Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor at University of Massachusetts Medical Centre, the developer of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, defines mindfulness as: “… paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
In another blog post, I defined being present as meaning… “fully attentive, without words, and free of judgment to everything (as sensation) that is happening in this moment.”
Fully attentive: We nurture an attitude of interest and curiosity. This is an alive engagement where the power of focused attention is used. It is not a hard concentration; rather, it is a light attentiveness that is not diverted or interrupted by thinking, analyzing, or planning.
Without words: Thinking is typified by words. In mindfulness and meditation we intentionally replace words with a wordless attention, that is, with sensation. It is normal and expected that the mind will wander, therefore there is no judgment, merely a gentle returning of the mind to its focus, without criticism.
Free of judgement: We practice as an impartial but curious observer without evaluation either positive or negative. When judgment arises, we do not judge the judgment; Instead, it is noticed as another passing phenomenon and let go. Judgment adds something to experience that is unnecessary. It colours our perception (and subsequent reactions), whereas seeing nakedly allows “what is” to be seen without prejudice.
To everything (all sensations): We can open our perceptual doors to the sights, sounds, sensations, tastes, scents, “gut feelings,” and recognitions.
In this moment: This is not engaging in fantasy, or thinking about the past or future. There is no regret and no planning. There is no memory of previous experience or hoping for something to be different. There is no wishing for a different reality. Attention is resting on what is happening this second, uncoloured by mood. We are right here, right now, with nothing else but Pure Direct Experience.
Is it changing? As attention rests for some time (try practicing for the length of 6 or 12 breaths (30 seconds to a minute) to start changing your brain). Does it stay the same or does it become more or less intense or morph into something else? The key is wondering.
A deeper inquiry might involve asking questions such as:
Where is it? Is it outside or inside? In more than one place?
How is it? Does it have a shape? A size? A colour? A scent? A taste? A texture?
iRest also asks:
What qualities does it have? Perhaps, heavy, light, cool, warm, hard, soft, comfortable, or uncomfortable.
What is it’s “energetic signature”? Perhaps, open, spacious, gripping, tense, electric, or humming.
Are there images / memories that come with this?
Are there any thoughts or beliefs that co-arise?
Lifehacker eloquently says…
“Mindfulness is both a practice and a state of mind (for lack of a better word). For example, when you practice mindfulness meditation, you’re sharpening your focus (usually by paying more attention to your breath) and training your brain to be more mindful long after you’re done meditating. When you’re exhibiting mindfulness, you’re fully engrossed in whatever’s going on around you. (There are other mindfulness exercises beyond meditating,… and there are many other types of meditation as well, so while the two are closely related, they’re not the same.)”
Focused Attention On The Breath: Part of training the brain is practicing mental “curls” just as you might with free weights. The most common mindfulness practice is breath attention.
You can attend to the sensations of;
the movement of the abdomen, the chest, clothing against the body,
the temperature of the inhalation and exhalation,
the pressure changes in the mouth or sinuses.
We expect the mind to wander, so when it does we do the “curl”, we bring it back, and repeat. It is not the going away that is problematic, but the not coming back. With repetition the mind will rest longer and longer in this moment, slowing life down, and transforming reactiveness into responsiveness. This prepares us for resting in a mindful / meditative state in the midst of life and being able to respond when life calls on us.
Counting the breath: is another way to strengthen concentration. For example, breathe in 1 then breath out 2, up to 6 or 8. Repeat. As this begins to come easily, you can increase the challenge (like the weight of the barbell) by counting to 10 or counting 1 as both an in-breath and an out-breath.
How often should I practice? Every chance you get! This is how you can make it possible to integrate into your life. Put reminders in your environment; a sticky note on your computer screen, use a mindfulness app (e.g., Time Out), put a marble or a shell in your pocket, or wrap a red string around your wrist.
In addition, practice for however long your life allows. Start with 5 minutes a day. This may seem like not enough, but 5 minutes x 6 days a week is better than one day for 30 minutes. Like the story of The Weight of a Snowflake (click here for the story) http://blog.gaiam.com/quotes/topics/weight-a-snowflake repetition or multiplication adds up and sooner than you know it has become a habit.
iRest takes mindfulness one step further by asking another question. First, notice that there is a you paying attention to an it. You (as a subject) are directing your attention, like a searchlight, to rest on something (an object), such as the breath. There is a you (the subject) and an it (an object). So far, we have been paying attention to the object of our attention. Now the question iRest asks is, “What does the subject feel like? What is your felt-sense of this observing presence. This is a question that cannot be answered by thinking, but only through directly sensing the answer.
Mindfulness means being fully engaged in your life and not letting it pass you by. It is living in the moment and awakening to Pure Direct Experience.
Philip Beck is a Certified iRest Yoga Nidra Teacher, a graduate of the Spiritual Psychotherapy program at Transformational Arts College, and a 500-hour Kripalu Yoga Teacher. He lives in Toronto and works with people who want to reconnect with themselves and their passion. Free discovery sessions are available in person, by Skype or FaceTime. You can email Philip here or book Philip here for your complementary first session.
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