I’m not going to fool myself into thinking that you have all practiced mindfulness on a regular basis, although some of you may have. However, I am now going to give that instruction. Ten minutes a day will make a huge difference in the way you interact to and live in the world.
First, let’s talk about Mindful Meditation since that is our goal.
Just as you have heard and read, ten minutes at a time of exercise will strengthen muscles, ten minutes a day will strengthen your concentration. Just like physical exercise, it will take instruction to procedures, energy, and time to build up your concentration muscle. You will make your mind more powerful. Not only will mental activities improve, but because the mind rules the body, physical activities are also improved.
You will impact all other skills using your focus and concentration. It will change your life. If you have ever experienced what athletes call “being in the zone,” when time slows down, you feel no fear even in an emergency - you know what I mean.
One time on a little river in Montana, a very fast current caught me and I almost drowned. At first, I panicked and took in some water. Then I recalled my lifeguard training earlier that summer. If you “ride” the current long enough it will return to one shore or the other. The next chance I got when the current picked me up above the water level, I got a big mouth of air, relaxed, and rode the water. Time seemed to slow down while the water went first to the left and then to my right, never quite close enough for me to grab the grass on the shore. I remember my father was above on the hillside beside the stream, following my progress downstream, yelling at my mother that I would be OK.
To this day, I recall the rippling water and the view of the shores just out of my reach. I remember the current pulling me down and then lifting me back up to take another gulp of air.
Then it happened. I saw ahead that the current was actually hitting the right side of the hillside where my father was watching, it made a little wave where it hit and I knew this was my chance. I was able to grasp the long grass beside the water. My dad came running down the hillside to help me out and we were both laughing.
He had grown up in those Montana hills and he knew what to do. He could see that I was riding the current just he did when he was young.
“How did you know what to do?” he queried.
“My swimming lessons!” I laughed back. Once I gave in to the path of the water, the ride was fun!
You can live your whole life in this state: riding the path of the current until it takes you to safety. Every culture in the world wants to lengthen life and make it easier. In the West, we have the Fountain of Youth, and a variety of diets that promise that we will live to be 110 years old. In the East, they believed in a variety of alchemy, an early, unscientific form of chemistry that sought to change base metals into gold and create life-prolonging elixirs.
Mindful Meditation is the most fundamental practice that any human being can learn. It can form a solid foundation for everything from intellectual pursuits to sports and human relationships.
It is like learning math before you can become an expert in any of the other sciences. You can learn something about astronomy, like how to recognize a constellation, but you can’t really understand it unless you understand math.
Strengthening your concentration with mindful meditation allows you to learn anything better and faster, whether physical or mental.
Therefore, if someone asks you, “What meditation is good for?”
Answer them! "Everything! Relationships, Introspection, or following a Spiritual path."
Mindful Meditation systematically cultivates the strength of one’s mind.
It is a common misconception that there is only one meditative state and that is a state of trance. People believe that it is a state wherein you must sit still in a certain posture.
Mindful Meditation grows in more and more complex life activities. When you’re little, it is all you can do to walk. Then you learn to run. Before your parents know it, you’re driving down the street listening to the radio, talking to a friend in the back seat and reading the exit sign on the Freeway. Meditation begins as one of the things you do during your life and progresses until life is what happens while you are meditating.
Another dimension that mindfulness grows in is depth. At first, your breath barely slows and it is difficult to stay focused. Later, some masters can slow their breathing until it is barely perceptible. You may only experience mindfulness sitting in a quiet room on a pillow with your legs crossed. Then you learn to be mindful while you walk, while you drive or while you converse with someone else.
In the beginning, you may barely be able to get that enhanced focus but when you continue, you will find you can do it in more and more complicated activities. Imagine mindful meditation during delicate negotiations. What if you were mindful of the nuances of the opponents’ voice and hand gestures and noticed the actions and reactions of those in the audience that have a stake in the process. What an advantage!
As your ability to concentrate grows, it’s like a body builder trying to move around without using the muscles he has built. He can’t. You can internalize certain movements like walking and you won’t have to think about it anymore. So your enhanced concentration will be with you no matter what you are doing.
The image of a person sitting on a pad with their legs crossed is a formal sitting practice. It is much the same thing as a musician practicing scales. No matter how good the musician gets, you will still find them practicing scales. Just like that, the mindful meditator will still be seen sitting quietly practicing his/her meditation. The scales are not the purpose of the practice, the music is. The sitting quietly in meditation is not the purpose of mindfulness, a full life is.
When the average person washes dishes their mind wanders from the past to the future causing agitation, confusion, and even anxiety. While meditating you think about only what is relevant to washing dishes. The sounds of the water and the bubbles, the sight of the dirt and the clean dish, the touch of the metal or glass containers – Everything in the past or future is irrelevant. You merge with the activity and there is an ecstatic joy in the mind. The body relaxes into the activity.
I remember being in great pain because of an auto accident. The Doctor told me to relax into the pain. I didn’t understand it at the time so for me it didn’t work. If only he had taught me to be mindful. There is a property of mindfulness that allows you to feel the pain and no longer allows it to bother you. The peacefulness of the mind that comes because it is not wandering all over the place but focusing on what is essential and observing without judgment could have made all of the difference. This phenomenon last long after the actual meditation is over, continuing your freedom from suffering.
Here are some excellent sources for mindfulness exercises for you to try.
- Free Guided Meditations from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.
- Free Meditations to play or download from Mindful Self-Compassion by Christopher Germer, PhD.
- Downloads from the Free Mindfulness Project.
We present An Exercise in Mindfulness in our next entry. In the meantime, get in about ten minutes of mindfulness every day. You will be amazed at the difference it will make in your whole life.