By Ari Snaevarsson, Features Editor
I should preface this piece by reminding you all that mindfulness and meditation are not only for ascetic monks and yogis and people who talk about your “chi.” Mindfulness is nothing new or revolutionary; it is not a program designed to get you quick results. It is, however, vital to finding peace in your life and, in my experience, it leads to profound spiritual growth.
Mindfulness refers to a deliberate awareness of the present moment, in concert with accepting what thoughts arise without lingering on them. Unlike everything else we do in our busy lives, there is no goal to seek here. While “results” may come, the greatest benefit comes as part of the process, and as such, you are advised to enjoy mindfulness meditation for the sake of mindfulness meditation, not for what is to come after.
In that vein, I will be spending the rest of this article taking you through a five minute session of mindfulness. You need not sit in any specific position or do anything else, but you would likely get more from this if you were to read this in an environment void of external stressors. Sit alone, in quietness, and be present for the rest of this piece.
How this works
Take a brief pause between paragraphs, in which you continue to follow the suggestions of the previous paragraph, before moving onto the next. If you feel rushed or distracted at any point throughout this process, I invite you not to dismiss those feelings (you might recall the warning from my article Mindfully binging: Resisting discomfort begets discomfort) but rather to watch them, as you would a dark cloud, go by and eventually leave your mind.
Begin with a deep in-breath through the nose, to a count of four. Feel the fresh air as it fills your airway and then imagine it collecting in your stomach (these are mental cues, not anatomical truths, so simply use them to guide you). Pause there, to a count of two, before slowly and intentionally initiating the out-breath, to a count of six. Feel that same air travel back out, through the mouth, and notice how little resistance you encountered in the process.
After a short series of intentional breaths, get back to reading this, while simultaneously taking deep in- and out-breaths. Do not try to count them while reading, as it will be too difficult. Likewise, do not worry if you are not taking the most perfect breaths ever. In fact, no breath is perfect. Earlier, you noticed the lack of resistance inherent in the breathing process (that is, when the breath is controlled). Now I want you to pay attention to how different the experience of each breath is from one to the next. No one breath is alike, and yet they work in harmony, almost as if by design.
As you continue to breathe in a relaxed, not forced, manner, allow your focal point to move calmly towards your shoulders. Notice the slight raise during the in-breath and the drop during the out-breath. Consciously relax the shoulders and remain tuned into this movement for a bit.
When the shoulders raise during the in-breath, you might notice a slight tensing of the muscles in the neck and face. This is okay. As you breathe out, purposefully relax them, in rhythm with the duration of the out-breath. After a few of these, allow a smile to develop, if one is not present already. If this feels awkward, that is alright; embrace the awkwardness, see it pass by without judging it, and proceed to smile anyway. It need not encompass your entire face; just a slight smile is all that is necessary.
Now I want you to shift your attention from the shoulders and the muscles of the face to the seat you are sitting on. Notice each point of contact, where your back meets the chair, where your legs meet the chair, where your feet meet the ground, and maybe even where your palms meet your thighs, if that is how you are sitting. Just pay some brief attention to these areas, and then move on.
What thoughts are on your mind right now? Do not search for them. See what comes, on its own volition, to your mind’s eye. Look at it and acknowledge its presence, but do not judge it. Remember that happiness does not come when uncomfortable thoughts leave but rather when uncomfortable thoughts are no longer fixated on and judged.
Again, we are not actively seeking out any sort of response here. See what makes itself known without asking for it. And then each time you find yourself beginning to fixate on one (and it is very likely, and normal, that you sometimes realize this well after the fixating has begun), simply let it pass and remain grounded. We are essentially saying to these thoughts, regardless of whether they are happy or sad thoughts, “Hi there, what is your name? … Well, it was nice to meet you. Goodbye.”
This is something I use in my own meditations from time to time. If an especially troublesome or stagnant thought is disturbing your mindfulness meditation (realizing it is actually your response to the thought that is the disturbance, rather than the thought itself), allow a little smirk to develop and simply laugh it off. I personally do not laugh out loud, but I respond to the inherent humor in the situation.
Rather than viewing this process as serious and spiritual, I find that the best defense against the sticky parts is to not take the situation too seriously and instead find humor in it. Now you can move on.
Stretch out a little bit, and thank yourself for allowing yourself this time. You just spent approximately five minutes not obsessing over productivity or engaging in mindless activities (neither are morally inferior decisions, but they can chip away at your inner peace if not kept at bay with an approach like mindfulness meditation). Ask yourself how this was for you, taking some time to breathe deeply and intentionally. Do you feel more relaxed? Was the experience difficult?
I, personally, also want to thank you for taking out this time and letting me guide you through some mindfulness practice. See you all on campus soon.