfulness meditation is good for you. We have the research to prove it. Check out, as just one example, the work of Daniel Siegel (drdansiegel.com), a pioneer in mind studies. 2. As the definition would suggest, it’s a bit intimidating and not the easiest thing to get into (although, like everything, it gets easier with practice). And, 3. There are a variety of ways to accomplish the peace of mind, the “working through,” the spiritual integration that comes through mindfulness meditation, alternative ways that work better for many of us (including me).
As noted, mindfulness meditation can be challenging. So, let’s look at a different approach, one that is not strictly mindfulness meditation but is likewise immensely healing. It is a practice that I often teach my counseling clients and attendees at my workshops and retreats, one that serves well—very well, actually, as I can personally attest—as a substitute for formal mindfulness meditation. It is inspired by something I read a dozen years ago in a book titled The Mindful Way through Depression. (Did I mention this is great for depression? I sneaked that in on you, didn’t I?) Trust me on this; it is healing. And it only takes a few minutes—but it can be extended for as long as you like.
Here are the steps:
- Find a comfortable spot to sit, and allow your body to relax.
- Turn your focus to your breathing. Notice the inhaling and the exhaling.
- Gradually, slowly, extend your inhaling, five to seven seconds or so. Breathe deeply. Breathe slowly. Also, gradually and slowly increase the length of time and the forcefulness of your exhaling. The exhaling is the stress reduction part of the breathing cycle, so give more energy to that part, extending it a bit longer. (Did I mention this reduces stress? And anxiety?) Do this for as long as you wish.
- Now, identify something going on in your life that is causing you some difficulty, pain, dis-ease. A problem you are struggling with. A situation that just won’t go away. A heaviness that resists all efforts to lighten. Just bring it to consciousness and speak it to yourself.
- What you just identified is a thought. Now we want to identify a corresponding feeling, specifically a feeling word (one word is all we need here), a feeling that comes to you when you get in touch with what you identified above. Speak the feeling word to yourself. Identifying and naming your thoughts and feelings is therapeutic: “If you name it, you can tame it.”
- Having identified a thought and a feeling and spoken them to yourself, now identify where in your body you are holding that feeling. All feelings are body sensations. Are you holding it in your chest? Your stomach? Behind your eyes? In your shoulders? This can be a challenge for many of us, but try to identify where in your body you are carrying that feeling.
- Return to your focused breathing and inhale deeply, imagining the healing oxygen moving through your body to that particular spot that is holding the feeling. Breathe deeply and gently into that spot. After a while, if you like, extend that breathing throughout your body. Soothe your body with mindful, focused breathing for as long as you wish.
- Finally, create a prayer or mantra to speak to yourself as you inhale and exhale. A favorite of mine is “I breathe in peace” on the inhale and “I let go of all tension” on the exhale. Or: “I breathe in God’s love” and “I let go of all anger.” Any prayer or mantra will do. What’s important is that it fits where you are in the moment.
That’s it. The whole process can be done in just a few minutes . . . or for an hour, if you have the time and inclination. It’s not strictly speaking mindfulness meditation (which, I confess, I haven’t had much success with; too much of a “monkey mind,” I’m afraid) but it is immensely therapeutic.
Breathe in peace!