Practicing meditation is the art of resting in the present moment with open awareness and in a non judgemental manner. That sounds great, doesn’t it? Yet, if sounds easier than is sounds.
This article is about where you can start?
If you have ever tried to meditate, you may have noticed the mind does not want to settle. This is natural and normal. We all have habits of mind and attention that track the present moment. The problem is when these habits to do not serve our well-being. So what can we do?
First, know that you have done nothing wrong and there is nothing wrong with you. Discovering we have a restless or scattered mind is the first step of mindfulness. If you do try sitting practice, you may discover after a few seconds or minutes, your mind has a thought and becomes flighty. Then without being aware of it, the mind rolls into a succession of thoughts, reactions and commentary. We are caught in our thoughts unconsciously. We identify with them and let them steer us away from being in the present moment.
We quickly discover that being able to focus our awareness takes a little more training than we imagined. Plus, we may discover we have the tendency towards unbalanced mental states just out of habit.
Good news, none of this is a problem. Becoming aware of the contents of our minds and working with them, is exactly what a mindfulness practice is designed to do. And like in any endeavour, it is good to search out some wise advice before you begin your meditation practise. Similar to a long hike, meditation requires you are well equipped, in good shape and have all the pertinent information you need to have a satisfying experience.
This article is a beginning step in how to start a mindfulness meditation practice.
In this article, I will describe:
- What is Mindfulness,
- What is Vipassana meditation,
- And some of obstacles you may encounter when you start a meditation practice.
What is Mindfulness, as defined by buddhist and cognitive therapy approaches?
« Mindfulness is paying attention to our experience in a way that allows us to respond rather than react. It is a quality of inner-stillness that is always available, even when our life or circumstances feel out of our control and chaotic. It is possible to be mindful/aware/pay attention to everything in our experience including anything we experience through our five sense doors, as well as our thoughts and emotions. » (1)
“Mindfulness can be considered a state, a trait, a training or a practice. We can have a moment of mindfulness (state) but also have a habitual tendency of mindfulness (trait). We can do the intentional formal practice of mindfulness using different postures and activities: seated mindfulness, mindful walking or mindful eating, for example. » (2)
What is Vipassana meditation?
« Vipassana which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It was taught in India more than 2500 years ago as a universal remedy for universal ills » (3) Vipassana meditation is an embodied mental training practice which develops mental acuity and strength to become awareness your thoughts, ideas and body with more skill and compassion. When practiced regularly, the practice trains you to meet your inner world with interest, compassion and equanimity. You will be able to slow down racing thoughts, let go of negativity, and calm your mind-body (your whole being). It combines calm abiding (shamatha), concentration (jnana and samadhi) with the practice of mindfulness (connecting the present moment).
Techniques can vary, but in general, the stages of mindfulness meditation involve breath awareness, body conscience and contemplative forms. Practicing mindfulness meditation doesn’t require props or preparation. There is no need for candles, essential oils, or mantras (unless you enjoy them). To get started, all you need is a comfortable place to sit, five minutes of free time and a curious mindset.
What Obstacles May Arise when you practice
First, we need to understand that the mind has many mental states. To train the mind to be attentive and equanimous takes time. Because of this, there are three main obstacles that may arise in your practice.
The first obstacle may be is your need to have each moment filled with something to do. Many of us have the strong mental habit of needing to complete « to do » lists or be engaged all the times in a task. Or we may always need our attention to be entertained. This first obstacle is called the « restless mind ».
The second obstacle is our anxiety and fear about ourselves and the world around us. In meditation, we call this the « comparing mind ». This mental state finds it difficult to settle and be with what is unfolding moment by moment. It is constantly « thinking » that this moment is not enough, could be better or needs to be fixed in some manner so we can be happy. Because of this mental jockeying, our minds can never settle and relax. As a result, these mental demands or compulsions create a sense of being ungrounded, irritation and dissatisfaction.
The third obstacle is the loose mind. The mind that cannot focus and rest on a chosen object for very long. This may be because of over fatigue and exhaustion. Or, this can be because someone has not been introduced to anchoring their experience in their body. There can be many reasons for this lack of mental tone. Yet, consistent, kind training can reduce it.
Noticing these mental states is monumental. Because when we notice them, we are actually meditating (using our awareness to meet what is arising and unfolding). The more we notice our focus wanders, the more we can work with it. In the process of noticing the wandering during meditation, the more we can use our awareness to intentionally return to the present moment. This will happen 50 to 100 times in your practice. There is nothing wrong with you or that happening. It is just you never where taught to recognize your awareness and to train your mind like an athlete.
If you want to learn how to work with these obstacles, click this link to my article, Top 3 Ways to Work with Mental Obstacles in Meditation Practice.
If you want to learn mindfulness meditation through guided online programs, click on this Mindfulness Meditation course link – click here.
In Metta (loving awareness), Allison Ulan B.F.A., E-RYT 500, YACEP
- Mindful Schools Manual – published 2015 www.mindfulschools.org
- Mindful Schools Manual – published 2015 www.mindschools.org
- Vipassana Mediation – S.N. Goenka tradition www.dhamma.org