Mindfulness: how do you get it?

I first ran into the concept of mindfulness in New Age materials that advised me to “be in the moment”. None of the materials gave me any tools for learning how to do that so initially I just tried to keep track of my thoughts and move my attention back to the present when I caught it wandering to the past or future. Since “wild mind” understated the constant swirl of thoughts through my brain in those days, my success was only moderate.

In the same years I took meditation and pranayama classes at the Temple of Kriya Yoga and learned other meditation forms. No one really emphasized a connection between those practices and keeping the mind clear and in the present so I didn’t realize these were tools for mindfulness.

By the time I encountered vipassana I had meditated and practiced pranayama and yoga for years and also completed the Fischer-Hoffman Process so I had moved along on clearing and learning to focus even though I didn’t entirely get that that meant being more in the present. Once I started studying mindfulness and sitting with a vipassana group I began to realize that many (if not all) spiritual practices can train your mind to be present and conscious.

Among the Buddhists and Hindus there are many variations on the theme of sitting with your attention on your breath or just sitting with a clear mind and I’ve encountered some teachers who think that type of meditation is the only path to mindfulness. However I find that chanting, mantra/one word focus meditations, walking and moving meditations such as qigong, tai chi, breema walk, etc., pranayama and some guided meditations can all assist in attaining mindfulness.

For all these practices you have to keep your mind clear of extraneous thoughts and focused on what you are doing if you want to be successful at practice. Thus for a chant your mind is clear of all but the words of the chant. For moving practices you keep your attention on the movements and, usually, whatever pattern of breathing goes with them. When I started practicing yoga nidra I found that it was excellent training for mindfulness because the instructions move so fast that if I don’t stay absolutely present and focused I lose chunks of the practice.

If you pick the type of practice that best suits you and your style I believe you’ll make better progress. For some years I really could not sit still for a vipassana type meditation. By the time I started sitting with a group, the years of pranayama, yoga and guided meditation had calmed me down and quieted my mind enough that I could sit pretty well. But if I’m antsy I find that chanting or Flying Crane can help me get centered and return to the moment better than sitting meditation because they engage the part of my mind that wants to be wild. I’m just grateful the universe has given us such a lovely array of possibilities. Doesn’t matter which you pick, just practice.

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