When you practice mindfulness meditation, in some ways it’s like peeling back the layers of consciousness - more and more becomes available to understand. With practice, you notice thoughts, patterns of thinking, emotions, beliefs, stories that play on repeat… and more. All of this is beneficial** and helps you understand yourself and others with more wisdom and compassion.
Carl Jung wrote that, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” So much of what is operating under the surface of awareness informs behavior and communication - and yet most humans aren’t aware of those strong influences.
As you cultivate a mindfulness practice, you begin to see things you couldn’t quite see before you began to build your mindfulness muscle. Whether that is a pattern of thinking that you default to when you’re tired or emotional reactivity that is triggered by the unknown. Whatever it is, mindfulness teaches you to become aware of it and take care of these parts of your mind/heart that need tending.
Mindfulness doesn’t push anything away - it requires courage and action to look at your strong emotions, your unhealthy behaviors, your communication patterns and coping mechanisms. But the honesty, vulnerability and freedom that comes with mindfulness practice is unlike anything else I’ve experienced. When I get to decide how to respond to life - there is no greater experience of freedom.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” - C.G. Jung
This winter, as many of you feel so strongly the effects of busy schedules, climate extremes, expectations and endings - be brave and strong — and meditate. Here is a basic “how to meditate” set of instructions if you’re new to mindfulness. There are also many guided meditations to accompany you through bringing awareness to the different layers of your consciousness here.
How to practice mindfulness meditation formally: Basic Instructions
Find a place where you can sit, stand or lay down. This can be in your home, office, car or outside - just make sure you feel reasonably safe and comfortable. Let go of the image of the dimly lit, cushion filled, candles flickering, aromatherapy smelling designated meditation space (those are great but not necessary).
Set a timer for how long you want to meditate. If you are using your phone Enso is a free app you can use - there are likely dozens more if you do a search. Silence your other notifications. This is where you can create your intention. For example, I intend to cultivate mindfulness for 5 minutes and practice being curious, tender and without expectation for the next 5 minutes. You decide on your specific intention.
Close your eyes or at least invite your eyelids to rest at ease.
Bring attention to your breath, the sensations in your body or the sounds around you. This object of concentration will be your anchor to the now - your reminder to pay attention to the present moment experience.
Acknowledge your busy mind (we all have them) and gently (with tenderness) redirect your attention back to your breath or other anchor. You will have to do this over and over and over. It is not a failure. You’re not doing meditation incorrectly. Every time you bring yourself back to awareness is a moment you’re strengthening your mindfulness.
If you’re interrupted by something external, treat that as another experience to bring mindfulness to - acknowledge and let go (the dog barks, whisper silently “barking”, a phone buzzes “calling, calling”).
If you want to get up before your timer ends, try to stay put. Notice what is pulling you. Boredom - this is what boredom is like. My foot is asleep - ok tingling is here. Sleepy - get curious about the sensations that accompany being sleepy - neck is wobbly, drifting…
Simply acknowledge what is happening for you - thoughts, feelings, sensations, breath - with a light effort and simple noting (the silent whisper should not dominate the experience but be soft, not deliberated over - like a quiet observer in the background of your awareness). This takes practice. If your labeling is big and fraught with judging or figuring out what label is best - simply notice that without judgement and return to your anchor.
When your timer goes off, take a moment to activate some gratitude or feelings of good will toward yourself. Maybe this is in a few words - yippee I meditated today, or I am grateful I took the time to take care of myself in this way. Maybe it's a gentle hand on your heart or a smile.
** If meditation brings about serious overwhelm please seek out the help of an experienced mindfulness teacher or therapist with mindfulness training. For some who have experienced trauma, meditation can still be quite helpful but requires additional accompaniment and guidance. **
If you need help, please write to me here. If you're motivated by being in a group, check out the Tuesday night practice group here. If you'd like to begin your mindfulness journey with me, take a look at the coaching special running through the end of December here.
Until next time,