On Mindfulness, Part Two
In last month’s blog post, we looked at the difference between simply purchasing mindfulness, and thus, making a shallow attempt to incorporate it into our daily lives, and, on the flipside, authentically implementing mindfulness practices into our lives and essences. The former serves only to make us feel more disintegrated, while the latter has potential to provide deeper levels of mind, body, and soul cohesion.
As promised, below is a guide to a mindfulness practice that I introduce to patients in therapy. While these four mindfulness guidelines are adapted from Thomas Keating’s Foundations for Centering Prayer and the Christian Contemplative Life, I have included modifications for those who do not identify as spiritual or who may follow a different faith tradition than Keating.
In terms of technique, the practitioner is suggested to sit in silence for an established period of time. While twenty minutes is recommended, it may feel a bit long for first-time practitioners. Try beginning with five minutes and see how you feel. Setting a timer is helpful so you are not forced to interrupt your practice by monitoring a clock. It’s helpful to find a comfortable seat, such as a favorite chair or soft couch, and keep your feet planted on the ground. Resist the urge to lie down, as you do not want your body or brain to receive the message that it is time for sleeping. Lastly, keeping your hands open and resting on your knees is a powerful visual reminder of “hands open to receive” (Greenman & Kalantzis, 2010). But most importantly, do what feels most comfortable and natural with your hands. In other forms of meditation, precise attention to posture and breath are critical. In Keating’s approach, however, the essence is one of delicate self-surrender. Attempt to maintain a spirit of gentleness and forgiveness with yourself as you begin.
Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s “presence and action within” (Greenman & Kalantzis, 2010). Of course, you can substitute your preferred higher power, or you can simply consent to the practice itself. If you are comfortable praying, ask for a word to come to you in this time. Some of my favorite words that my patients have reported using are stillness, peace, hope, shepherd, and water. You are not committed to this word for eternity, but try and utilize your same sacred word for as long as it still feels helpful. This could be for one practice, or it could be for several years.
As you sit comfortably with your eyes closed, silently introduce your sacred word into your mind. Some find it helpful to match their sacred word with their breath. For example, each time you deeply inhale, you silently utter “peace.” This is the heart of your practice, and what you will continue to do throughout the length of your mindfulness exercise. Your sacred word calls you back to the present moment.
When you become aware of other thoughts, which you will, gently return to your sacred word “as gently as laying a feather on a piece of absorbent cotton” (Greenman & Kalantzis, 2010). Again, in other forms of meditation, mental images are used as a direct frontal attack to these distracting thoughts. However, Keating encourages us to allow the thoughts to enter with the confidence that God, or whichever power you consented to, will graciously deal with them. So, for example, when you are engaged in this mindfulness practice and begin to wonder, “Did I add olive oil to my grocery list?” or “Did I remember to feed the dog?” simply observe the thoughts and resist the urge to shame your lack of focus. Instead, anchor back into your sacred word as a symbol of your consent to rest in God or your chosen substitute.
When your time is up, conclude your practice by remaining in silence for a minute or two with your eyes closed. Use this time to pray or to exercise a sense of gratitude. Lastly, be sure to check in with your body before leaving your seat. Wiggling your fingers, opening your mouth to stretch your jaw, or leaning your neck from side-to-side are all helpful tools to gently transition your body from a meditative to an active state. When you feel ready, open your eyes and resume your day.
I’d love to hear if you tried this practice. How did it go for you? What modifications did you make? What word did you use?
Greenman, J. P., & Kalantzis, G. (2010). Life in the spirit: Spiritual formation in
theological perspective. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.
Keating, T. (2004). Foundations for centering prayer and the Christian
contemplative life. New York: Continuum.