Meditation is an incontestable tool for living your life in accordance to ancient spiritual traditions that honor the path of self-awareness developed through a mindful way of living. Throughout religions like Buddhism and Christianity you will find unmistakable signs of how meditation and prayer has been embraced for millennia already.
That being said, I’m not in the position — neither do I wish to be — to advocate for any religions, and instead my approach to a meditation practice is far more practical.
Many great meditation masters and teachers have existed throughout the history, you might have heard of OSHO and his uncontested amount of teachings about the human mind and nature, and you’ll have heard of the Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle and others who have written books, hosted events, and created video material about the the concept of present moment living. But for an absolute beginner the best way of grasping meditation is going to come through an actual practice.
It’s unlikely, but not impossible, that within the next 100 years all of Earth’s inhabitants are going to practice a form meditation, we’ve undergone incredibly — psychologically — taxing times in the last 20 decades, which has contributed a great deal of fear, ignorance, and lack of understanding on a global consciousness level.
We fear death, we fear betrayal, we’re ignorant of our basic needs as loving beings, and we mistake global monopoly for reality.
The only way out is through meditation. Meditation opens our inner-eyes so that we can look inward, and judge for ourselves whether the mental problems, psychological challenges, and physical experiences that we experience come from a place of authenticity, or fear and ignorance.
I had written about ways to meditate in early 2015, but since then more than 16 months have passed, and it is time to share a more refined way to approach meditation, in particular the mindfulness meditation technique.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the process of being mindful of what is happening in the present moment. We have the innate ability to train our mind to live presently, in the here and now. Mindfulness involves being aware of where your thoughts originate from, how you react to certain things (including judgement), and your breath.
The breath is an indispensable part of mindfulness, and is used as a central point of focused attention. Without breath we cease to exist, we simply run out of oxygen in our bodies, and we die. So it begs to ask the question, why would we waste our lives following the endless tailchase of our mind, and instead learn how to direct our attention to the breath, which aligns our present moment experience with what is happening around us, giving us unique and clear understanding about the way our minds work.
Whether it’s an expectation that wasn’t met, or a paycheck that’s late for one week. If we direct our attention towards the breath, we experience deeper sense of the fact that everything is going to be okay, even if at first it seems like it’s not. Mindfulness can be used to rewire the reactions of the mind from negative to positive. Although a situation is negative, what are the positives that I can find inside of this situation?
Here is an example I have prepared for you to illustrate the process of seeing positives in a seemingly negative situation.
Adam decided that it was time to see for himself, what this travelling experience is all about. He made the decision to get rid of his employment, his apartment, and most of his belongings — this would give him enough financial support to travel around the world for a whole year! What Adam didn’t know is that he would be encountering some mental difficulties during his travels, in particular — the process of moving from one place to another. Every time Adam would move to a new country, a city, or a village — he would get incredibly uneasy, uncomfortable. He found himself lacking comfort, sometimes it was because he couldn’t get access to basic amenities, or there was clear lack of communication accessibility with the outer world. This led to bursts of frustration and deep levels of uncomfort for Adam, but because he had been practicing mindfulness meditation, he found — with time — a way to see the positive in situation.
What were the positives that Adam was able to find through these experiences?
- Learning to be patient — moving isn’t fun, just like you had to move from one school to another when you were a kid, you found yourself lost in a new environment, with none of your old friends around, and difficulty to make new friends. When travelling, it takes a good 4-5 days to adjust to a new environment. This is because we are being exposed to new and not yet secure environment where mind is concerned.
- Embracing current reality — as tough as it was for Adam to move to new places, he kept — mindfully — reminding himself that he is fortunate enough to visit all these exciting and amazing places, and opportunity that many are not privileged to have. This lifted his spirits up significantly.
- Unique challenge for being present — mindfulness is only possible with responsible awareness. This turns into clear understanding that the mind is what causes trouble, and to stay out of trouble we have to remain conscious of our breathing as a focal point of concentrated attention. Moving might be difficult, but inviting awareness into process let’s us see the positives over negatives, even if the only positive in that particular situation is the fact that we’re teaching ourselves how to be more mindful.
Of course, Adam in this story is me. I have hopped from Nepal, to Cambodia, to Bali, and now experiencing India for the first time. All those countries in less than 10 months. It has been a momentous journey so far, but as I illustrated — the process of moving from place to place (countless cities and villages) was a real, tangible problem that was only possible to solve with an attentive mindfulness practice.
This was a combination of being exposed to new environments frequently, and the fact that up until the age of 23; I hadn’t really travelled so much before, let alone by myself in countries where English isn’t the first language. Though, language is beyond the point.
Please remember, the problem in fact was that my mind couldn’t get comfortable with a new environment, which was nothing but a mental and psychological pattern that needed to be rewired through the practice of mindful breathing, and full awareness of the present moment.
