‘The present is the only time that any of us have to be alive – to know anything – to perceive – to learn – to act – to change – to heal’
Often we think of meditation as happening in a beautiful, still, quiet place and that if the conditions are not right, we cannot meditate. But mindfulness is about becoming aware of what’s happening right now; in the middle of ‘the full catastrophe’ that is life.
It is wonderful that we have some beautiful places dedicated to meditation, but what we are about here is tuning into the life we are actually living, so that we can really live it and know that we are living it.
That still, quiet place can be found within each of us. One of the ways to access it is through tuning into the breath which is with us all the time. The breath can act as an anchor for us.
Working with obstacles
Usually after the first week of practicing the daily meditations, we will start noticing the obstacles to doing this. Some obstacles to the practice are:
- Sleepiness – falling asleep during the practice, or being too tired to do the practice
- Restlessness/Anxiousness – difficulty moving from doing to being, jumping up in the middle of the practice to do other things
- Doubt – reactions such as ‘is this working? Am I doing this right? What’s the point! I can’t do this!’
- Aversion – feeling of ‘I don’t like this, I don’t want…’
- Attachment/Desire – such as ‘I want the practice to be like it was before’
The Body Scan meditation provides an opportunity to practice simply bringing an interested and friendly awareness to the way things are in each moment, without having to do anything to change things. There is no goal to be achieved other than to bring awareness to bear as the instructions suggest. Trying to achieve some special state of relaxation is not a goal of this exercise.
Tips for the Body Scan
Regardless of what happens (for example, if you fall asleep, lose concentration, keep thinking of other things or focusing on the wrong body part, or not feeling anything), stick with it! These are your experiences in the moment. See if it is possible to be aware of them all, just as they are.
- If your mind is wandering a lot, simply note the thoughts (as passing events), then bring the mind back gently to the body scan.
- Let go of ideas of ‘success’, ‘failure’, or ‘doing it really well’, or ‘trying to purify the body’. This is not a competition. It is not a skill for which you will need to strive. The only discipline involved is regular and frequent practice. Just do it with an attitude of openness and curiosity, and then allow the rest to take care of itself.
- Don’t have set expectations about what the body scan will do for you. Rather imagine it as a seed you have planted. The more you poke around and interfere, the less it will be able to develop. So with the body scan, just give it the right conditions – peace and quiet, regular and frequent practice. That is all. The more you try to influence what it will do for you, the less it will do.
- Try approaching your experience in each moment with the attitude ‘OK, that’s just the way things are right now’. If you try to fight off unpleasant thoughts, feelings, or body sensations, the upsetting feelings will only distract you from doing anything else. Be aware, be non-striving, be in the moment, and accept things are as they are.
Mindfulness of the breath
- Sitting in a comfortable position, with your spine in a dignified upright position, let the shoulders drop.
- Closing your eyes if this feels comfortable.
- Bringing your awareness to the feel of the body breathing each breath, focusing your attention on the sensations of touch, contact and pressure in your body where it makes contact with the floor and whatever you are sitting on. Spending a few minutes exploring these sensations, just as in the body scan.
- Bringing your attention to your belly, feeling it rise or expand gently on the in-breath and fall or recede on the out-breath.
- Keeping the focus on your breathing, ‘being with’ each in-breath for its full duration and with each out-breath for its full duration, as if you were riding the waves of your own breathing.
- Every time that you notice that your mind has wandered off the experience of the breath, softly note what it was that took you away and then gently escort your attention back to your belly and the feeling of the breath coming in and out.
- If your mind wanders from the breath a thousand times, then your ‘job’ is simply to bring it back to the breath every time, no matter what it becomes preoccupied with. It is just as valuable to become aware that your mind has wandered and to bring it back to the breath as it is to remain aware of the breath.
Breath is life. You could think of the breath as being like a thread or a chain that links and connects all the events of your life from birth, the beginning, to death, the end. The breath is always there every moment, moving by itself like a river.
Have you ever noticed how the breath changes with our moods – short and shallow when we are tense or angry, faster when we are excited, slow and full when we are happy, and almost disappearing when we are afraid. It’s there with us all the time. It can be used as a tool, like an anchor, to bring stability to the body and mind when we deliberately choose to become aware of it. We can tune into it at any moment during everyday life.
