Many people find it challenging to sit still. Others find the thought of willing yourself into a disciplined practice of daily meditation an overwhelming thought, just too big an ask to fit into an already busy life. Plus there’s so much information on what to do, and how to do it that it’s hard to know where to begin.
There is a reason that most every meditation practice of any substance, martial arts, and other disciplines have you focus on your breath or some other aspect of your body. THE BODY IS ALWAYS IN THE MOMENT. That’s why meditations often start with having you focus on your breath, your heart, your nose, – something, anything that is body sense related. You can’t be attending to your body senses and thinking about your taxes, your insurance, your job or other issues that take our attention away from what’s happening right now.
So the practice and that term is important, is to focus on some aspect of your physical experience and do it more than you do now in your day to day life. That can be sitting down and focusing on your breath, or it can be movement. You can focus on how you are walking, standing, making coffee, or tea (this explains why the tea ritual, tai-chi, yoga, and other movement practices are mindful/spiritual practice and not just some quaint ritual).
Try this right now. Bring a very high quality of attention to one of your hands (and if that doesn’t work for you, any other part of your body you can move will do). Really focus. Sense everything you can. This is not a test. You do not get points for doing it well or not well. Just notice without judgment as if you were exploring this for the first time with a childlike curiosity. Notice where your skin is touching some object or other part of your body. Notice the air temperature. Notice any tension or pain. Now while keeping this high degree of attention, simply raise your arm very slowing attending very carefully to the sensation of lifting your arm. Feel every muscle. Is it a smooth motion? Do you have resistance anywhere? Now slowing begin to rotate your hand at the wrist while noticing how that feels. Notice the remarkable motion of the joint and the activity of the muscles needed to make this motion.
If you did this and did not just read about, you will have experienced yourself being in the moment, present with your actual experience. That is mindfulness. That is being intentionally attentive, without judgment, in the moment. The key thing is not that you had a specific experience, but that you made this focus happen by intention. The INTENTION TO BE PRESENT is the muscle that has to be built.
Underneath all this – it’s basically neuroscience. There is a saying “neurons that fire together, wire together.” Mindfulness is a higher cognitive function, meaning, the parts of the brain that are the most complex are the ones that are involved. In order to build capacity to be mindful, you must engage the specific set of neurons needed for mindfulness. The only way to do that is to intentionally make it happen. An exercise like this is a quick and easy way to stop thinking about being mindful and drop directly into a body-based, in the moment experience, on purpose. Perfect mindfulness. Like learning anything, the more you do it, the more those neurons wire up and the easier it easier to set them off. Learning.
This doesn’t have to take a lot of time or effort to make a big difference and leads to a discussion on – landing on yummy moments.
Thanks to Eckhart Tolle for the suggestion of using the hand as a place to begin. In several lectures, he suggests starting with the hand and then extending awareness to include the whole body. You start with any part of the body, but hands are EZ. You can also extend awareness beyond the physical to include the room you are in, the building, the city, the world!