In Part 1 I offered some reasons why mindfulness-without-motion is a good thing to practice. I would now like to offer some recommendations on how to start sitting still.
Be Led By Curiousity
First, you need to genuinely want to try this, out of some sense of need, interest or curiosity. I can give you some ideas for how to make this easier, but this is the one condition that is really necessary to get very far with the practice. If you try and bump up against the initial challenges without that intrinsic motivation, you’ll not have the kind of energy to work through it and this could discourage and increase your aversion to try it again in the future. When you face challenges with curiosity rather than duty, your ability to not only endure but to appreciate those challenges goes way up. So, intrinsic motivation is a very helpful pre-condition to mindfulness-without-motion.
If you are still not feeling drawn to it yet in even the smallest amount, then it is probably better that you wait until your genuine interest or curiosity arises, or some crisis leads you to try this as a solution.
Small, Regular Doses
Once you have that curiosity in place, try it in very small but regular doses. When I say ‘small’ I mean try it for just 5 minutes or less in a single sitting. You can even break it up into 5x 1 minute doses, with a little break between to rest your ‘attention muscles’. It would be better to leave the exercise each time wanting more than to feel like you had to grit it out to finish.
Do this exercise on a regular pattern so that some sort of routine is established in your day and week. By ‘regular’ it could be once a day, twice a day, or every other day, just as long as it occurs like clock-work. Our brains love routines.
Anchor it to another pleasant activity that happens at the same time, same frequency. (One of my friends loves walking his dog every morning without fail and was able to tack on a 20 minute mindfulness session right afterwards, and was immediately successful at making it a new part of that daily routine.)
Find a place and a time where you can be left undisturbed by other people and other stimuli. It is important that your body can feel free, where it can completely turn off the radar regarding other duties and needs to attend to this inner world for this short period of time.
Sit in a ‘comfortable and dignified, upright position, if you are able to’ (as my favorite audio teacher, Jon Kabat Zinn says), on a chair, or on a cushion. Posture really does make a difference. Those special cushions help because they can enable one to sit with the pelvis tilted forward in just the right way that works best with the spine above it. The cushion or kneeling chair or a regular chair (without sitting back against the backrest) can help those who lack some mobility in the knees, hips or lower back. You need the body to get into a stable, natural-posture position so that gravity presses down in a way that the body can handle it automatically, with minimum effort. Laying down is possible to, but there is definitely a difference in the effect of each position.
Find A Guide
Then I recommend that you find an audio of a guided meditation to follow. First of all, that guide needs to someone that sounds pleasant and soothing to you because the voice needs to have prosody (rhythm and tone) that resonates with your parasympathetic nervous system that induces calm into your visceral organs. You’ll know the difference between the pleasing voice and the annoying one when you hear them!
The guide is communicating to your mind and to your body; they will be training you – both by their wording and by their manner – in both skills and attitude for how to work with your own attention. They will provide you a small but real opportunity to ‘co-regulate’ your internal body state with theirs, even if it is just a recording (and if you can do this live, all the better!) You will do well to have a role model, even for just 5 minutes of meditation.
This is one of the main benefits of mindfulness – it can greatly support your ability to self-regulate your feelings, thoughts, and ultimately your behavior. You (and all of us) develop healthy self-regulation through healthy co-regulation – by connecting to the nervous system of a safe and trusted other. By connecting to a mindfulness teacher that models and leads with the kind of inner state you would like to have, you can begin to draw some of that into yourself through their verbal contact with your nervous system.
That gentle guide is going to be very helpful, especially when you start trying longer durations. They will give you instructions and then go silent for periods of time, then gently check in and surprise you because you didn’t notice your mind was wandering! But they peaceful way they interrupt and call you back is training you how to respond to yourself when you notice your wandering mind on your own. You will feel accompanied by someone who understands how challenging it is, who is completely patient and kind the whole way.
The most common meditations tend to focus on the breath since it is universally present, both automatic and responsive to your changing states and influence, and goes everywhere with you. As an alternative, a guided ‘body scan’ meditation can be an even easier to get started with and could induce some nice sensations in a single session.
Give It Time
Lastly, please stick with it for 20 or more of these short sessions. Like doing pushups, it could be hard for the first few and you may likely feel more frustrated by the confrontation with an out of control attention – don’t give up because you’ve got to work through this first and give your brain time to adapt. It takes a period of time with regular and frequent exercise to get some noticeable shift to take place. But once you do notice that shift, it will be like a door cracked open and you’ll catch a glimpse of what treasures a calm, controlled attention might yield you.
And yet, you’ll just be touching the first layer.
Now, I may give off the impression that I am on some higher layer. But I doubt I am much higher. Compared to the guides I’ve followed and the modest level of instruction I’ve accessed so far, I sense that I am still in ‘grammar school’ of mindfulness. However, I am so pleased with the discoveries and skill I’ve acquired thus far, and I consider these among my most valuable possessions for this life. I am just positioning myself as a ‘big brother’ calling you to join me on this path and enjoy the benefits too.
Here are some resources that I have some familiarity with. No doubt there are many more and each of these will be attractive to some of you and not to others.
Go with one that seems OK and try it for a week or more. You just need to get some experience, and give someone’s style and approach some time to sink in and build up. It may not make sense at first, but give your body some time to work with it.
Also, by trying one program for a while, you may build up some language of the practice, and get some ideas of what you want and don’t want in the next program you try.
Jon Kabat Zinn (my first and favorite)
- Guided Mindfulness Meditations, Series 1, 2 and 3
- Mindfulness: Six Guided Practices for Awakening
Andy Puddicombe (and other voices)
Sam Harris (and wife Annika Harris has good childrens exercises)
Dan Harris’s 10% Happier App featuring top popular teachers
Tamara Levitt on Calm
Thic Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village
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