mindfulness course - overview
What is mindfulness? Why practice? How to practice - in daily life? Formally?
How to address challenges to practice? Opening to insights...
Making practice a way of life...
Part A - Definition and Benefits of Mindfulness Practice
Definition of mindfulness - a way of “flipping a switch” between being lost in thought and being fully aware in this moment (which includes being aware of our thoughts and emotions).
The practice takes dedication and patience, because we need to come back to this moment again and again, but the benefits are wonderful and numerous.
Some benefits of mindfulness practice:
- experiencing life more fully
- doing things better
- being less attached to thoughts and emotions (while, at the same time, being more aware of them)
- being less attached to concepts
- being more accepting, and therefore, more loving
- being more open to insights - about situations, and about the big questions of life.
- Disclaimer: these benefits aren’t goals, or standards of comparison as to how we’re doing with our practice. If these thoughts come, notice them, let them go, and…just practice!
Part B - Daily Life Practice
Importance of coming back from being lost in thought, even during “mundane” activities -
One reason we get lost in thought during so-called “mundane” activities (simple actions like brushing teeth, eating, driving) is the idea that we’re better off going on automatic pilot during those activities and thinking when we have something important to think about.
However, being fully present, even during these simple actions, is far more valuable than thinking during them, because when we are present, we are practicing and living in mindfulness - strengthening our ability to come back, and experiencing the benefits of practice, above.
When we have something important to think about, it’s better to dedicate some time to that thinking - doing so mindfully, to be open to thoughts that come up.
Daily life mindfulness practice isn’t strict - it is a focus on action, but includes thoughts and feelings that come up - being aware of them and letting them go, coming back to the next moment.
Mindfulness of emotions - we feel them more, come back from making a story about them, and let them go.
Practice is easy! Natural awareness! But the challenge is remembering to come back. Reminders are necessary. A vow, a commitment, is necessary: “I vow to be here now!”
We can get in the habit of reminding ourselves to be mindful each time we begin a new situation.
And the practices we’ll be doing in this course will serve as powerful reminders and builders of the habit of mindfulness.
Any action is an opportunity to practice mindfulness!
Example of a day spent in mindfulness:
- awareness of waking up: come back from thoughts about the upcoming day, body awareness, awareness of movement
- breakfast: food preparation, awareness of eating
- washing dishes
- awareness of body sensations
- walking or driving to work
- computer work, conversing: when lost in thought; come back
- lunch: food preparation, awareness of eating
- workout: awareness of motion, form, sensations
- dinner: food preparation, awareness of eating
- conversation with Significant Other: awareness and letting go of concepts about that person; being present with them, with what they say
- music, tv, movies: awareness and letting go of concepts; pure listening, pure viewing, open to insights about what’s heard and seen
- awareness of getting cleaned up, brushing teeth, etc.
- awareness of falling asleep
- In-Class Practice: Mindfulness of Walking
include awareness of thoughts, emotions; then come back to awareness of walking
notice things that come up, like sensations of feet touching ground or floor, muscle movement, breathing, etc.
when lost in thought, notice it, and come back to awareness of walking
a simple activity, but a way of practicing mindfulness, being aware - which rubs off on everything we do.
Today, practice mindfulness of other simple activities…
Part C - Formal Practice
Out of the arena of action; “just sitting there, being aware”.
Aware of whatever comes into our consciousness - sounds, breathing, body sensations, thoughts, emotions…anything.
Could be considered a form of meditation. Similar to a type of meditation from the Soto school of Zen, called “shikantaza” - often translated as “just sitting”.
There are many forms and purposes of meditation, including calming the body and mind, developing concentration, developing insight, connecting with the Higher Power / the Source / True Self. Our purpose here is to practice being aware and coming back from being lost in thought. These other purposes may be fulfilled as byproducts of our practice.
Two benefits of formal mindfulness practice:
1. more intensified development of awareness by practicing away from the arena of action, like a golfer practicing a swing, or a musician practicing scales
2. “supercharging” the benefits of practice. E.g., increased openness to insights; deeper awareness; being able to come back from being lost in thought more quickly and more often.
This “rubs off” on our daily life practice, and daily life practice also feeds our formal practice.
How to do formal mindfulness practice:
- sit upright, comfortably yet alert. You can do one of the traditional meditation postures, or sit on a chair.
- can close your eyes if you prefer; or, if it’s comfortable, can keep them open, and gently look ahead at about a 45º angle.
- start with awareness of natural breathing; relax the body.
- sometimes, we’ll use an “anchor”, such as the breath, as a means of staying more grounded and as a place to return to after being aware of other things, and after returning from being lost in thought.
- be aware of whatever comes in - sounds, breathing, body sensations, thoughts, emotions…anything.
- if an emotion comes up, really feel it - experience it fully.
Follow how-to, above, using breath as an anchor - starting with breath awareness and returning to it after awareness of other things and after being lost in thought.
Awareness of sound: if your mind comes up with a thought about the sound, be aware of that, then return to pure listening. When the sound fades, return to the breath.
Continue this way for a few minutes…
If you notice you’ve been lost in thought, be aware of it. It’s ok and perfectly natural. The practice is to return to the breath and to noticing whatever comes up.
For the next week, we’ll focus on different aspects of daily life and formal practice. Toward the end of the week, we’ll put it all together, and just be aware, moment-to-moment.
Disclaimer: these teachings are like a roadmap. It’s the practice - pure awareness - that counts!