The more I practice Reiki, the more I have learned the benefits of taking mindful meditative breaks throughout the day. I usually end each day with a longer meditation. To me, meditation is a practice that honours my self each and every day. As I sit in silence, I’ve learned to listen to the inner workings of the universe. I’ve learned to surrender and develop faith that everything will unfold the way its supposed to — not according to my ego! Meditation helps to curb by workaholic tendencies: I can’t possibly do everything, know everything, and be everything. Everything is the way its supposed to be in this moment. All we have is this moment.
The thought of slowing down and sitting alone free of distractions, can be a frightening prospect for a lot of people. Sitting down to meditate or having a mindfulness moment, means sitting with our own self-judgement and rumination: “I’m no good, I’m getting old, I’m nothing without person x or y, she’s better than me, I can’t face what happened….” and on it goes…
Meditation invites you to come face to face with your own anxieties, as well as bodily functions. This can sometimes include aches and pains we were not previously aware of, or the feeling of our heartbeat, and pulse and so on. Sometimes we can be anxious about how the meditation will play out and have a great deal of difficulty letting go of our thoughts. A loop can play out where the mind feels anxious about what will happen (or not happen) during the meditation. As a result, the body begins to experience sensations related to anxiety, such as an increased and strengthened heartbeat. In turn, the mind recognizes this feeling as something to worry about and ramps up the intensity of anxiety. So we need to find a way to step out of the loop. Next time, when you feel your pulse, rather than trying to calm it down, or get away from it, rather than trying to focus on the breath, simply give the feeling your full attention. What exactly are you focusing on? Is it the sound or the sensation? If it’s the sensation, where do you feel it? How do you describe the sensation? The intensity? Get curious, without getting caught up in the anxiety itself. You are learning more about it and therefore changing your relationship toward it.
Enter mindfulness. Mindfulness is being aware, its noticing and paying attention to thoughts, feelings, behaviour, and everything else. Mindfulness can be practiced at any time, wherever we are, whoever we’re with, and whatever we’re doing, by showing up and being fully engaged in the here and now. That means being free of both the past and future — the what ifs and what maybes — and being free of judgement so that we can be totally present without distraction. Mindfulness is about cultivating access to core aspects of our own minds and bodies that our very sanity depends on. What’s more, mindfulness helps to develop self-control, objectivity, flexibility, mental and emotional clarity, resilience, and the ability to relate to oneself and others with kindness, acceptance and compassion.
Paying attention to our bodily sensations has already been mentioned as a means to develop mindfulness. So is awareness of your thoughts. You can be sitting in meditation focusing on the breath and have your mind wander off hundreds of times. The fact that it wanders doesn’t mean you’re unmindful. In fact, every time you notice that your mind has wondered, you are actually present, in a state of mindfulness. In that space, there’s the choice to gently bring your attention back. Mindfulness is awareness. In one moment you were mindful of a wandering mind, in the next you were mindful of the breath. Both involve awareness. A trick of letting go of intrusive thought is to acknowledge your thoughts. Validate, validate, validate yourself! Treat your thoughts as though you would a helpless, little baby. If a baby cries, you attend to it’s needs. Do the same with your thoughts. Once you have done this, then it’s easier to let them go.
Labeling your thoughts raises your awareness of the kinds of things you think about, which is especially helpful if you are trying to change your habitual thought patterns to become more empowering and optimistic. It also allows your mind to engage somewhat, which can be helpful for beginners who are not used to simply observing their thoughts for long periods of time. It gives your mind something to do while still maintaining detachment. You can simply label whether a thought is constructive or not. This is a very simple distinction that can cover virtually all thoughts. Just label them “useful” or “not useful,” and let them go. You can label your thoughts with greater depth by classifying them according to their function. Thoughts that can be labeled as “judgement,” “planning,” “fear,” and “remembering,” for example, may drift into your awareness. Label them, validate, and let them go.
How do I do it? To be mindful? To meditate? As Das Kabir says, “wherever you are that’s the entry point.” Your personal circumstances should dictate what works for you. There is no single right way to do it. If you struggle to artificially jam meditation into your day, it will become an unpleasant tug of war. In the end, marrying meditation with your life is a matter of balance. There are many people who intentionally carve out time in their day to sit and practice a formal mindfulness meditation: learning a basic one such as following the breath and practicing it on a regular, preferably daily schedule. There are also many people who dedicate their lives to an informal practice of being curious and present in the things they’re already doing. This might include coming to their senses in the shower, intentionally listening to people with curiosity, taking a mindful run, or being present to comfortable and uncomfortable feelings off and on throughout the day.
Mindfulness and meditation are mirror-like reflections of each other: mindfulness supports and enriches meditation, while meditation expands mindfulness. Where mindfulness can be applied to any situation throughout the day, meditation is usually practiced for a specific amount of time. In my experience, it helps to have both a formal practice of mindfulness meditation and informal practices that extend mindfulness into everyday life. Just remember that regular meditation builds resilience in your life, so it’s worth trying, and sticking with until you find a style that works for you. Your meditation is your space that only you can access and shape into a safe and inner sanctuary that offers you a retreat from the busy-ness of the world where you can connect with what matters to you and renew yourself on a daily basis.
Love and Light,