Steady mindfulness requires overcoming the natural – and evolutionarily adaptive – tendency of mind to scan endlessly and think of new things.
So the basic capacity to steady the mind – called concentration, as a short-hand – is a condition for mindfulness.
Right here, if you like, you can do a little tune-up of your mindfulness and concentration skills.
You could take 10 minutes or so to just concentrate on one thing. You can pick whatever object you like, and I’ll give instructions in terms of the sensations of the breath felt around the upper lip. If those are too subtle, you could also use the sensations in the belly.
For concentration, it’s generally best to pick a single, focused object of attention – such as the sensations of the breath in one area, rather than the feeling of breathing overall – and stick with that object rather than moving from object to object.
So let’s get started:
- Sit in a relaxed yet comfortable position.
- Eyes open or closed, whatever works for you. Eyes closed often helps people focus on the breath.
- If you feel sleepy you could open your eyes or stand up.
- Try to be aware of the sensations of each breath – inhalation and exhalation – from beginning to end.
- It’s OK to have your mind wander some. Just return your attention to the breath. Be kind to yourself as you do so.
- If you like, you could count each breath, and start over when you get to 10 or if you lose track.
- Try to be with each breath as a fresh, unique breath, an individual in its own right.
- Increase your attentiveness if you feel it starting to crumble or wander.
- Keep watching your quality of intention and focus. You are watching the watching to make sure the watcher is doing a good job.
- You’ll be getting increasingly absorbed in the sensations of the breath.
Try this for as long as you like, maybe around 10 minutes.
OK, how was that for you?
What helped you stabilize attention, steady your mind?
Next, we are going to shift to a standard form of mindfulness meditation, in which you keep maybe a third of your attention on your breath (or something else) that helps stabilize and anchor your attention. With the rest of your attention, you are simply aware of whatever else streams through awareness.
Remembering the metaphor of the meadow, you are not getting caught up in the “trains” of mental contents, but simply watching them go by.
You may find it helpful to softly note some of those contents, including more global states of mind, such as “thinking,” “worry,” “itching,” “pressure,” “coughing,” “peacefulness,” “quiet,” “restlessness,” “doubt,” “self,” etc.
If your mind wanders, just bring it back to the breath. If it is wandering a lot, maybe take a minute to reestablish concentration on the breath – so it is your only focus for that minute – and then resume the standard mindfulness meditation.
You may find your mind growing very quiet or peaceful or happy. Then those states of mind are what is present in awareness, and you can be mindful of that.
It is alright to have a gentle quality of investigation, of curiosity, but this is not the time to psychoanalyze yourself – you can get caught up in investigation just like any other mental content.
It’s also alright to register insights into yourself individually or into the general nature of mind or existence. You can take a moment to digest the insight so it becomes a part of you and available for reflection later, and then return to the formal mindfulness meditation.
Again, for this practice you can take as much time as you like.
OK, let’s dive in.
[Try the practice, taking as much time as you need]
How was that for you?
Could you get a sense of spacious awareness, through which the contents of the “stream of consciousness” flowed?