Updated: Jun 17
I am a therapist by trade and often talk to clients about the benefits of mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation helps with just about everything. It helps with anxiety, depression, managing difficult emotions, stress, and physical health. It even makes you more attractive. Well maybe not the attractiveness part, but it does help with all the other things I mentioned. There are scores of scientific studies showing the positive impacts of meditation.
Another way to cultivate mindfulness is to focus on whatever it is that you are doing. The goal is to pay attention to the task at hand. When you are cooking you should be thinking about cooking, smelling the great smells, paying attention to the colors of the vegetables, and not thinking about what a jerk your boss is. When you are playing with your kids the goal is to be engaged and having fun instead of thinking about your fat rolls or how unfair it is that Amazon doesn’t pay taxes.
When I ask people if they have ever tried meditating, they often have a negative association with it. “I tried but it doesn’t work for me”. “I can’t get my mind to calm down”. The thing about meditating for novices (like myself) is that it’s a near constant effort to focus. Our minds go hither and tither. Our goal is to learn to cultivate an awareness of the thoughts without attaching to them. We aren’t trying to eradicate the thoughts.
Most of the time we have zero awareness of what we are thinking, how we are feeling, and sometimes what we are doing. “How can this be?” you may ask. “This could never happen to me,” you might say. I wouldn’t be so sure. Have you ever been so busy doing tasks at work that you literally put off going to the bathroom for hours and then suddenly realize you really have to go? Or how about driving in the car by yourself on the highway and realizing that you have no recollection of driving past the last 5 exits. “Wow! I am at the Happy Town exit already? How could that be?”
My current goal is to meditate for 15 minutes in the morning. I notice subtle changes when I meditate regularly. I notice that things that used to upset me don’t bother me quite as much. I can catch myself when I am spiraling in negative thoughts much sooner. I am better able to manage my emotions. When I am meditating on a regular basis, things just seem to go better for me.
I sit down on a chair or my meditation cushion and set a timer for 15 minutes. I then close my eyes and just focus on my breathing. “Breathe in, Breathe out.” When I notice that my mind has wandered, as it does almost constantly, I notice it and say “thinking” to myself. I then return to the breath. Breathe in, Breathe out. It’s really very simple. Simple does not mean easy, however.
The following is a rough approximation of what mindfulness meditation is like for me. I am providing this so others can see that it’s very normal to have your mind go all over the place when meditating.
Inner Thoughts While Meditating
I sit on the purple cushion on the living room floor. One of our cats is sitting near me. Her name is Squirble. Don’t ask; it’s a long story. She is about 9 months old. Sitting around being mellow while her human is meditating is not one of her strengths. She is still very kitteny and energetic.
“Okay. Let’s do this.” I set the meditation app timer for 15 minutes and the bell sounds 3 times.
“Breathe in, Breathe out. This is going to be great.”
“Holy shit the sun coming through that window is hot!”
“I can’t believe I am already not being mindful. I suck at this!”
Breathe in, breathe out.
“The cat is snuggling me! I love my cute little kitty.”
“Ow!” Now she is biting.
“Breathe in, Breathe out.”
Now she is clawing at the floor. I find a cat entertainment video of birds on my phone and turn it on to occupy the cat. She bats the phone around.
“I'm hot. Why is the sun so sunny and hot? I should write about how hard it is to focus during meditation. I should be writing this down. I can write a blog about it. How can I teach my clients about mindfulness when I can't do this? Holy shit. I am thinking about meditation while I am meditating.”
“Breathe in, Breathe out”.
The cat hopped inside the cabinet drawer and is making lots of noise scratching the paper liner in the bottom.
“She is so freaking cute.”
“Shit, I’m thinking again!”
“Just notice the thoughts and go back to your breathing.”
Breathe in, breathe out.
She is clawing at the phone because of the cat entertainment video. She thinks the birds are real.
“Holy shit.” Somehow, she just did a somersault over my leg. “That was seriously cute. She’s so fluffy. Is it okay to laugh while you are meditating?”
Breathe in, breathe out.
This is impossible. The sun. The cat. The thinking.
Focus on the breath. Check the timer.
“Acckkk. I can't sit here for another 12 minutes."
The moral of the story is that you can meditate. If I can do it with all these thoughts going through my head, so can you. Will it frustrate you sometimes? Probably. Will you experience benefits from a regular practice? Definitely.