“Mindfulness is … the miracle which can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can live each minute of life.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindfulness meditation is far and away one of the best tools I’ve found for living a more calm and centered life. It opens up a space where you can become the observer of your mind rather than the passenger. You can then choose how to react to your thoughts and emotions rather than being pulled in whatever direction your emotions decide that day.
It’s a simple method that packs a wallop once you start feeling its effects. All you have to do is direct your attention to your breathing and then, anytime your mind wanders, bring it back to your breath.
Easy, right? Well, not really.
In fact, when I recommend meditation, I always tell clients to start with guided or binaural meditations, they’re much easier to follow. But if you’ve been able to follow a 15-20 minute guided meditation without your mind wandering too much, it might be time to try mindfulness meditation.
Just to be clear, this isn’t going to be a how-to guide on mindfulness meditation. There are plenty of wonderful resources online and even several apps that will lead you through the whole process of starting out and slowly increasing the duration of your meditations.
Rather, I want to help you become good at mindfulness meditation.
I’ve talked to many people who’ve tried mindfulness meditation and given up before they’ve become good enough at it to feel it’s effects. But, I know how powerful it is and I know you can get good enough. When you do, it really does seem like a miracle.
Here are 4 things I wish I’d known before starting my mindfulness meditation practice.
- There’s a reason it’s called a meditation practice.
Learning mindfulness meditation is a lot like learning a musical instrument. When you first try it, you’re going to be terrible. If I picked up a violin tomorrow, the sound that came out would probably clear the room immediately. But after a few months, I could probably play a simple song pretty well.
Meditation is very similar. In order to get good at it, you have to practice every day, if you can. It doesn’t have to be hours of practice, but just like learning a new instrument or a sport, your brain needs to lay down a neural highway for how to do it. The more often you practice, the wider and better paved the neural highway. I promise that if you do it at least 5 days per week, you’ll get better at it. Be patient and kind with yourself.
Learning to meditate is also a great way to learn to be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion. Self-compassion has been shown in numerous studies to have lasting mental and physical health benefits. So, when you fidget during your practice, your mind wanders, or you realize you’re trying to control your breathing, be gentle and forgive yourself. If you had a friend that was lamenting about how hard it was to concentrate during meditation, would you say mean things to them? No, of course not. Never say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to a friend.
When I find myself fidgeting or having a hard time concentrating during meditation, I tell myself, “This is why it’s a practice. Some days are better and some are worse. Every day that I practice means I showed up and tried. That’s all that’s required.”
- You’re going to have thoughts. That’s your brain’s job.
Your brain is an amazing organ, capable of processing far more data than even than the fastest supercomputer. Asking it to not think is like asking your liver to not filter toxins. That’s its job.
Don’t get frustrated when you have thoughts. Contrary to what many people believe, mindfulness meditation is not about clearing your mind of thoughts. In fact, having thoughts is part of how you learn to be mindful.
That miraculous skill I talked about earlier where you get to observe your thoughts and emotions and choose how to react when life throws you an emotional curve ball? You develop that skill by having thoughts during meditation practice and learning how to catch yourself.
Eventually, with practice, you’ll learn to catch yourself more quickly.
And soon after that, you’ll find yourself being able to access this skill when you’re not meditating. That’s when the real magic happens and you can finally have more choice over your emotions and reactions.
There are several tricks I’ve learned for how to get back to concentrating on your breath when you find your mind has wandered. The one that works best for me is just to notice the thought, label it without judgment, thank your brain for doing it’s job, and return your attention to your breath. For example, if I find myself thinking about a presentation I have to give tomorrow, I just think, “Oh, I’m planning. Thank you brain, but that’s not what I’m doing right now,” and I return my focus to my breath.
- Don’t let your ego try to muck everything up
Ego loves to be in control. In fact, ego gets all bent out of shape when it can’t control things. Even though you are simply supposed to be observing your breathing, sometimes ego tries to control your breath. Again, much like with my brain and thinking, I just send my ego some love, let it know that’s now what I’m doing right now, and ask it to let go.
Here’s a pro tip – when you realize that it’s not you doing the breathing but rather that you are being breathed by some force independent of you or your ego (God, Spirit, Atman, universal consciousness, or whatever you want to call it) you can relax into it and let it take over. For a few minutes each day, you aren’t responsible for anything except to observe the miracle of your own body and life force.
Giving the ego a break for a while and just observing how your body takes such good care of you through breathing can be a huge respite. Ahh… I don’t have to do anything but be breathed. That’s some delicious connection with spirit, my friends.
Megan Caper is a psychic, energy healer, occupational therapist, and sci-fi nerd. She lives in San Diego, CA where despite several friends’ efforts, she doesn’t ever go surfing. Megan is dedicated to helping people from all walks of life align with their intuition, remove mental limitations, and tap into their inner wisdom and so that they can build a dream life and career that supports them both spiritually and financially. You can find her connecting the dots between science, spirituality, and self-compassion atwww.megancaper.com.
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