Mostly, we are not in touch with our breathing – it’s just there, forgotten. So one of the first things we do in mindfulness-based stress reduction is to get in touch with it. We notice how the breath changes with our moods, our thoughts, our body movements. We don’t have to control the breath. Just notice it and get to know it, like a friend. All that is necessary is to observe, watch, and feel the breath with a sense of interest in a relaxed manner.
With practice, we become more aware of our breathing. We can use it to direct our awareness to different aspects of our lives. For example, to relax tense muscles, or focus on a situation that requires attention. Breath can also be used to help deal with pain, anger, relationship or the stress of daily life. During this programme, we will be exploring this in great detail.
– Karen Ryder, University of Massachusetts Medical Centre
None of us is so busy that we can’t spare a minute from time to time. Literally, one minute. Just one. When you’re waiting for the train in the morning or waiting for the bus; when you arrive at your desk or you’re waiting for your computer to boot…..Just one single minute.
There’s a really effective meditation practice you can do that lasts exactly one minute. It’s extraordinary, but this time, instead of just watching each breath, you set out to count them. You let the breath just breathe itself, in whatever way you normally breathe, and you pay particular attention to each breath – counting at the end of each in-breath and each out-breath. You just count each breath you take over the course of exactly one timed minute so that – at the end – you’ll know precisely how many breaths you take in a minute.
Begin by sitting in a chair with your feet squarely on the floor in front of you and your body arranged more or less symmetrically. Find a posture that is relaxed, upright and dignified. Then, closing your eyes, bring your attention to the breath and begin to follow each in-breath and each out-breath. Do that for a few breaths and, when you feel you have a sense of the breath moving in the body, start your one-minute timer and begin to count your breaths. Breathe in, and (mentally) count ‘one’, breathe out, and count ‘two’. Breathe in ‘three’, breathe out and count ‘four’…..and so on. Keep going for exactly one minute. Then, when I call time, remember what number you were on. The main thing is to remember how many breaths you took in that minute: 14, 18, 20 or whatever. That way, when you’ve got a minute to spare and you want to become more mindful you can set out to count your 30 or 20 or 18 breaths – whatever you found. You can do this before an important phone call or before getting out of the car on your way to an important meeting. You can do it as a preparation for a presentation or as a way of getting yourself back to centre after a disturbing encounter. You can do it pretty much anywhere, any time and for whatever reason. If you do a few of these through your day it will make things run better – whatever you’re doing.
Based on Michael Chaskalson (2011), ‘The Mindful Workplace’. Oxford
Video to go here
Our aim in this programme is to be more aware, more often. A powerful influence taking us away from being ‘fully present’ in each moment is our automatic tendency to judge our experience as being not quite right in some way. That it is not what should be happening, not good enough, or not what we expected or wanted.
These judgments can lead to sequences of thoughts about blame, what needs to be changed, or how things could or should be different. Often these thoughts will take us, quite automatically, down some fairly well-worn paths in our minds.
In this way, we may lose awareness of the moment and also the freedom to choose what, if any, actions need to be taken. We can regain our freedom if, as a first step, we simply acknowledge the reality of our situation, without immediately being hooked into automatic tendencies to judge, fix, or want things to be other than they are.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
The one who has flung herself out of my hand,
Who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
Who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know what exactly a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
Into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
How to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
Which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
By Mary Oliver (1992)
Home practice following Session 2
1. Practice the Body Scan meditation (6 out of 7 days)
2. Once a day practice mindfulness of ‘breathing’ for 10 minutes or do the 3 Step Breathing Space a couple of times a day. Being with your breath in this way each day provides an opportunity to become aware of what it feels like to be connected and present in the moment without having to do anything.
3. Complete the pleasant events diary each day.
4. Choose a new routine activity to be especially mindful of (for example, having a cup of coffee/tea, brushing your teeth, washing dishes, taking a shower, taking out the rubbish, reading to kids, shopping, eating).
Home practice record form: Session 2
Record each time you practice on the home practice form. Also, make a note of anything that comes up in the home practice so that we can cover it at the next session.
Download the practice record form here.Home Practice Record Form
Pleasant events diary – Session 2
Be aware of a pleasant event at the time it is happening. Use the following questions to focus your awareness on the details of the experience as it is happening. Write it down as soon as possible afterwards.
Download the pleasant events diary form here.Pleasant Events Calendar