It doesn’t matter where you go, travel, or find yourself. The present moment is always there, each passing breath invites the next moment, and the next, and you can remain with the natural flow of this present moment living with the help of mindfulness.
What is incremental mindfulness?
So, you might be wondering, why is the word incremental added to the title of this post? That’s because jumping into the mindfulness meditation technique needs to be a gradual process, a step by step process if you like. A moment to moment process.
Indeed, Vipassana meditation retreats show you otherwise, requiring of participants to meditate for up to 10 hours a day, but not only are Vipassana retreats unavailable for everyone, they can be terribly demanding for newcomers. That’s why learning at your own pace, incrementally, is your best shot at mastering the practice of mindfulness.
There are now numerous studies that prove the benefits of mindfulness for sustained attention, increased focus, and improvements in general well-being. And one study in particular focused on short-term benefits from doing a mindfulness practice, which resulted in effects like, “Improved mood, reduced anxiety and fatigue, and increased mindfulness. Moreover, brief mindfulness training significantly improved visuo-spatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning.“, the same study says that those short-term benefits were identical to what long-term mindfulness practitioners experience on daily basis.
The only thing that will keep you away from trying out mindfulness for yourself, is your own doubt. And guess what? You can kick doubt in the butt just by putting in the effort to breathe consciously!
How to do mindfulness meditation
Although mindfulness meditation is challenging for the mind, in practical terms it is one of the easiest meditation techniques to master. The two main aspects of mindfulness meditation are stillness, and breath. So breathing in stillness.
How to practice mindfulness meditation
- The first step is to follow the traditional setup of meditation. Finding a quiet space for your practice, and grounding yourself back into your heart center.
- Once you feel grounded, you may position your arms where ever you prefer, and close your eyes. Do this with awareness already, take deep and conscious breaths as you settle into a peaceful and meditative state.
- Then comes the actual mindfulness practice; the conscious breathing. Here you want to follow your breath as it comes in and out through your nostrils.
- Thoughts will naturally arise, and it will take some time to clear them all, but what matters the most is the conscious effort of breathing in and out.
- You can repeat to yourself “in” on an inbreath, and “out” on an outbreath. It will help you to remain more focused.
- Do this for five minutes, then with full awareness open your eyes and continue breathing.
- Repeat this cycle for as many times as you prefer; two, three, or set a timer for 30 minutes and just come in and out of your mindfulness meditation during that time.
The last two steps define the incremental part, you don’t want to be jumping into a non-stop 30 minute meditation on conscious breathing right from the beginning. You will feel defeated by the amount of thoughts coming your way, and your practice won’t feel as fulfilling.
Instead it is recommended, by myself and many Buddhist monks that I’ve met on my path, to increase your practice length as you go. Start with as little as five or ten minutes and keep it that way for one or two weeks. Get acquainted with mindfulness, and feel the effects it has on your mind, and your emotional well-being.
Remember to take your practice everywhere you go. Whether walking to work, driving a car, or standing in line at the post office. Each moment is always present, and you can become part of that presence through your own breath.
Benefits of a sustained mindfulness practice
You might be wondering, what results should you expect from mindfulness? It’s a valid question since you will notice changes in your life rather quickly, so here are the things that I’ve noticed myself happening:
- Crystal clear mind — the number of thoughts has decreased by as much as 80%, if any patterns are still present and persistent, I will know that it’s the ego-mind fighting for survival. Inviting more breath helps to clear that draining energy away.
- Emotional intelligence — with the conscious breath comes a great deal of emotional understanding, because being present allows you to feel everything in the present now, so if you feel fearful, scared, or angered — you will know where that emotion is coming from, and eventually the breath will release it.
- More energy — indeed, mindfulness meditation balances your energy centers, and your overall energetic well-being, so that you can accomplish more, without feeling so tired or drained all the time. This is due to the fact that you’re using less thoughts to complete a task, but more awareness and stillness. Thoughts are energy, and too many of them is going to use too much of your energy.
- Compassion — the compassion that arises from mindfulness is universal. Suddenly you no longer feel ‘pressured’ in the moment, but instead see life as it flows with each breath. So even if someone near you is having a bad day, you won’t feel the need to feel sorry for them, or feel like you need to help them, instead — you will naturally understand that it’s something they have to ‘figure out’ on their own.
So many great things can happen in your life, if only you pay attention to the breath. Your concentration will naturally rise to new levels, which will help you cultivate insight about your life’s purpose, and you will have a remarkable creative drive that can be expressed through any type of artform, even just through BEing yourself in the NOW.
That is about everything that I had to share for this topic, at least for now. If you’re encountering problems or struggling with your meditation practice, please don’t hesitate to contact me through the comment section — I’m very responsive to questions, and I love to share my experience through helping others!