Meditation seeks to develop three key characteristics of mindfulness:
- Intention to cultivate awareness (and return to it again and again)
- Attention to what is occurring in the present moment (simply observing thoughts, feelings, sensations as they arise)
- Attitude that is non-judgmental, curious, and kind.
What is meditation?
Meditation is exploring. It’s not a fixed destination or a vacuum space free of thought. Instead, it’s a special place where every moment is gold. When we meditate, we venture into the workings of our minds: our sensations (air blowing on our skin or a harsh smell wafting into the room), our emotions (love this, hate that, crave this, loathe that), and thoughts (wouldn’t it be weird to see an elephant playing the trumpet).
Mindfulness meditation asks us to suspend judgment and unleash our natural curiosity about the workings of the mind, approaching our experience with warmth and kindness to ourselves and others.
The Basics of Mindfulness Practice
Mindfulness helps us put some space between ourselves and our reactions, breaking down our conditioned responses. For example, we form word pairs, jump from one to the other, and forget there’s a space between them. Mindfulness brings feelings to our awareness. Am I anxious, or am I feeling anxious? I am experiencing a sense of anxiety in my body. Am I?
Here’s how to tune into mindfulness throughout the day:
Set aside some time. You don’t need a meditation cushion or bench or any sort of special equipment to access your mindfulness skills, but you need to set aside some time and space.
Observe the present moment as it is. The aim of mindfulness is not to quiet the mind or achieve a state of eternal calm. The goal is simple: we’re aiming to pay attention to the present moment without judgment. Easier said than done, we know.
Let your judgments roll by. Then, when we notice judgments arise during our practice, we can make a mental note of them and let them pass.
Return to observing the present moment as it is. Our minds often get carried away in thought. That’s why mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the present moment.
Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself for whatever thoughts crop up. Instead, practice recognizing when your mind has wandered off and gently bring it back.
Say, “I am mindful.” Now say it again, but pause after “I.”
That’s the practice. It’s often been said that it’s straightforward, but it’s not necessarily easy. The work is to just keep doing it. Results will accrue.