A Simple Mindfulness Meditation
• Find a quiet place where you will not be interrupted for a half hour or more (less time doesn’t have as much effect). Turn off the phones, the TV, the stereo. If you have pets, make sure they won’t distract you. I find it helpful to turn on a fan, both for the cooling effect and for the quiet noise.
• Try to meditate at roughly the same time every day, but don’t do it when you’re overtired or overstressed or have just eaten a big meal. One of the best ways to achieve lasting health and happiness is to give yourself an hour every day devoted to exercise and meditation.
• Sit in a comfortable position, upright, with your back straight. Let the weight of your head fall directly on your spinal column. Posture is important, because it helps keep you from falling asleep and helps your breathing.
• Close your eyes, and start to breathe slowly and deeply. Not so deeply that you strain yourself, just comfortable. As you breathe, you may find it helpful to focus on a word or phrase, timing it to your breathing. “In. . .Out.” You can change this to suit your mood. When I’m fighting cravings, I think “Wave. . .Rock.” The waves of desire are very powerful but the rock remains. You will find phrases that have meaning for you.
• Focus on your breathing. As other thoughts or feelings come to mind, let them pass, and return your attention to your breath. Visualize these distracting thoughts and feelings as bubbles rising to the surface of a calm pool of water. They rise and burst, the ripples spread out and disappear. The pool remains calm. Return your attention to your breathing.
• Visualize yourself as a baby in your own arms. It’s your job for the next half hour to keep this baby calm and relaxed by holding it and comforting it. That’s what we have to deliberately allow ourselves to practice: to treat ourselves with care and concern, and build a structure we can feel safe in.
• Return your attention to your breath.
• Don’t judge. Don’t worry about doing this right, just try to do it every day. Remember that the distracting thoughts and feelings are the normal noise in your brain. It takes practice and skill to get in touch with the quietness underneath. Consider judging as a bad habit that you can let go of.
• It’s a given that you will find yourself frequently distracted—sometimes nagging thoughts about chores you have to do, sometimes memories that may be pleasant or unpleasant. You may also be distracted by emotions—primarily impatience and anxiety. Your automatic self is trying to stay vigilant for danger, and you’re trying to teach it to calm down. Even the most adept meditators can still get hijacked this way. It may help to visualize, for instance, putting these thoughts into a box or on a list that you can look at later. Or simply say to yourself, “No thank you.” Don’t get upset with yourself because you do get distracted; simply return to the focus on your breath. If this was easy, you wouldn’t have to practice.
• Return your attention to your breath.
• If you get distracted, or get upset, try to cultivate the attitude of compassionate curiosity. Approach your frustration with an attitude of openness, of understanding, of friendly interest. “I wonder what could be going on here?” rather than “I can’t do this right.”
• When you are ready to stop, open your eyes. Stay seated for a few moments while you appreciate the calm state you are in.
This is not the kind of meditation that’s supposed to lead to new insights or a state of bliss. This is more like an exercise program for your brain, strengthening your ability to soothe yourself, to be calm and objective and careful, and to let go of those intrusive thoughts. I’m having trouble focusing. Did I leave the cat out? My back hurts. I must not be doing this right. Meditation isn’t for me. The point is not to stop these intrusions but to develop greater skill in letting them slide away. The intrusive thoughts and feelings are the voice of your automatic self being forced to do what it doesn’t want to: relax. It wants to quickly classify your experiences into simple categories, good or bad, dangerous or safe, without experiencing them too deeply, so it can put them away and be ready for the next crisis. Instead, you’re forcing it to practice being “in the moment.”