In this article Neil Seligman, Author of 100 Mindfulness Meditations, Founder of The Conscious Professional and Luxury Mindfulness Retreat Leader at Champneys, shares seven ways to ensure those good intentions to be more mindful, become integrated as a daily practice, even amongst the hectic whirl of modern life.
If you are struggling to find your way in to mindfulness meditation, here are Neil’s top seven tips to help you do just that…
1. Go Shopping
You do not need to spend a lot of money but investing in the objects used for practice will make all the difference when it comes to finding your way back to your seat each day. You will need a meditation cushion and pad. You will also need a small kitchen timer with an alarm. Using a timer allows your mind to stop worrying about time and will also keep you from falling asleep and missing your next commitment. (You could use the timer on your phone but most people find the phone the equivalent of mindfulness-kryptonite). Finally, buy a beautiful notepad to be your mindfulness journal. Find one with a cover that inspires you and with blank, not lined, inside pages. The blank pages will challenge you to be creative, so if you feel the urge to draw something alongside your notes, absolutely do so. Allow the doodles to mix with the words.
2. Start Small
Start with a five-minute practice and, in small increments, slowly build up to 20 minutes if it feels good to do so. Learn how the body and mind respond to different periods of meditation and find the right duration for your lifestyle. Allow yourself some flexibility, accepting that some days you will have more or less time to dedicate to your practice, and that is ok.
3. Create a Ritual
At the time of your practice each day go through the same actions. For me, that means picking up my cushion, placing it in front of the window, setting up my timer, grabbing my mindfulness journal and pen and placing my cup of chamomile tea at my side. I then take my seat and begin my practice. Every day the ritual is the same and I try to bring present moment awareness to each of those simple actions of preparation as part of the practice itself. The ritual helps me orient myself towards mindful awareness even before I close my eyes.
4. Work With Distractions
In my morning meditation I am sometimes joined by Ty (a large Labrador) who tries all his tricks to get my attention. I close my eyes, he nuzzles my ears. I centre myself, he licks my face. I focus on my breath, he rams a toy in my hand. I ignore him, he sits squarely on my lap. Now sometimes I agree and we play together on the floor. In those moments I try to be fully present with him and the game becomes something of a meditation itself. Other times, he gives up his nuzzling and sits quietly at my side. We then both journey inward, he to sleep, and me into meditation. Ty has taught me that an authentic mindfulness practice cannot be overly rigid and must include space for the spontaneous and the unexpected. So, do not wait for the time to be perfect, the house to be silent, or distractions to be absent to start. Mindfulness practice exists amongst the realities of daily life. The only perfect moment to practice is now.
5. Add Informal Practices To Your Day
Research shows that adding informal mindfulness practices into your daily routine as well as your formal sitting practice is highly beneficial. An informal practice might be: taking the long-cut to the train station through the park and savouring the natural beauty, or silently sending compassionate thoughts and intentions to others as you engage with them over the course of the day. Choose ones that will be easy for you to integrate in your busy life.
6. Keep Your Practice Varied
Different mindfulness practices develop different skills. I like to keep my mindfulness practice varied by choosing a different focus each day. One day I will use an open-monitoring practice to simply notice what is arising within me. Another day I will take a single focus such as the breath or the flame of a candle and when my attention wanders I notice this and bring my focus back. Alternatively I sometimes focus on a person I love and take time to absorb the feelings of support and compassion that arise as I visualise them with me. A varied practice will keep you interested and keep you learning. My book 100 Mindfulness Meditations will help you if you need inspiration and guidance.
7. Forgive Yourself Often
In order to create a long-term mindfulness practice, forgiveness is essential because there will be days, weeks and even months when you lose sight of your practice. Without forgiveness it may be impossible to find your way back. So, each time a practice is missed, forgive yourself as immediately and completely as you can. Try not to let guilty feelings of missing practice keep you away from the rich possibility of your next meditation.
Remember, your breath and body will always be ready and available to lead you directly into present moment awareness.
Neil Seligman is Author of 100 Mindfulness Meditations and Founder of The Conscious Professional through which he offers Corporate Mindfulness, Resilience & Wellbeing Programs and 1-1 Life Coaching. Neil leads Luxury Mindfulness Retreats at Champneys and Mindfulness-Inspired Fine Art through Soul Portrait Studio.