On Mindfulness and Meditation
This article is about skills: resting quietly, finding a sense of peace in a chaotic world, being “in the moment”, or “just noticing”. As we are all pretty good at worrying about yesterday and tomorrow, mindfulness is about gifting yourself space and solace in the present moment.
Afraid of meditation? Don’t know how to stay with your mind, right here and now? You don’t have to stare at a wall, think of nothing for half an hour, or arrange your legs in the shape of a pretzel.
With any of the practices below, if you’re doing well for 30 seconds but your mind starts wandering again, just notice that and bring it back, without chastising yourself. It’s normal for your mind to wander. When you chastise yourself, it takes you further from your goal of being calm and present, interrupting your efforts even more than when it was wandering. So ‘just notice’ and get back to your activity, even if that needs to happen over and over.
Here are ideas for mindfulness and meditation:
Go on a nature walk. Look intently at what you see as you walk past: the texture of the bark on the trees; the shapes and mottled colour of their leaves; the sun that is sparkling through them. Check out the styles and paint colours of the homes. Look at the clouds and see if you can find shapes in them. Look at them as if you have never seen clouds before. This is being present. This is practicing mindfulness.
If you want to meditate but believe you have to maintain a blank mind, know that most people can’t accomplish that. It’s normal for what is called your “monkey mind” to step in and try to distract you.
Try picking a phrase, like “Breathing in I am calm, breathing out I smile”. Say this slowly in your head as you breathe in and out. You may find that filling your mind with these words helps to block out other thoughts.
Do an activity which makes you feel spiritual or connected, like prayer, yoga, or a nature walk.
Do a puzzle.
Eat an apple, noticing the skin, the crunch, the sweetness, the juiciness. Notice each bite. Think about where it came from. Be present for the whole length of eating it.
Sculpt with regular clay or coloured modeling clay.
Play with soft, non-drying “kinetic” sand.
Pick a favourite essential oil, and smell it in its bottle or use a diffuser. Different essential oils have different properties: for example calming (like lavender) or energizing (like a citrus or a mint).
Take a stone or a leaf, and spend a few minutes observing its colour, smoothness, shape, pattern, etc.
Ring a bell or a singing bowl, and listen to its song. Notice the immediate sharp metal sound and how it gradually fades into nothingness. You can repeat this over and over.
Go on a run, noticing the ins and outs of your breath. Get in the zone and stay with it.
Look at Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ painting on a large screen or poster. Notice the thick brush strokes and the other details. Get lost in the scene. Let it hypnotize you, figuratively. Find your own favourite painting and do the same.
Aim for 3 minutes of mindfulness when you begin. Slowly build up as you go along. These practices may leave you feeling more calm and centred. Practicing mindfulness is also an investment in yourself, whereby it trains your brain to naturally be more present and more calm in your daily life, even when you are not doing an exercise.