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A Simple Mindfulness Meditation

• Find a quiet place where you will not be interrupted for at least a half hour. Turn off the phone, the TV, the stereo. If you have pets, close the door. I find it helpful to turn on a fan, both for the breeze and the quiet noise.
• Sit in a comfortable position. If you want to sit on the floor, it helps to have a thin pillow under your butt. Tuck your feet under your knees, but don't strain. Sit upright, with your back straight. Let the weight of your head fall directly on your spinal column. If you want to sit in a chair, try to put your feet flat on the floor. Again, sit upright, with your back straight.
• Close your eyes, and start to breathe slowly and deeply. Not so deeply that you strain yourself, just comfortable. As you breathe, you may find it helpful to focus on a word or phrase, timing it to your breathing. "In…Out." You can change this to suit your mood. When I'm fighting craving, I think "Wave…Rock." Other times I like "I am here…I am home." You will find phrases that are good for you.
• Focus on your breathing. As other thoughts or feelings come to mind, let them pass, and return your attention to your breathing. Visualize these distracting thoughts and feelings as bubbles rising to the surface of a calm pool of water. They rise, burst, and disappear. The pool remains calm. Return your attention to your breathing.
• Don't judge. Don't try to do it right, just try to do it every day. Remember that the distracting thoughts and feelings are the normal noise in your brain. It takes practice and skill to get in touch with the quietness underneath.
• When I'm preparing for meditation, and when I feel restless, I like to remember the perspective of Anh-Huong Nguyen, a Vietnamese follower of Thich Nhat Hanh: "If you have a fussy baby, do you shout at the baby? Do you get angry at it? Do you shake it? No—you build a cradle for the baby." That's what we have to deliberately allow ourselves to practice: to treat ourselves with care and concern. That's also what meditation does for our restless, anxious minds; it builds a structure we can feel safe in.
• When you are ready to stop, open your eyes. Stay seated for a few moments while you appreciate the calm state you are in.
• If you have to use an alarm, make it something quiet, not jarring. Jon Kabat-Zinn has a tape with nothing on it but temple bells at regular intervals; it's much nicer than any alarm clock.
• There are many other forms of meditation. Many people, especially those with anxiety or muscular tension, like the "body scan" method. There is a "mindfulness of pain" meditation, and a walking meditation. A favorite for many is the "loving-kindness" meditation, in which you first focus on the feeling you had as a child when someone deeply loved you, then focus on returning that feeling to the other person, then imagine directing that feeling to the whole world.
As with all these exercises,
The more you practice, the easier it gets.


Last Updated: 6/5/04