Beginners Guide to Mindfulness Meditation: Learning How to Pay Attention Moment by Moment
Mindfulness meditation is very different from the other many kinds of meditations. There are meditations that use chanting, imagery, progressive relaxation, affirmations and numerous other approaches that are designed to alter what is present. Mindfulness meditation is the only approach that is designed to enable our experience of the present moment to be unaltered. For some of us that is good news and for some of us it is not so good. If your present moment experience is not working for you then a little practice and patience can turn that around for you. The irony with mindfulness is that by paying attention to both pleasant and unpleasant experiences we can gradually transform the unpleasant ones. So let’s get started.
The first step to practicing mindfulness meditation is to find a quiet place where you can sit in a comfortable position for a period of time ranging from 10 minutes to 30 minutes. Pay close attention to your posture so that you can comfortably maintain that position for the designated time. Pick a time of the day when you are not tired as mindfulness meditation is designed to increase alert attention not go to sleep. It is better to not have eaten recently nor be too hungry. By doing this the digestive system can more easily co operate with the meditation.
With mindfulness meditation we use the body as the focal point for the present moment. The way we do this is by taking turns paying attention to different parts of the body. These parts include the breath, the actual physical sensations of the body and the five senses. We also include thoughts and emotions because they too are part of the body even though we often speak about them as though they are not. As we develop our ability to connect with the body in the present moment we will notice many things. Some of these things will be pleasant, some will be unpleasant and some will be neutral. It is important to greet all of these experiences with open arms.
Now that we are ready to start let’s begin with the breath. Eyes can be open or closed in mindfulness meditation but most people find it easier to close them as that will decrease distractions. Breathing in and out of your nose notice whatever there is to notice about the breath. Also notice when your attention wanders away from the breath. Note where it wanders to….perhaps a thought, an emotion or another physical sensation and include that wandering as part of the meditation. Once you’ve taken note of the attention wandering bring it back to the breath. Do this as often as needed. The wandering is an important part of building the mindfulness muscle….much like the starting blocks for a sprinter or doing repetitions with weights if you are body building. In addition to fully experiencing the nose breathing you can also note the movement of the belly with each in and out breath. This simple mindful breathing is a profound way to transform your life. The breath is always present and I consider it to be the “hub of the wheel” of practicing mindfulness meditation.