Some people say that these COVID-19 pandemic times call for action, not sitting on the cushion in mindful meditation. I disagree.
The practice of mindfulness, mindful walking and mindful sitting have been shown to increase our happiness, our sense of calm. Is it magic? No, it’s a deliberate choice and practicing that choice. What do we need to choose? First, sit quietly and breathe. Choose to slow down and take a body scan looking at the feelings in your body and the emotions you’re sensing. How do things feel? Good? Not so good? What tensions and worries can you choose to release? What pleasant thought can you choose to focus on – if only for a moment or two? When your attention wanders bring it back gently to the pleasant thought.
The second part of the mindfulness practice is to be aware of what feels positive and negative. Both thoughts will arise. Treat them both gently allowing them to come and go. If you are feeling something you don’t want to feel, maybe worry, anger, fear allow it to sit there. And just be. Breathe with it being there. You might want to acknowledge the negative feeling and let it know you are making room to accept it but will not to allow it to control you. The key to a mindful practice is this notion of acceptance, making room for the negative expression while not shutting it down or judging it. Breathe and smile, even if that means only turning up a corner of your mouth however slightly.
An attitude of acceptance has been shown to shift our mindset from trying to control everything all the time, including our past regrets and our future worries to letting go and making space for a sense of happiness, freedom, calm.
I want to distinguish between letting go of the tensions and negative thoughts and shoving them away or calling yourself bad names for having those thoughts. When you are aware of what you feel, not just that you feel, you can practice the mindfulness that alerts you and reminds you to let go of what doesn’t feel good because you are not your negative feelings. You may have feelings of sadness in you but that does not make you a sad person. You may have feelings of anger in you but that does not make you an angry person. You are you. Your feelings are your feelings. And feelings come and go like clouds in the sky.
Try this exercise to help you with your daily practice of mindfulness:
If you are struggling with feeling something that you don’t want to feel, such as worry, anxiety, confusion, or anger begin by making a space for that feeling. You might want to call it by a name and then notice where that feeling is showing up in your body, where you feel it. What qualities does this feeling have? Is it hot or cold, sharp or dull, overwhelming or small, and so on. What impulse does the feeling bring up in you? Do you want to cry, scream, jump up and down, curl up in a ball? Now, recognize that you have a choice about how to respond to the impulse. You can sit and watch the feeling, invite it to sit with you, be curious about how it changes, how it comes and goes. And then choose how to act.
In time your practice will be like getting knocked down by an ocean wave that tumbles you into the sand and when you finally stand up all sputtering and choking another wave comes along and down you go. But with practice you will learn to recognize the pattern of the waves and while you might get knocked over by one or two you won’t fall.