How to Become a Mindfulness Practitioner in 3 Easy Steps (No More Excuses!)
Consume my heart away;
Sick with desire and
fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is...
(W. B. Yeats)
An Indian legend has it that once a year Shiva becomes a mountain called Arunachala, which means: the mountain of fire. The mountain has the unique quality to destroy the small "I" consciousness of people and put them in the realm of the infinite "God" consciousness.
This is the reason why Saint Ramana Maharishi sat at the foothill of Arunachala endlessly asking: "Who am I?"
Somewhat less determined than Ramana Maharishi (and, perhaps, infinitely less humble), I am relentless in the pursuit of self-knowledge. I've been experimenting with different types of meditation for years: Transcendental, Transmission, Heart-based, Spiral, Color, Reiki, Peace, Chakra, Sufi, Golden Light are just some examples of what I have briefly tried and abandoned. What all these meditations have in common is that they require some "doing" (concentrating, visualizing, evoking a feeling etc.) as opposed to just "being", which is what mindfulness entails.
So when I came across mindful meditation, I was 10% intrigued, 90% skeptical. The truth is, I've been purposefully avoiding all mindfulness-based practices. They seemed too hard. Uncomfortable and boring. Aimless and irritating. "It's just not for me," I thought, habitually rationalizing my lack of courage to face the silence.
We're All Afraid of Silence
What could be worse than complete silence? I'll tell you what's worse: silence interrupted only by your own trifling, egomaniacal, devastatingly inconsequential thoughts.
There is no escape from that petty chaotic rambling - no image to concentrate on, no mantra to repeat, no colors to paint, no third eyes to open. Just you in this final, presumably perfect form, and the silence. Chilling, isn't it?
As it turned out, mindfulness doesn't have to be dreadful (granted, you commit to a daily practice). What creates the experience of suffering is the habit of grasping onto the content of thoughts, because there is always a duality of either wanting or resisting inherent in grasping onto something. In other words, you are too busy judging your thoughts instead of simply being present for them.
So What Exactly is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a practice of conscious awareness. The Zen Sutra of Mindfulness says:
"When walking, the practitioner must be conscious that he is walking. When sitting, the practitioner must be conscious that he is sitting. When lying down, the practitioner must be conscious that he is lying down...No matter what position one's body is in, the practitioner must be conscious of that position. Practicing thus, the practitioner lives in direct and constant mindfulness of the body... ".
That is just one side of mindfulness. Ideally, we must also try to be conscious of every breath, thought and feeling we experience.
Right now, for example, you are reading this page. Note your body position. Are you seating comfortably or slouching over the computer? Take a notice of your breathing: is it shallow? Do you feel tension somewhere? In your eyes, perhaps? What are your thoughts? Are you reading superficially, while your attention is somewhere else? What is the temperature in the room? Are there any sounds you can identify?
Congratulations. You've just become a mindfulness practitioner.
How To Actually Practice Mindfulness & Conquer Your Emotions
Are There Any Guidelines?
1. Sitting: one should sit upright, like sitting on the Bodhi spot (place where Buddha meditated). Imagine a Bodhi tree against your spine. Think of Buddha if it helps. The main thing is: sit up straight so that the energy can flow freely.
2. Relaxing and Breathing: breathe in a long breath, being conscious of inhalation. Do it lightly, like lifting a feather. Now let out all the air in your lungs, being conscious of exhalation. Every time your mind wonders, gently re-direct your attention to the breathing.
3. Just being in the moment: whatever is happening in any given moment, this is your reality. Be aware of it. Try to disengage from any "judgment" thoughts and just allow the consciousness to flow. If a disturbing or a persistent thought arises, don't identify with it. Watch it as if from a distance, and let it go.
I got it. But is There a Simpler Way to Explain it?
Yes, there is. In Lao Tzu's words, "Muddy water, let stand becomes clear".
Scientifically Observable Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
What Are the Long-Term Effects?
According to research, when deeply relaxed, the body produces more nitric oxide - a molecule that acts as an antidote to cortisol and other potentially toxic stress hormones.
Studies on Buddhist monks in a state of deep meditation also revealed an explosive electrical activity in the pre-frontal lobe - an area responsible for mental states like happiness, hopefulness, contentment etc.
Moreover, trained meditators seem to defy neuroscience: being able to hold one's attention on a fixed object for hours or to shift attention rapidly as many as 17 times in a span of a finger-snap contradicts what Western science currently knows about the human brain.
A Guided Mindfulness Meditation
Stop Making Excuses!
The typical excuses to avoid meditating are:
- it's not for me
- it doesn't work
- I don't know how
- I tried it before, and I couldn't stop thinking
- I'm going to start on Monday
- I don't have the time
- I'm uncomfortable sitting in the lotus position
- I don't have the patience/stamina/commitment
- I'm a Christian/Jew/Muslim/Atheist
- I don't see the point.
Stop the vicious cycle! You are a spiritual being, you know that, so live what you preach. There's nowhere to go, nothing to achieve, only being in the present moment and allowing it.
It will feel unnatural at first, and you will continue wondering whether you're doing it right. That's perfectly OK. Just observe the thought as if it was something external, and let it go. Identify with the Mindful Observer in you, and your brain chemistry will start to change. This is not a hypothesis; this is science, which means that there are measurable observable facts behind it.
It's never too late to start meditating. So face the uncomfortable silence. You never know what you're going to discover in that silence.