As our mindfulness practice develops, we may find we can approach more and more life situations with mindfulness. One of the greatest challenges here is to remember to be mindful — just as in formal practice our awareness drifts away from the object of meditation again and again, so we are prone to forget to pay attention when we get into the swing of our lives. However, just as we can come back to the breath or the body when this happens in formal practice, in mindfulness of life we can acknowledge what’s happened, return our attention to the situation we’re facing, and gently bring mindfulness into our way of being once more.
A tool you can use to practice this is the following mini-meditation, which takes you through each of the four foundations of mindfulness in turn — body, mind, feelings, and life. Allow some time for each step in turn (the whole thing could take anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes or longer). It can be practiced at your desk, on a train or bus, or in a supermarket line — though it’s not a good idea when you’re driving or otherwise needing your attention to be focused more externally.
You can also use it when you’re faced with a particularly challenging situation, those times when we’re more likely to fall back onto automatic pilot. It can help ground us in awareness, creating space from which we can choose to respond more skillfully.
Step One: Posture and Breathing
Take a relaxed, upright, dignified posture. Whether standing or sitting, cultivate a sense of being confident, present, and awake. Close your eyes, or leave them open, whatever works best for where you are now. Place your attention on your breathing. Notice the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen as you inhale and exhale. Connect with the breath as it moves in and out. Allow your mind to ride the breath, using it as an anchor to steady and settle your attention.
Step Two: Notice Your Bodily Sensations
Expand your awareness to what’s happening in your body. Become aware of your whole body — and any sensations you may be experiencing right now. Just notice your bodily sensations rather than judging them, trying to hold on to them, or pushing them away. If there’s an area of more intense sensation, perhaps experiment with breathing into it on the in-breath, and having a sense of softening on the out-breath.
Step Three: Notice Your Thoughts
Now, shift your attention to thoughts. Notice what’s going through your mind — watch your thoughts as they come into awareness, pass through, and fall away. Rather than attaching to or judging thoughts, practice accepting them as they are. Be curious about your experience and kind to yourself as you observe it. “Aha, this is what my mind is doing right now.”
Step Four: Notice Your Emotions
Turn your attention to your emotions. Are you feeling joy, sadness, anger, fear — or some combination of these? How are these feelings expressing themselves in your body? Where do you feel them? Are the sensations changing, or staying the same? Notice any tendency to create a mental storyline around them, and, as best you can, come back to the direct experience of sensing.
Step Five: Notice Your Environment
Expand your awareness to take in the whole of your experience, including your environment. What can you see, hear, smell? How are your body, mind, and feelings interacting with your life in this moment — the physical space you’re in, the people nearby, any activity that’s happening around you?
Step Six: What Next?
As you come out of the mini-meditation, ask yourself, “What’s the most skillful thing for me to do now?” Try to be genuine and listen to the response that comes from your heart. Allow your inherent wisdom to guide you, remaining in a mindful mode of being, as best you can, as you move through the rest of your day.
©2012 by Jonty Heaversedge and Ed Halliwell.
All rights reserved. Excerpted with permission
of the publisher, Hay House Inc. www.hayhouse.com
The Mindful Manifesto: How Doing Less and Noticing More Can Help Us Thrive in a Stressed-Out World
by Jonty Heaversedge and Ed Halliwell.
About the Authors
Dr. Jonty Heaversedge is a general physician in a large practice in South East London. He completed a degree in psychology and then a Masters in Mental Health Studies, and continues to pursue a particular interest in the psychological health and well-being of his patients. Jonty is a regular contributor to television and radio, and has become an increasingly familiar face on the BBC and BBC1. Visit his website: www.drjonty.com
Ed Halliwell is a writer and mindfulness teacher. He is the author of the Mental Health Foundation's Mindfulness Report (2010), and writes regularly for The Guardian and Mindful.org on meditation, Buddhism, psychology, and well-being. He is an authorized meditation instructor, and a partner in Mindfulness Sussex. He is also a faculty member at the School of Life, which offers a variety of programs and services concerned with how to live wisely and well. Visit him at: http://edhalliwell.com/ and http://themindfulmanifesto.com