In this post we describe step-by-step how to do mindfulness training – shown to have positive effects on working memory capacity.
Transcribed from an audio file on Gil Fronsdal’s excellent Insight Meditation Center website.
You can try this for 10 minutes to begin with, and build up to half an hour or longer each time you meditate. Try to meditate once a day.
1. Sit in a comfortable position, eyes closed, preferably with the back upright.
2. It can be helpful to start a period of meditation with two or three deep breaths to establish a clear connection between the body and the breath and to shed some of the preoccupations of the mind.
3. Start to pay attention to the sensations of breathing in and breathing out, without trying to control your breath.
Into the meditation: Attention to your breathing
4. As you become familiar with your breathing, bring your attention to the area of your body where your breathing is clearest or easiest to attend to. This could be the rising and falling of the abdomen, the expanding or contracting of the chest, or the sensation of air passing through the nostrils.
5. It may help with keeping your attention to your breathing by silently labelling the inhalations as ‘in’ or ‘out’.
6. The focus on the breath will help you to become attentive and aware in the present – not be distracted by things that have happened or which may happen in the future.
Distractions are OK
7. Whenever you become distracted or preoccupied with your thoughts,or other sensations or emotions, gently, without judgement re-focus your attention on the breath.
8. If other sensations or thoughts are too strong to remain attentive to the breath, let go of the breath, and let the stronger sensation be the focus of attention.
Foreground and background of meditation
9. You may find it useful to distinguish between the foreground and background of awareness. As long as you can attend to your breath in the foreground – the main focal point, let the background experiences simply ‘be’.
10. When an emotional, mental or physical experience takes your breath away from the foreground, then take this as the new resting place for your awareness.
11. As an aid to remaining mindfully focused on an experience that is in the foreground, you may find it useful to gently name it as with a mental note. Sounds can be labelled as ‘hearing, hearing’, burning sensations as ‘burning, burning’. What is important is to sense, experience and remain present to whatever experience is being noted.
12. Maintain an open awareness of it for as long as it remains in the foreground of attention, noticing how – if at all – the experience changes.
13. Once an experience is no longer sufficiently strong to demand your attention/ return your awareness to the breathing.
Distractions are only something new to pay attention to
14. So in mindfulness practice, you consciously and clearly rest your attention on the breath until something strongly distracts you from it.
15. When this occurs the so-called ‘distraction’ becomes the focus of the meditation.
Actually, mindfulness meditation has no distractions – only something new to pay attention to. Nothing is outside the scope of mindfulness meditation. Physical sensations, perceptions, feelings, emotions, thoughts, internal images, moods, desires and intentions are all included.
More in-depth with your meditation: attention to the moment
16. Throughout the meditation, keep your attention soft and relaxed, while alert and precise.
17. If you can distinguish between the ideas, images, concepts or stories associated with some experience and the direct felt sense of the experience let mindfulness rest with the direct experience.
18. Notice the physical or mental sensations that are actually arising in the present.
19. notice what happens to them as you are mindful of them – do they get stronger, weaker or stay the same.
Your relationship to your experience
20. Notice also your relationship to your experience: Do you notice aversion, attraction or desire, fear, judgement, condemnation, grasping, pride, frustration, or any other reaction?
21. The realisation that a painful physical sensation can be separate from your reaction to it, can help you find acceptance in the midst of discomfort.
22. It is also important to become mindful of when your reaction to an experience is more intense or pronounced than the experience itself.
23. When it is, your reaction can become the resting place – the foreground – of awareness.
Direct experience without judgement
24. Don’t get carried away with and participate in your thoughts and stories, but simply become aware of what is actually occurring in the body and in the mind.
25. As we learn to become alertly and calmly present in our meditation, a deeper intimacy with ourselves and the world of experience will arise.
26. As we cultivate our ability to be mindful without interfering, judging, avoiding or clinging to our direct experience, wellsprings of insight have a chance to surface.