Mindfulness meditation is quite simple, but it’s not easy.
In the beginning of this journey of mindfulness practice, the goal is to develop the ability to concentrate attention and notice the details of what is being observed. This practice of focusing the mind is done by choosing an “object of attention” — the breath, for instance — and setting the intention to pay attention to it. A great aid to keep the focus on this object of attention is to be interested in it, investigating it with curiosity — with a so-called “beginner’s mind” — exploring the physical sensations of breathing, and discovering them anew.
Now, while one is focusing, or trying to focus on the object of attention, the mind wanders. This is common, expected, and inevitable; nothing wrong there. So, when the practitioner notices that she is lost in thoughts, she is called to congratulate herself for noticing, acknowledge what the distraction was, gently release it, and bring her attention back to the chosen object of attention. Quite simple, but not necessarily easy.
This practice sharpens our noticing skills, and develops one-pointed focused attention. It brings awareness to the non-stop internal chatter — the proliferation of distracting and mostly non-constructive thoughts — and reveals how transient and impermanent thoughts are.
Once the practitioners get a good understanding of this practice and develop the ability to retain focus for some time, they are introduced to an expanded, and more encompassing meditation. Rather than choosing beforehand one object to pay attention to, they are instructed to investigate with curiosity whatever arises and calls for attention during the meditation. This is known as choiceless awareness meditation. It is also called open awareness or open monitoring. Again, it is quite simple but not necessarily easy.
In this meditation, practitioners are initially instructed to ground themselves, noticing sensations, and becoming aware of the body in the here-now, and the body breathing. “Sit, and know you are sitting. Breathe, and know you are breathing. Breathing in, know you’re breathing in. Breathing out, know you’re breathing out.” Once they settle down and settle in — once, as we say, they bring their minds to inhabit their bodies, once mind and body are together in the present moment — they are invited to investigate with greater curiosity whatever catches their attention, such as thoughts, emotions, sounds, or body sensations. Whatever arises becomes the object to be investigated and known.
This practice can be divided in the following four phases: 1 – Settle, 2 – Open up, 3 – Explore, and 4 – Return. Here’s an explanation of each phase:
SETTLE: Rest in the awareness of your body and your body breathing. Settle down and settle in. This will be your ‘anchor,’ a safe place to return to whenever you get distracted, agitated, or lost.
OPEN UP: Once you have settled, give yourself permission to observe other experiences. Open up and remain open to whatever arises. Notice whatever becomes predominant in your field of awareness.
EXPLORE: Investigate with curiosity what is calling you, what is asking your attention. Remember that there is a difference between observing thoughts and emotions, and being lost in them. Stay as the observer (*).
RETURN: If at any moment you get confused, agitated, or lost, return with gentleness and compassion to the anchor. Reconnect with the body and the body breathing in this moment, and once you feel settled, return to your practice, opening up and exploring again.
(*) It is important to have it clear when you are observing thoughts and emotions and when you were caught, carried away, and lost in them. It is important to develop the ability to stand in the role of the observer, the one who is watching the movie that is unfolding. The following reminders may be helpful: “Observe that you are observing. Notice that you are noticing. Be mindful that you are being mindful.”
Piero Falci is an author and educator who believes that the inner work that leads to personal awakening and transformation is indispensable to create a wholesome world. He is an explorer of the mysteries of life who loves to observe, reflect, and write, and who not only strives to live a life that matters, but also hopes to inspire others to do the same. He is a promoter of peace who believes in advancing the idea that Heaven is here if we want it to be. He teaches mindfulness meditation, mindful living, and the acclaimed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program as taught at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He organizes Silent Peace Walks.
Take a look at these books at the Peaceful Ways online store
– “Peaceful Ways – The Power of Making Your Wishes Come True”
– “Pay Attention! Be Alert! Discovering Your Route to Happiness”
– “Silent Peace Walk”