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A Mindfulness Meditation Practice for Beginners


“What we call “I” is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale.

-Shunryu Suzuki; Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind


What is Mindfulness Meditation?

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mindfulness as: “the practice of maintaining a non-judgemental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis” (merriamwebster.com). It seems simple, right? Now think about your daily life. How often are you able to orient yourself in the present moment with attention and awareness? The modern world moves along at an increasingly fast pace, and if you struggle to remain in the present, you are not alone!

Mindfulness meditation is a practice that is meant to guide you gently back into the present moment. Over time, this can help you regain balance and experience less stress, without becoming overwhelmed by emotions such as fear, anger, sadness or uncertainty. You do this by focusing on the breath and letting go of judgement and attachment.

This January, we will ring in the New Year with posts exploring the shallows and depths of mindfulness, beginning with a simple mindfulness meditation practice that you can try at home. Even if you sit for 5 minutes a day, that will be a great step forward on your mindfulness meditation journey!

A Simple Practice in 6 Steps

Step One: Prepare. Find a quiet place to sit. You can either sit on a pillow or blanket on the floor, or you can sit in a chair if that works better for you. If you are on the floor, try to sit cross-legged. If you are in a chair, allow your feet to connect with the floor.

Step Two: Adjust your posture. Lay your hands gently in your lap; they can rest either palm-up or palm-down. Straighten your spine as if a string is gently tugging upward from the crown of your head toward the ceiling. Tuck your chin slightly toward your chest.

Step Three: Soften your gaze. Allow your gaze to rest about a foot in front of you on the floor. Try to keep your eyes open if you can, as this will heighten your sensory awareness. Let your gaze soften.

Step Four: Focus on your breath. Begin to focus on your breath as you inhale and exhale naturally. Feel the soft breath of air beneath your nose as you exhale and the way the cool air feels as it passes into your nostrils. Can you feel it travel all the way down to your belly? Follow these sensations through several breath cycles.

Step Five: Let thoughts and emotions come. It is natural that thoughts, emotions and images will begin to pass through your mind at this time, and it is okay to let them! The trick is to not get attached to any thread of thought or feeling. Simply observe the thoughts as they pass, and let them go as they leave your consciousness. Return to observing your breath.

Step Six: Don’t Panic. All kinds of uncomfortable physical and mental sensations might come up during your practice, which is why it is perfectly fine to only sit for a short time at first. If your back aches, acknowledge it, and let it go. If anger arises, do the same. Always return to your breath to stay in the moment, and watch how the pain recedes and the anger fizzles. Repeat often!

 

Happy New Year, and happy sitting!


3 Ways to Greet Winter

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.” 
― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

As the sun sets and the longest night of the year begins,  take a quiet moment to greet the darkness not with trepidation but with acceptance and gratitude. Allow the early nighttime to envelop you in warm, dark arms, and permit yourself the space to rest, to conserve, to nourish and to prepare for growth. 

In Chinese medicine, winter is the season to root down and to store. The growth that comes with the springtime requires a lot of energy and focused attention. By resting and nourishing our bodies throughout the dark and cold winter months, we will have the energy to blossom in the spring.

During the time of the druids, the Winter Solstice was marked by celebration. Here are three ways to greet the winter gracefully and without fear of the dark or cold. 

  1. Light candles or a fire: As the sun sets, light a candle or a fire and turn down the electric lighting. Pull your favorite book off of the shelf or simply sit in silence, letting the warm light wash over you. 
  2. Permit yourself to rest: Tonight, put away the cell phone and computer and treat yourself to a nourishing ritual, like taking a ginger bath or a bubble bath with calming essential oils. Then, “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.” Or, at least for 8 solid hours!
  3. Make an altar: It might feel nice to make an altar in honor of the Winter Solstice. This can be as simple as putting some winter greens in a vase and lighting a white candle. Let yourself sit for awhile in front of the altar, reflecting on the year and feeling the warmth that surrounds you. 
A simple Winter Solstice altar