Invitation and Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation

We're going to invite you to give yourself 3 minutes of your time - which can actually be quite a substantial commitment. However, if you've come across this article, chances are that you're curious enough about mindfulness meditation to give yourself that time,..and at the end of the exercise, you may feel inclined to give yourself that time again. 

The initial technique for developing mindfulness is simply to sit and follow your breath as it goes in and out. Invariably, your mind will wander from your breath in the present moment to thoughts of the past and future.

When you become aware that your mind has strayed from sitting and breathing, don’t take any forceful action.  Just note where your mind has drifted (e.g. boredom, a future or past event, an incredible daydream) and gently bring it back. Simply let your wandering mind return home to the present moment.  There’s no need to engage thoughts and emotions by trying to push them away or make them stay. Don’t get attached to them. Simply accept that a thought or emotion has emerged and let it pass. No matter how many times your mind drifts, allow your mind to return to observing your breath in the present moment.

The point of developing mindfulness goes beyond sitting and following your breath.  Eventually, you hope to apply what you have learned in your first mindfulness practice to other areas of your life.  You take your morning shower mindfully; play Angry Birds mindfully; listen in class mindfully; and study mindfully. You can consider anything you do meditation in action.  It only requires that you follow the procedure for returning to the present that you learned in breath meditation.  If you do this, you’ll find anything you do more satisfying and you'll perform more effectively and efficiently.

The only caveat is that although mindfulness is easy to understand intellectually, it is difficult to put into practice.  It requires determination, commitment, and persistence.  Our minds will always stray from where they should be, but we all have the capacity to bring them back. The basic guidelines have been provided above, the only two rules for mindful attention are (1) begin, and (2) continue. 

We will be writing additional articles on the precise aspects of meditation here. When to do it, where to do it, what it is and what it isn't. But for now, just take 3 minutes. Set a timer, take a seat, soften/close your eyes, and follow the instructions above. Feel free to contact us with questions, and check back for more.

Paying Attention to Paying Attention

The typical approach to paying attention is forced-concentration. It’s an aggressive strategy in which we use strength of will to stay on task.  When our mind strays, we fight to get it back. When our mind is on task, we struggle to keep it there.  Forced-concentration is a mind-knuckling, brain-smoking attempt to pay attention, and it’s not very successful.

An assumption of forced-concentration is that keeping in mind what you’ll get for doing something (e.g., grades, love, money, a six-figure contract and super-stardom) will help you pay attention to what you’re doing (e.g. studying, going to work, exercising, or playing pick-up basketball at the local YMCA).  The result is your attention is divided between anticipated rewards and the task or activity at hand required to acquire them. It’s a terribly inefficient and frustrating back and forth struggle between the present and the future. Fortunately, there is a better method of paying attention than forced-concentration.          

The mindful approach doesn't require that you focus on results and rewards to keep your attention on what you’re doing.  You don’t have to force your mind to pay attention.  You just allow your mind to settle on the task in the present moment.  It’s a change in an attitude toward what you’re doing.

In the mindful approach, you still set goals, but you focus all of your attention on the activities or tasks required to reach them.  All of your attention is on the present.  This doesn't mean goals and rewards are unimportant.  It means that once you establish them, you don’t have to constantly attend to them to attain them.

Devoting all of your attention to what you are doing in the present moment improves the chances that you’ll do a quality job, which increases the likelihood that you’ll achieve your goals and rewards.  So rather than throwing air balls while fantasizing about playing in the NBA finals, you may be able to hit a few clutch shots to win the intramural championship you’re playing in currently.  

The best way to develop mindfulness is through meditation, a set of prescriptions for staying in the moment that has been practiced for thousands of years. Today, more and more research is coming out showing the benefits of mindfulness meditation in a wide range of endeavors.

If you’re ready to give it a shot, see Introduction and Invitation to Mindfulness Meditation.