Updated: Feb 29, 2020
Be still and know that the Light you seek is already within you.
– O. Darden
Mindfulness meditation is a practice that helps one to become more aware and present in the moment. It helps us to become in tune with ourselves because we learn to calm the internal chatter of our minds, allowing our experiences of life to speak to us and be revealed, not as we believe them to be, but as they are. From this clarity, we are better able to respond to life’s circumstances more thoughtfully, and from a more centered and balanced place.
So, let us explore how we can begin a mindfulness based meditation practice.
Take a moment to decide why you want to begin a meditation practice. It could be to bring a sense of balance, harmony, and peace to your life, or as a way to better manage stress. Or perhaps your goal is to deepen your relationship with the Divine, cultivate compassion for self and others, or to expand your conscious awareness. No matter the reason, having an understanding of why you want to meditate can help to encourage and motivate you as you progress through your practice.
Prepare Your Environment
First, decide where you will like to meditate. It can be a small corner of a room, an outdoor location, or any place you feel comfortable and can sit undisturbed. If indoors, you can set a meditative mood by lighting a candle, or burning incense. My meditation sessions are usually in my living room with dimmed lighting and incense.
How to Sit For Meditation
Next, decide how you will sit during your meditation session. Sitting on a cushion on the floor with legs crossed is popular but not required. Sitting in a chair is acceptable also, or you may lay flat on your back. The important thing to remember is to sit in a way that allows the body to be erect, yet relaxed and comfortable. If you find that you are uncomfortable, take a moment to adjust yourself into a comfortable position. I enjoy meditating on cushions or in a chair. I allow my body to advise which seating method will be best for the session.
Scanning the Body
After you are seated, bring your awareness to your posture. Sit with you body erect and spine straight, allowing your shoulders to softly hang from your spine. While looking straight ahead, close your eyes gently and place your hands comfortably in your lap. If you are sitting in a chair, place your feet flat on the floor. After I am seated in position, I like to scan my body to see if I feel comfortable in this position by noticing if I am relaxed. Sometimes I notice tension in my shoulders, so I allow myself to relax my shoulders. When sitting cross-legged, I sometimes notice a slight discomfort in my legs, so I make adjustments until I am comfortable. The goal is to be comfortable while remaining alert.
Bring Your Attention to Your Breath
After you have gotten into a comfortable position, bring your attention to your breath. Notice how it feels as you breathe in and out. Do not try to manipulate the breath. Instead, allow the breath to flow naturally on its own. Notice how it moves through you by paying attention to the subtleties of the breath, like the feeling of it passing through your nose, or the coolness as it touches the back of your throat. Do you notice how all of this happens naturally without your conscious effort? As you notice, allow yourself to relax.
Challenges Every Meditation Practitioner Faces
There are many challenges everyone faces when beginning their meditation practice. Below are listed some of the most common challenges along with suggestions on how to work with them.
Thoughts: Our minds are full of thoughts. Whether we are busy internally making plans, or thinking about our issues, meditation helps us to become aware of this internal chatter. As you meditate, you may find that many thoughts seem to come to mind, distracting you from focusing on your breath. When you realize your attention has wandered away from the breath, acknowledge the thought and gently bring your attention back to the breath. Try not to judge yourself for loosing focus as this is a common challenge for those who practice meditation. What is important here is the moment you become aware, or mindful, that you were thinking, you simply bring your attention back to the breath.
Feeling sensations: When sensations arise in the body, allow them to become present in your awareness by noticing how they feel in the body. In Meditation for Beginners, Jack Kornfield suggests naming the sensation. For example, if you notice an itch on your body, you can say “itching, itching, itching” quietly in the back of your mind. Or if you are feeling sleepy, you can say, “sleepy, sleepy, sleepy.” In my practice, I have found that not only does this help me to be present with whatever sensation I am feeling, but sometimes it goes away after it has been acknowledged. What is important here is to become aware of the sensation, allow it to be present, and then, after it subsides or when you are ready, return your attention back to the breath.
External distractions: The same approach can be used for addressing external distractions during meditation. Instead of allowing them to interrupt and be disruptive, they can be included in your meditation session. Whether it is a sound, a cold breeze, or whatever it may be, as they occur, simply acknowledge it, or name it, and then gently return your attention back to the breath.
How to Know if You Are Meditating Correctly
The purpose of mindfulness meditation is to train yourself to become more aware, or present, in the moment. When you are sitting in meditation and notice your mind has wandered, in that moment you have become aware of yourself and your actions. By bringing your attention back to the breath, you allow yourself to again be present. With patience and practice, you will notice that you are able to sit longer without your attention wandering, the silence between thoughts becomes longer and richer, and your awareness deepens and expands.
In time, you will soon find that you are able to not only be present in your daily life, but that you are capable to respond more thoughtfully and gracefully to life no matter the circumstances.
Kornfield, Jack. (2008). Meditation for Beginners. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, Inc.