You might have tried a particular mindfulness meditation and then given up after a while, frustrated with how little progress you were making. There is a reason for that. Your personality type did not match up to the meditation practice.
I firmly believe that every individual is unique, and as such, the meditation practices you choose need to be in sync with your personality type as well as your unique life conditionings.
Jane( name changed) had learned mindfulness meditation, but the moment she sat down to practice mindfulness and observing her thoughts, all her repressed stress, anxiety and fear surfaced, which made her extremely anxious. When she met me, I advised her to sit down and practice focusing on the breath instead. She needed to meditate on the breath to find inner balance first, and then with time she could experiment with letting her feelings arise and surface.
Tom (name changed) had a different problem. He had been advised breathing meditation by his teacher, but he was a claustrophobic, and turning his attention to breath caused him to become tensed and anxious. For Tom, the best approach was to practice mindfulness of external environment; eg external sounds, etc.
In my years of talking with meditators and spiritual seekers, I have come to realize that every beginner needs a personalized mindfulness meditation practice. Furthermore, I do not believe in rigid systems of mindfulness mediation. We should be able to tweak the practice to suit our own needs.
What is mindfulness meditation?
Mindfulness meditation is derived from the Buddhist practice and is based on sati, which means – the awareness of both inner and outer worlds, which includes thoughts, emotions, bodily sensation and your surroundings as they are, at this present moment. When you begin mindfulness meditation, you can be mindful of a number of things, including your thoughts.
Different types of Mindfulness meditations
- Being mindful of the breath
- Being mindful of thoughts and feelings
- Being mindful of external environment; eg sounds
- Being mindful of bodily sensation
If you want to meditate on the breath, please check the meditation here.
Mindfulness Meditation Exercise for beginners – Being mindful of thoughts and feelings
I will discuss the process of being mindful of thoughts, which can be applied to other types of mindfulness meditations. The core aspect of being mindful is to be aware, without judgment. You let thoughts arise, watch them come and go, observing them, but not attaching any particular meaning to the thoughts.
Whenever a thought arises in our mind, we habitually
- Label them- good/bad, negative/positive, happy/sad
- Based on the label, we either like them or shun them
When we are being mindful of our thoughts and feelings, we watch the thoughts come and go. We become non-judgmental and observe our thoughts without attaching labels to them. A fearful thought is not shunned; a pleasant thought is not welcomed. Thoughts are seen as clouds in the sky, forming and dissolving. You are the sky. The clouds come and go.
3 key aspects of mindfulness are
- Becoming aware of your thoughts
- Observing thoughts- you are not interested in engaging with thoughts.
- You are not your thoughts. You are the self-awareness in which thoughts appear and disappear. You do not have to stop the thoughts. You just need to learn to disengage with them.
Mindfulness guided meditation
Sit in a comfortable position. Keep your eyes closed. Take a few deep breaths, relaxing your body as you exhale. Bring your attention to your thoughts. Notice them with the understanding that they are neither good, nor bad. They are just thoughts. Imagine the thoughts like clouds in the sky, appearing and disappearing.
Do not identify with your thoughts. Don’t repress them. Just be aware of them. Create space around them, so that they can appear and disappear. At this very moment, whatever you feel and think, watch it with affectionate detachment. You are not your thoughts. If your mind drifts away, gently bring it back to the present awareness of the thoughts.
Duration- start with 5 minutes and as you progress, you should aim for 10 minutes or more.
Mindfulness is the beginning of the journey into meditation. Once you are good at mindfulness, you can go deeper into your consciousness by going to the next step- being aware of consciousness, understanding witnessing consciousness and finally experiencing pure awareness.