“The crux of the biscuit
is the apostrophe”
A Mindfulness Roadmap For Breakfast
Each morning I create (construct) a large salad for breakfast with a base of kale, mushrooms and delicious tomatoes. Of course I pick and choose a myriad of other items to complete it, and top it off with some type of salad dressing. But this morning it occurred to me, how I construct my salad each morning is exactly how most of us construct our view of reality each morning when we awake. I immediately put the unopened bottle of dressing back into the refrigerator and instead sprinkled a mere teaspoon of vinegar over the top of the big salad.
Practicing mindfulness is a bit like putting the salad dressing back in the icebox, you end up with a clearer, crisper and healthier view of reality than you would have had without the practice.
As I ate my naked salad I was struck by the boldness of the flavors that usually are hidden under the creamy dressing. The tomatoes popped with freshness, the kale and the lettuce crunched loudly while mixing flavors with the salmon topped with slices of avocado and fresh ground black pepper. And the vinegar? Why it tied everything together, and accented the newness of the summer morning I watched awaken before me as I ate breakfast on the concrete back-steps, outside my house, this morning.
So what the heck is a Mindfulness Roadmap anyways? Simple, it’s a series of tips or guideposts worth (I think ) knowing as you journey from point A to point x,y and z. There are no miraculous finds within this list of steps, yet I think the twelve tips below are illuminating if you remember them as you practice. It’s easy to forget the basics as you spend more hours and months practicing mindfulness. Remember the basics and the rest of the work will take care of itself. Or I hope it will.
It’s easy to forget to keep your foot flat to the ground when you’re pedaling a bicycle, (bicycling into mindfulness) but if you do keep each foot flat you’ll go further and faster than if your technique is sloppy. It’s the same with practicing mindfulness, don’t get cocky or sloppy
The crux of any practice is to remember to do it. That little tip is what I kept in mind as I was assembling this mindfulness roadmap. And to get a good start to our journey I created the first step and titled it Start Small. How’s that for recognizing the difficulty in starting any new practice in our way too busy lives.
1. Start Small
And keep it simple. Mindfulness is not complicated, though it does require that we put the work (practice) into it on a regular basis. Are there any goals (not really) we need to keep in mind? Make your practice something you do each day, sit and watch your breath for a few minutes when you start out and work your way up to 20 or 30 minutes each day. At some point you may want to sit and watch your breath a couple of times each day but hey, don’t worry about that. If you do, you do and if you don’t, you don’t. Sit for a few minutes each day watching your breath and you’ll be fine.
2. Watch Your Breath
How the heck do I watch my breath, there’s nothing to see (grumbles). in your mind or watch it by being aware of the sensations of the air coming into your nose and leaving your nose. Feel the in and feel the out of your breath. In the beginning you may want to count your breaths until you have practiced a while and once you feel ready, drop the counting and start feeling the flow of your breath.
I do have a big suggestion (Rule) don’t get attached to controlling the in and out of your breath. It’s easy to fall into a rhythm where you are controlling the in and the out breath as you watch it. (complication, I know). But if you practice just feeling the breath come in and go out and not when or how strong it comes and goes you’ll be fine.
I promise your body knows how to breathe all on it’s own, without your help.
3. This is my favorite step, Sit and Repeat.
I like it because of its simplicity but, also because it reminds me of the saying Rinse and Repeat, both are clear and simple and as far as I know don’t have alternative meanings to confuse things (I could be wrong). Many people find little trouble in doing the sitting for the first time, but the hard part is in the repeating the sitting. Yep, it’s the doing it again and then doing it a 3rd and 4th time that becomes the problem.
It’s no bad enough that out minds will race and stream tons of thoughts and feeling while we sit in mindfulness practice but then we’re supposed to repeat it. Oh No!
The repeat part is the key to this whole thing, think of it as the goal (the one I said didn’t exist). Pretend I didn’t use that 4 letter word and think of sit and repeat as the same as rinse and repeat, the more you repeat the practice the more suds and dirt you get out in the rinse. Sound good?
4. Thoughts Come and Go
Thoughts appear to the tune of 60,000 thoughts racing through our minds each day. I’m sure no one walks around with a meter connected to their head that counts this stuff. But no matter if the real number is more or less, the fact is our minds our awash in a stream of thinking that has a mind of its own.
When we first start mindfulness practice we may be surprised at how much we think and how hard it is to control it our shut it off. But like watching our breath, observing our chatty mind is not about shutting it off or controlling the amount of thoughts that flow in and out.
When we are sitting in practice and thoughts flow in we can acknowledge them by mentally saying “thinking.” Saying “thinking” gives us a pause so we don’t jump down the rabbit hole of carrying on a conversation with ourselves, and then we can resume watching our breath. I sometimes will see a thought as a balloon and will gently pop it instead of saying “thinking” to myself.
The key here is to know you’re thinking and to gently bring yourself back to the breath without engaging with the thought and without judging yourself for thinking. Believe me your mind will throw thoughts at you no matter how much you grit your teeth and tell it not to. Acknowledge the thinking and come back to your breath.
5. Stay With It
Stay with what? You may ask. Stay with the emotions that you feel and experience while traveling the steps along the Mindfulness Roadmap excursion.
