An unknown wise person once said, “If you don’t like the way you feel, change your mind.” I’ve carried this quote with me for years as a pleasant reminder that I don’t have to stay in thoughts that cause distress, struggle, worry, or confusion. What a relief!
But, how do you do this? Is it really possible to shift your attention away from an overwhelming thought that is elevating your stress response and causing a myriad of unhealthy changes in the body and mind? The good news is absolutely yes… but, you have to practice so you are prepared for those moments where it really matters. This can be done in a formal meditation or informally throughout the day.
It all starts with awareness. The dictionary defines awareness as the state or condition of being aware. I would ask, of what? The answer: being conscious, being present, or being awake to what is happening now. In my own words, simply, paying attention in the moment.
Mindful meditation or focused attention is when you focus on one specific thing—it could be your breathing, a sensation in your body, a particular object outside of you, or a sound in the room. The point of this type of meditation is to focus the mind on one point. When the mind wanders (and it will) thoughts stream into the mind without an invitation. Notice them. Make a mental note that you are thinking. Then, move on. Bring your attention back to your focal point or a new one as soon as you notice.
A formal session begins by establishing a comfortable seated posture- anywhere. Then feel your body there. This may take a few moments to connect your awareness all the way down to your feet, to the floor, or to the chair. The mind may already be off in thought about the day, the past, the future or judging your practice as a waste of time. Acknowledge that you are thinking. Shift your attention- back to the body sitting, the breath moving, an object, a sound. During a meditation session, you may refocus your attention over and over again. It might even feel like that’s all you did during a session, but this is the most important part. The moment you notice thoughts- the wandering mind, shift your focus back to one point. When you do this, you are rewiring your brain. Start with two minutes per day- but every day to establish a small achievable habit. From there, you can sit as long as you like.
I admit, there was a time in my life that I didn’t know how to or know that I even could manage my mind. Here is the best part- you can practice mindfulness informally throughout your day by infusing the ordinary moments of your day with mindfulness. If you can’t see where you will ever fit in time to practice a sitting meditation for 2 minutes or more, you have all the hours you are awake to integrate the practice of mindfulness into the moment to moment flow of life. This might happen while driving, in the grocery store check-out line, or waiting for your name to be called for an appointment. The more you practice, the better you get at being able to respond versus react to anything going on around you. Even the most mundane moments can become opportunities for becoming more present and engaged in our lives.