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Stress Management > 7. Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness Meditation: Mountain In Rain

MINDFULNESS IS LIVING IN THE PRESENT MOMENT. When I am mindful I know where I am. I know what is happening in me and around me. I feel my breath. I notice my passing thoughts and feelings without getting caught up into them. I am learning to ''be here now.'' I get to fully experience my life, moment by moment, instead of waking up at the end of my life and wondering where it all went. This quality of attention to each moment of our lives is difficult to maintain. Notice how your mind is already wandering ahead right now, as you read, wondering what will come next.

EXAMPLE: As the plane leaves the runway it hits multiple air pockets, causing my body to jolt with falling sensations. A wave of anxiety comes. I notice my hands taking hold of the armrests instinctively. I begin to slow my breathing, to work with my anxiety, to release my grip on the armrests. I watch my body's natural reactions to a stressful situation as an observer. Gradually, the tension in my body lessens and calmness begins to return.

The attitude of mindfulness can be practiced in stressful times to help us become as serene as a ''mountain in rain.'' A mountain sits still during a rain, maintaining its dignity; it makes no effort to change or control the rain; it does not judge the rain as good or bad; it does not need to DO anything. It just IS a mountain in rain. This quality of just being who or what we are in this moment is a foundational aspect of mindfulness.

Once on an eight-day meditation retreat I had a simple, yet profound experience. The group was breaking for lunch after sitting since six am that morning. I felt the need to stay put. After the group left, I was just sitting and listening to the rain as it lightly struck the ground. I felt my own rhythm of breathing. After a while, my breathing and the rain on the mountain seemed to become one. There was no ''I'', no sense of me separate from the mountain in rain. For a while, I WAS mountain in rain.

Sometimes the practice of mindfulness is like that. Our INTERCONNECTEDNESS with everything around us becomes a felt experience. A sense of completeness arises. We may realize we have everything we need in that moment. On the other hand, sometimes being mindful means being aware of very unpleasant experiences. In those moments we also sit with things as they are, notice what is happening, and breathe through whatever comes.

What is mindfulness? We can further our understanding with the opposite: MINDLESSNESS. To be mindless is to be unaware, clueless, lost from the present, or on automatic pilot. Mindlessness can make foolish decisions that are reactionary or thoughtless. Mindless decisions often cause suffering in ourselves or others.

EXAMPLE: I am driving in a direction, lost in thought. I turn left out of habit. I keep going until I am almost there. Then I realize that THERE is not where I needed to go. I was drivng mindlessly.

The following phrases may help to characterize various aspects of mindfulness:
1. Silent witness -- we observe inner and outer events in silence;
2. Formal practice -- we set aside periods of time each day to cultivate mindfulness;
3. Informal practice -- we seek to remain mindful during moments of each day;
4. Present moment -- we hold our attention in the NOW, not the past or future,
5. Non-doing -- we take time in the day to do nothing, to let go, to be;
6. Non-striving -- we accept thoughts/experiences without efforts to change/control;
7. Non-judging -- we do not judge thoughts as good/bad, or right/wrong;
8. Vipassana -- we look deeply into the reality of present moment experiences.

The following mottos may help to characterize mindfulness: ''You have the right to remain silent.'' ''Don't just do something, sit there.'' Mindfulness may seem almost un-American. We are in a culture that over-values accomplishments, speed, getting head. In such a culture, practicing the art of slowing down to reflect, to notice each moment, to actually BE in the moments as they pass can be very difficult.

PRACTICING MINDFULNESS can begin like this:
1. Sit still in a quiet place where you can avoid interruptions;
2. Set aside about 20 minutes to be alone;
3. Let your body relax;
4. Sit with dignity;
5. Breathe slowly, deeply, then naturally;
6. Be aware of the breath as you inhale and exhale;
7. Observe thoughts/feelings as they come, then return to awareness of the breath;
8. Use your awareness of breathing as an anchor when disturbances come to mind.

There are many ways to cultivate the attitude of mindfulness. The following list gives some examples; SITTING meditation, WALKING meditation, EATING meditation, YOGA, TAI CHI, BODY SCAN, and CENTERING PRAYER. Try your own ways that seem most natural for you, and keep practicing. Look for more articles on these areas on this web site in the future.

Dr. William Thiele is a pastoral counselor and licensed psychotherapist in Slidell, Louisiana.
Author: William E. Thiele, Ph.D.


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