You may be tempted when uncomfortable emotions appear to distract yourself or crunch them into a paper ball and toss those pesky emotions as far as you can, don’t do it. And even though I know you’ll want to analyze, categorize, peg, rank, pigeonhole or classify the emotions as they appear as sensations, itches, irritations or creeping crawling pesky rawness, please don’t. Don’t grab onto any of them. treat the large or small sensations of anxiety, fear, confusion, anger and yes even joy the same way you treat your thoughts as they flow in and out of your mind. Gently and without judgement bring your attention back to the breath.
6. Tune Into Posture
If we slouch while sitting in meditation there is a good chance we’ll fall asleep or at least restrict the clear flow of our breath. Likewise if we tilt our head back there’s a good chance we’ll go into a dream or chattering state. Our back should be straight and our head very slightly tilted forward (I mean Very Slightly). If our eyes are open i suggest looking downwards just a bit in a gaze and not a focus. Even if your eyes are closed it’s good to check that you are not staring as this will cause the muscles around your eyes to tighten.
I find checking my posture often allows me to catch tightness in my neck and shoulders, around my eyes and in my fingers. Simply feel the position of your body as you finish exhaling. You can lightly scan your body after each exhale or you can do it every few exhales. No need to think about the scan just become aware of tightness in your body, loosen or straighten up and move onto your next inhale. After awhile you’ll be aware of tension without doing a scan, release it and inhale.
7. Join With Others
Finding a group to sit with on a regular basis can be difficult. I for example live in a small city of over 100,000 people and there are no daily AM sittings groups closer than 40 miles from me. When I lived in Hanover NH there was a group sitting everyday at 7:00 AM that had no requirements, you could show up sit for 45 minutes and leave or talk with others after the sitting or make arrangements to meet later. The group was perfect for those who wanted to sit with a group but had work or family obligations that prevented them from sitting at inconvenient times (my rant).
The point of all this before I got on my rant is that if you can find a group there are huge upsides to interacting with others who are sitting on a regular basis and if you can find a group that has open sits so you can easily pop in and out, get thee to the group.
8. Is That You?
Often people will get a bit concerned with he thoughts that flow in and then out of the their mind while sitting and watching their breath. First all the thoughts are transient and will leave and be replaced with other thoughts unless we grab onto them with concern or worry. That’s the key, the lifespan of thoughts is directly related to how much energy we give to them. Hold onto thoughts and they’ll hold on to you, so to speak. Acknowledge a thought as a thought and you dis-empower it.
When dark thoughts arrive don’t be surprised. Our minds throw some pretty weird stuff at us as we sit and watch our breath. When we are placing our attention on our breath we become more aware of your thoughts and dark thoughts don’t make you a bad or evil person. We all think of hitting someone in the face from time to time, they are just random thoughts and not who we are. Some of us will be sitting and have violent thoughts flow in and flow out just as quickly as them came in. Again our thoughts and emotions are mostly random and don’t define who we are.
Ask yourself, am I my thoughts. if your answer is yes than you may want to talk with a professional. Having dark thoughts is one thing, thinking you are those thoughts or you might act on them is a different thing.If sitting becomes uncomfortable for you stop sitting and talk with someone. Maybe join a group of people experienced in sitting to get support and guidance.
Normally the longer you sit watching your breath the less thoughts steaming into your awareness happen. And I don’t mean to alarm anyone who’s new to mindfulness. Start slowly and things should be fine.
9. Savor The Moment
When I think about the unfolding of each moment I am struck by the magnitude of a moment and further thrilled by the opportunity being presented to us within each moment we are aware of. WOW! If we are at least somewhat resolute about our sitting we will experience a deeper awareness of standing within the stream of moments in our life.
This standing in the stream of moments with awareness is not magic, it’s not religious and it’s not special but to quote Shunryu Suzuki “it is something.” Standing in the midst of unfolding moments and being aware of where we are erases the past and the future, it puts us squarely in the present, puts us squarely in the Here And Now.
And boom we suddenly are transported back to our everyday reality pregnant with the the tugging of the past and the promises of the future. We ask ourselves how did I lose being in the moment? The answer of course if that we tried to grab hold of the stream of unfolding moments, we tried to posses it and lost it.
Trekking through life using guides like the Mindfulness Roadmap may give you a shot at standing in the stream of moments again, or for the first time.
10. Don’t Get Caught
Mindfulness is not possession of the present moment, it’s not owning the here and now. Mindfulness is awareness of the here and now, awareness of standing in the stream of infinite unfolding moments commonly referred to as the “present.” We lose that awareness once we get caught by grabbing, clutching, snagging, hooking and nabbing onto it.
The key is not to try and possess the present moment but to dwell in awareness of it. Don’t get caught by distractions, don’t be engulfed by desire to possess it. We are always standing in the midst of the stream of unfolding moments, we just don’t realize it most of the time.
11. Do It Anywhere
One minute of watching your breath on a busy train can transport you in mindfulness and for that reason alone I recommend you practice whenever and wherever you can. Close your eyes at your desk and watch your breath, maybe duck into a local library and sit for 5 minutes before you go to work. Wherever You Are, Watch Your Breath, Uncork Your Awareness.
It’s Also easy to carry the Mindfulness Roadmap with you on your cell phone with out handy Slideshare Slideshow Here.
12. Cluttered Mind
Uncluttering your mind is much simpler than many would have you believe and simpler than you probably believe. When you are ready to take a step you’ll only need a few minutes each day as a starting point. Sit, Breathe and Repeat. You’ll be on your way, do you wonder where that could be? Do you wonder what it will be like. Well, take a step and Sit, Breathe and Repeat. – It’s That Simple