Post No.: 0420
Furrywisepuppy took a look at mindful breathing meditation, body scan meditation and loving-kindness meditation in Post No.: 0180. But there are many other meditation techniques you can also try if those don’t work for you…
Mindful walking – when walking, preferably peacefully amongst nature, pay attention to every pace you take and enjoy the journey, not just the destination (which is often merely fleeting anyway). Savour the journey rather than rushing from place to place. Consciously thinking of each step and walking slowly can look strange though so do it in a quiet place, or don’t take it too literally and basically be mentally present for the journey and don’t just think about the destination. And if you’re amongst nature then a hike can help you to (re)connect with the natural world too, and form a positive relationship with it and care for it.
Slowly examining an object or vista in great detail – when observing an object or view, savour each second of this experience by using all of your senses and be in awe of what’s amazing about it. We take too many everyday simple pleasures for granted so this slows us down and makes us pay attention to them.
Raisin meditation – take a raisin or other piece of food you like (I personally like a dried blueberry – meow) and take your time to savour it and the present moment. Concentrate on every single one of your senses one at a time, starting from you just looking at it in your hand, then smelling it, before popping it into your mouth, waiting a moment, then chewing and tasting it, listening to the texture, and feeling the mouthfeel. This might also help you to cultivate a healthier relationship with food because we can all too often just mindlessly munch through meals and snacks and wonder how we’ve consumed so many needless calories. This may or may not in turn help you to lose weight but slowing down your consumption will certainly allow your stomach more time to be able to signal to the brain when it is full. Regardless, the primary purpose here is to teach you how to maximise the awareness and pleasure of an experience.
Observing thought meditation – this teaches you to notice any thoughts as they arise as if from a third-person perspective, and to label them (e.g. as good or bad, self-focused or about others) but to avoid getting absorbed in them. It’s about taking a step back from your own thoughts (‘self-distancing’), which can help stop negative rumination.
Compassion meditation – this is similar to loving-kindness meditation but warmth and goodwill is paid to those who are suffering or have suffered; including yourself and even people you don’t like. Wish all suffering to be relieved.
Self-compassion break – think of a situation in your life that is difficult or causes you stress, see if you can actually feel the stress and emotional discomfort in your body, then notice that this is a moment of suffering and suffering is a part of life and a part of everybody’s common humanity i.e. you’re not alone, other people feel this way, and we all struggle in our lives. Now be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself and accept yourself as you are.
Forgiveness meditation – forgive yourself for a wrong done unto another person, forgive yourself for a regret done unto yourself, and forgive others for any wrongs they have done unto you. If you cannot find yourself able to yet forgive then offer yourself patience. Notice if you feel a release, a softening, a feeling of peace, and take this feeling with you for the rest of the day.
…Some people find some practices or techniques better for them than others. Some like being in the dark, surrounded by nature or with their eyes closed sitting in the lotus position. These details are entirely up to you. There are many ways to meditate. Meditation is just one way to attain mindfulness too – there are many ways to achieve it, such as being totally engrossed in a hobby. Different types of meditation bring different benefits, such as breathing meditation for acceptance and emotion regulation, loving-kindness meditation for self-compassion and compassion, and yoga, tai chi or physical exercise for general well-being – so try a variety of them.
Mindfulness is about being aware of, attending to and accepting the present. It is calming and allows us to be accepting of our emotions, thoughts and feelings in the present, and it could also help with our creativity. It’s difficult or impossible to consciously think of nothing in order to not think of or to not ruminate about the past, potential future or what’s elsewhere, so regular mindfulness meditation is about concentrating our minds on the present – the here and now. There are many techniques, including at its simplest, concentrating on one’s breath (there are apps that can guide you as a beginner).
Each session should ideally last between 5-15 minutes long. Do 1-3 sessions every day (or definitely regularly and consistently) and stick with it for at least 8 weeks before evaluating your improvement. After which the frequency of sessions can decrease to a rate that one can sustain indefinitely. But the more often you can do it, the better.
