Ingraining mindfulness into your daily life
By Chrishara Paranawithana
Often we find ourselves telling others about the amazing benefits of meditation while we secretly struggle to practice it ourselves. Do you find yourself pitching mindfulness meditation while you can’t even seem to sit down with your eyes closed for five minutes? It seems like a constant struggle for us to really ingrain such a practice into our daily lives. We tend to forget that the brain needs to be tuned to habituation in order for any behaviour/practice to be conditioned. This is the reason why we need to be kept reminded of mindfulness. Mindfulness isn’t difficult. It’s accessing something we already have. Our innate state is mindful. The hard part is remembering to be mindful. Our brain is habituated to being in an autopilot mode. Thus it is a constant struggle to pay genuine attention. Mindfulness is a habit, it’s a skill that can be acquired.
There are numerous reasons for this and ways of getting ourselves out of this predicament that needs to be looked in to and be explored. Some may question whether it is counterproductive to give people advice on their meditation practice as it may lead to loosing oneself to the thoughts of the accuracy of practice and losing faith when one fails at it. Whilst this may be true, we need to also understand that habituating anything to your brain needs consistency and the skill and practice to automatize a practice and create new neural pathways.
Whilst there could be many different challenges faced by different people, this article highlights a few common challenges and problems that you may come across in establishing a daily mindful practice. Additionally, this article emphasizes the importance of cultivating loving kindness in attaining the fruits of this practice. Mindfulness on its own is simply a present moment non-judgmental awareness, but to develop the beautiful peace, gentleness, and stillness of meditation, a kindly awareness is required.
Dealing with mind wondering and boredom
One may perceive a daily mindfulness practice to be a strenuous exercise as a waste of time when there are several daily tasks to be accomplished. The issue is we have conditioned ourselves to respond to the stimuli such as smart phone alerts, e mails, TV time and have deprived ourselves from embracing the experience of the ‘here and now’. Our brains are conditioned to respond to these distractions instantaneously and as a result we easily get bored when we are deprived of these stimuli. Boredom causes the mind to wander. A wandering mind commonly focuses on the past or future. In such a state it is important to cultivate mindful awareness and train the brain for focused attention.
The key to dealing with your wondering mind and boredom is to simply observe and acknowledge whatever you notice in the form of emotion, sensation in the body, thoughts or any other phenomena noticed by the five senses and let it be !!
Building mindfulness doesn’t mean you have to sit still and watch your breath. You can find a way that suits your lifestyle. You can practice mindfulness while you are eating, walking, talking, doing just about anything. You do not need to sit in a meditation posture to be engaged in mindfulness practice.
One can get into the practice of non-judgmental awareness by;
Learning to acknowledge the feeling – When the feeling of boredom arises, accept that it has occurred and let it be.
Becoming aware of the thoughts- Become aware of the self-thoughts that relate this experience to boredom such as ‘is this worth doing this ‘ I have many other priorities ‘ this is a waste of time’ etc.,
Noticing the sensation and being interested in exploring it – Explore mindfully where the boredom came from and in which parts of the body these sensations are noticed and how it guides alternate behaviours such as the urge to fall asleep.
Focusing on the breath – Focus on the breath and notice that elements pertaining to boredom are also changing and that everything is transient. Observe the elements pertaining to boredom as if it is separate from yourself. Simply become a nonjudgmental observer!
At one point you also build insights to the fact that thoughts are not always facts and every emotional state, thinking pattern and bodily awareness are subject to change . Everything about life is transient…
Do we need to control the breath?
One should not attempt to control the breath, the breath should be merely observed with non-judgmental awareness. Each person may respond to challenges in different ways- an element of personality may also contribute towards the behavioural response patterns in cultivating mindfulness as well as mindlessness. Try not to control the breath, instead you may;
Try to focus on the gap between the breaths (i.e. the brief spur of a gap moment you experience between inhalation and exhalation)
You may also try to focus a bit more on the exhalation rather than inhalation. Notice the brief pause that takes place directly after the exhale. Instead of breathing in again, breathe in when your body feels ready for the breath. Breathe as deeply as your body seems to need. Notice how the breath returns to your body. When pausing after each inhale, the air goes out again automatically.
Try to inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Repeat five to ten times. This can ease breathing, as the automatic process of breathing takes over again.
Expectancies, like ‘becoming relaxed’ or ‘clearing the mind’, can cause a form of rigid concentration that is in sharp contrast to the open and kind awareness that meditation aims to cultivate.
Pay attention to the fact that mindfulness practice is not about achieving particular results. It is about being in the present moment with an open and compassionate mind.
Integrating kindness in mindfulness practice
Mindfulness without kindness can be compared to a dry tree with no leaves. Kindness without mindfulness is hard to imagine. Almost all meditation approaches in the world encourage compassion and nature-friendly awareness of the mind in cultivating and promoting the development of the self. Your daily mindfulness practice should be infused with kindness and compassion, not just mindful awareness.
How to apply kindness to your daily practice?
Whatever you do- for instance meditation, yoga, jogging etc. notice how you feel afterwards. If you feel warm, relaxed, calm, and generally happy with yourself, you’re probably mixing mindful awareness with compassion. Acknowledge this positive aspect and congratulate yourself. If you feel relieved that you can finally stop meditating or walking mindfully, you’re probably trying too hard. It may reflect a lack of kindness towards yourself and the outer world.
You may try the following tips:
Cultivate a daily practice of loving kindness towards yourself and others.
Cultivate a practice of daily kindness by contributing to make someone happy and ease someone from suffering.
Cultivate a practice of daily kindness to your own self by allocating a brief time to relax and pamper yourself amidst a busy schedule.
Practice being less self-critical. Cultivate alternate patters of thinking. It may support your inner critical voice to take a back seat.
Pay attention to whatever your focus is, using your heart, not just your head. Feel the breath with emotion if you can, rather than noticing the sensation in a cold, non-judgmental way.
Soften your self -talk. Say soothing words to yourself such as an inner voice that says – ‘relax’, ‘take it easy’, ‘breathe….breathe…..’.
The writer is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist trained at the University of Harvard and the University of Oxford. She has had extensive training in Neuropsychology and Contemplative-Neuroscience related to mindfulness based stress management.