by Lynn Rossy, PhD
I have taught many people to begin meditating; and I am aware that there are a LOT of misperceptions about what it is and isn’t. Because I have found the practice so very beneficial in my life, I have spent my entire career helping people overcome their misperceptions so that they, too, can reap the joys that arise from understanding how you can bring meditation into your life—both formally and informally.
There are many types of formal meditation practice such as sitting meditations, body scans, mindful yoga, mindful walking, and mindful eating. These practices ask that you set aside a specific time and place to focus on observing your all of your senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste) and your thoughts and emotions with curiosity and kindness. As the instructions go, “when your mind wanders, bring it back to what is happening in the present moment.” It is through this formal practice that we are then able to bring mindful, kind awareness to the rest of our lives.
The biggest misperception about meditation is that if your mind is busy and distracted, you can’t do it. In reality, your meditation, particularly at the beginning, will mostly be about noticing this tendency of the mind. While that might not be completely restful, it is the first stage of practice. Your mind will wander. All minds do. You simply notice and drop back to presence whenever you can. Slowly, but surely, you will begin to notice a little more space between your thoughts. In the space, you will experience the contentment of being.
Informal meditation practice is about bringing a curious and kind attention to the rest of your life—everything you do! So, in essence, you can meditate from the minute you wake up to the minute you go to sleep at night. Whatever you do can become meditation if you concentrate your attention on it.
For example, mindful eating can be done formally or informally throughout the day. The instructions are similar, but in formal mindful eating I would eat alone (preferably) and in silence. But mindful eating can be done informally whenever you eat. Before you start to eat you could pay attention to what the food looks like and what it smells like. You would be aware of any signals from your body that tell you it wants or doesn’t want the food. As you eat, you would keep paying close attention to the taste, to chewing, to swallowing. You would be aware of when your body tells you it has had enough to eat and you would stop.
Mindful presence throughout the day gives you information that help you make choices that align with your body, mind, and heart. Recently my body has told me it wants cooked, instead of raw, food. My heart says that I need to limit the newsfeed so that I can keep better balance. My mind says to read books that inspire and takes me closer to my true Self. The messages are there if you tune your ear to the present moment. As one meditation teacher said, meditation keeps you from having an accidental life. Your choices and, therefore, your life, become an expression of being fully conscious.
Take anything in your life and turn it into a meditation—driving, cleaning, showering, making the bed, petting your cat or dog, talking, listening, reading, etc. Put your whole attention on what you’re doing, notice when your mind wanders to a story about it or something else, and re-direct your energy on the thing that you’re doing. Whatever you’re doing, bring interest and openness to the experience even if it is folding the clothes.
The degree that you find yourself lost in thought is likely the degree to which you will be experiencing negative emotions like anxiety and stress. The present moment might not be as exciting as the task you have in front of you, but it certainly ranks higher than the stories that you obsess and ruminate over. Staying with the obsessive, ruminative mind is a CHOICE. The more that you choose the sensations available to you in the present moment and cultivate the qualities of mindfulness (trust, patience, beginners mind, openness, acceptance) the more you will find peace.
This quote by Tara Brach sums it up: “In any moment, no matter how lost we feel, we can take refuge in presence and love. We need only pause, breathe, and open to the experience of aliveness within us. In that wakeful openness, we come home to the peace and freedom of our own natural awareness.”
Take this moment now to come home to the quiet experience of simply being. Do that over and over again throughout the day. Turn your life into a meditation.
Lynn Rossy, Ph.D. is a health psychologist specializing in yoga and mindfulness-based interventions. She developed a ten-week, empirically validated Eat for Life class that teaches people to eat mindfully and intuitively, love their bodies, and find deeper meaning in their lives. Her book, The Mindfulness-Based Eating Solution, is based on the concepts in her program. Lynn is a long-time practitioner of mindfulness meditation and Kripalu yoga. She is the President of the Center for Mindful Eating. Learn more about her programs and her work at https://www.lynnrossy.com