Mindfulness is the opposite of zoning out, reflecting or fantasising – it’s about being aware of, accepting and being in the present moment. At least whilst in a moment of meditation, you shouldn’t actually be thinking of what the meditation can do for you but only of meditating for its intrinsic sake, otherwise you logically won’t be mentally in the present. But if your mind wanders or starts to think about absolutely anything other than what’s happening here and now about and around you, or on the task of concentrating on your breath or scanning your body or expressing loving-kindness, or whatever the technique is, then don’t worry. This happens a lot, especially if one is just a novice in this practice. Probably everyone who attempts to practise mindfulness fails constantly at it at first because our minds naturally want to wander on thoughts about the past, future or elsewhere. It’ll still occasionally happen with the most experienced of practitioners. Hence it’s not really a sign of failure – it’s just a part of the process.
So when it does happen – recognise it and gently and without fuss or judgement bring your mind back to the here and now. It’s okay. Be kind to yourself during the process. Recognise that your thoughts and feelings are fleeting and do not define you. Observe your thoughts and train to become less reactive to your (negative) thoughts. Forgive yourself – it’s a skill to be honed over time, at your own pace.
Flow is related to being mentally in the present too, when we’re fully immersed in the present doing something we enjoy that is at the optimal level of energy expenditure and challenge (e.g. when we’re exercising, expressing ourselves musically, baking or making craftwork). Our attentional resources are limited and we’re happiest when we’re focused on, or mindful of, whatever we’re presently doing rather than distracted. In a way, it’s about taking back manual control of one’s thoughts and attention, rather than slipping into autopilot with distracting and unhelpful worries and judgements.
Intense physical exercise or any exercise or activity that requires absolute full concentration is essentially a mindfulness exercise i.e. one needs to be fully concentrating on the present task while doing it, and so while one is doing it, one isn’t and literally cannot think of anything else. When singing or playing music, one must be fully present to sing or play well too.
Be more mindful of the present so that you don’t miss the beauty and love that is around you and in the wider world – most of our fears, emotional pains and stresses are nothing to do with what’s actually happening right now but what did or didn’t happen in the past or what one thinks might or might not happen in the future. Moreover, we can only control what’s happening right now, not in the past or the future. The past cannot be changed and the future depends on what we do now.
So notice the little details and the beauty around you. Think inward and outward, big and small. Via mindfulness, we see that there is no true boundary to all that’s connected and the centre of the universe isn’t you inside your little furry head! Via mindfulness, we experience the world closer to as it is through our senses rather than through the biases, memories, assumptions and expectations inside our minds.
The point is to live life like it matters right now, rather than constantly living in regret or yearning. The urge to be somewhere else and do something else is often strong thus meditation also teaches us the resilience to resist this discomfort and other discomforts. Mindfulness gives us back control of our thoughts and feelings – it makes us aware of them first, especially noticing any bad habits, such as when we’re blowing things out of proportion or being too myopic. A mindfulness-trained mind will still feel pain but it won’t mean as much.
Be aware of and listen to your bodily sensations too, not just your mind – eat a little of something if you’re feeling hungry, sleep if you’re feeling tired.
Due to our modern lifestyles, sitting down and seemingly thinking of nothing seems like lost, unproductive or wasted time, hence it’s automatic to be thinking of a ‘to do list’, reminiscing or thinking about something else whilst one is trying to meditate. Keeping up a regular routine of meditation can be hard to stick to if you keep thinking that other activities are more important to maximise – just like putting off physical exercise can be for some. But this attitude is misplaced. Intentionally thinking of nothing except the here and now for ~10 minutes per session or day is not wasted time but necessary skill-honing time – the skill of less rumination and more flow, which will improve happiness and productivity throughout the rest of one’s day. It’s again just like regular physical exercise takes up time but increases one’s feeling of energy and productivity throughout the rest of one’s day too, thus results in a net gain once we become well-practised at it and fit and healthy. And once more like physical exercise – if we haven’t done it in a while, we can lose practice so one must keep it up!
It’s also a time and state to be, not do…
So at any moment you feel overwhelmed, stressed, impatient, frustrated, worried or self-critical – take a few minutes to meditate with mindfulness, to observe the situation, to concentrate on your breath and breathe deeply and slowly, to show some self-compassion, or whatever the meditation is. Take periodic moments every day just to pause and be mindful of where you are and how you feel.