Week 3: Being present Pasted Graphic

Staying in the present moment and not getting lost in thoughts or daydreams is an important skill to practice. In this session we will look at meditation practices that can be long or short, still or moving. There will be some mindful movement practices that help to gently wake us up to our bodies, and some short breath meditations. These can be integrated into our daily lives.

Mindfulness is about connecting better with our daily lives, not a special set of practices that are just done for a few minutes a day. The practices are important, as they help us to train ourselves to come more regularly into the present, and to experience what that present moment feeling is like. Using the breath and movement as a way of stepping out of automatic pilot and into the present moment is a useful skill for daily living.

Pasted Graphic 1 Mindful movement

Mindfulness is not just about sitting on a cushion or a chair, or doing exercises in a class. It is something that you can develop throughout the day. So much of our time is spent on automatic pilot that we hardly notice much of what is going on in the world around us, and also in our own thoughts and feelings and bodily sensations.

The raisin exercise illustrates that something as simple as eating can be done very differently and bring in different sensations and experiences. Likewise, something as simple as walking can be done more mindfully. We can bring more attention to any activity, and notice our thoughts, feelings, and sensations in the body as we undertake that activity. By so doing, our awareness and understanding expands, and we begin to develop more abilities to respond rather than react.

It can be surprising to some people that movement is a key practice in mindfulness. There are many reasons for this. It is one way of coming to the present moment, exploring our experiences physically as well as cognitively. It is a way of finding boundaries, and learning to deal with edges. And it is a way of bringing present moment awareness into everyday life, whether it is mindfully walking to work in the morning, or mindfully standing in the queue at the supermarket.

If you can take up a regular mindful movement practice such as yoga, tai chi, pilates, that can be very beneficial both physically and mentally. However, any physical activity can be done more mindfully, by paying attention to it. Thich Nhat Hanh is a great fan of washing up as a mindfulness practice - when washing up try to focus on what you are doing rather than seeing it as an activity to be rushed and got out of the way, being present with the washing up rather than the next activity. When you are out for a walk, give yourself a little more time, knock 10% off your pace and consciously notice what is going on around you.

Any activity can become a mindfulness practice. In a formal practice we will often slow things right down, but in daily activity just taking our foot off the mental accelerator can be enough.


Finding our edges

Throughout life we have a natural tendency to put up barriers, to create edges. Often, those edges are unconscious, and we naturally avoid approaching them. Physically, if we have pain in a joint, we will try and compensate to reduce that pain even if that locks the joint and reduces its mobility. Emotionally we often behave the same way, avoiding things that we find unpleasant, and distracting ourselves when unpleasant things arise.

Mindfulness can make us more aware of our edges, and help us to understand better the choices we have in dealing with them. Though it can sound odd at first, in a mindfulness practice you are often invited to stay with an edge, explore it, and bring some kindness and compassion to it, including it as part of the practice. Equally, are not be encouraged to cling to it, but to see it as part of the bigger picture. Nor should you try to push yourself beyond your edges. Whether physical or emotional, experience the difficulty as best you can, turn towards it if possible, but notice if things get too hard and consciously back off.

So, be aware that mindfulness may introduce you to some edges, which can be difficult at times. At all times treat yourself with compassion, do not hurtle towards your edges or obsess about them. Note them, learn and move on. Patience, kindness and compassion are things that are important for you to bring to yourself.

Three-step breathing exercise
(Guided practice ThreeStepBreathingSpace)

Pasted Graphic 2It can be useful to introduce small exercises throughout the day to bring us more in touch with our feelings. The three-step breathing exercise is a short exercise that can be done very quickly, either as a response to a stressful activity, or as a preparation for a stressful activity, or just simply as a way of calming ourselves in bringing us in touch with the immediate moment.

The image of an hourglass is sometimes used to describe this exercise. it begins with a wide awareness, narrows down to the breath, and expands out to a wider awareness again. It is a way of using the breath to anchor yourself into the present moment.

Integrating practice like this, that is short and simple but done regularly, is one way of integrating mindfulness into your daily activities. To begin with, choose some routine activity you can link it to - boiling the kettle, turning on the computer, anything that is a natural interlude or transition. It need not be, and indeed sometimes should not be, something that is large and obvious to others.

The three-step breathing exercise for example can be used as a response to a stressful event, say in a meeting just before you are expected to speak on an important topic.

Exercise

  • Stop whatever you are doing. Consciously bring your awareness to what is going on around you. Then bring your awareness into your body, noticing what is going on for you at this moment. How do you feel? What is your emotional temperature? What thoughts are going through your mind?
  • Bring awareness to your breath. Notice how your breath is. Do not consciously change your breath, but staying with your breath and notice its changes. Stay with it as long or as short as you have available. If you are sitting, you may chose to close your eyes.
  • Widen your awareness to your whole body, feeling perhaps that the whole body is breathing. Then expand your awareness back into what is going on around you. Notice the sensations that are coming in. Notice how you feel. Then continue with your day.

Home Practice - Week 3

Home practice is an important part of learning mindfulness. We have busy lives, but if possible try the following in the coming week.

  • On alternate days, do a body scan and a mindful movement activity. For the mindful movement, try some simple yoga or stretching exercises, or take a mindful walk.
  • At a different time, do a ten minute breath meditation, following the one on the CD provided.
  • Choose a different activity to do mindfully this week.
  • Choose three points in the day when you can use the three step breathing space.
  • Complete an unpleasant events diary with one unpleasant event a day. It need not be a dramatic event - something simple you did not like is enough. When such an event occurs during the day, jot down your thoughts and feelings about it. How did you react, what actions did you take?
  • Before coming to the next session, reflect on your week and complete the weekly summary below.

Unpleasant Events Diary

Make notes below each day of a particular event which you found unpleasant. Prompt yourself with the following questions:

  • Where were you when you had the experience?
  • Were you aware of unpleasant feelings at the time?
  • Did you notice any body sensations? What were the details of them?
  • What was your mood, thoughts, feelings at the time of the event?
  • What thoughts and feelings are with you as you write about the event?
Weekly summary

Before coming to the next session we invite you to make a short summary below of your week. You might want to consider the following questions to guide you:

What came up for you this week arising from the course and your practice?
What difficulties did you have?
What questions arose for you?