Introduction to Mindfulness Program
Week #1: What is Mindfulness?
Thank you so much for signing up for the program. Here is your first class. In about a week, you can expect to receive an email from me inviting you to the second class. If you have any questions, or want to schedule a time for more personalized consultation, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
What you will find in this week’s class:
- Explanation of the mindfulness process
- A meditation practice for you to try
- Homework assignment
Welcome to the Introduction to Mindfulness Program! First of all, congratulations on making the decision to try making mindfulness practice a part of your life. While the practice is quite simple, it is one of the most powerful tools for change any therapist or coach can offer you. If you follow the program and complete all the homework, in one month’s time you will be closer to your goals – whatever they are – then you are today. All that is required of you is a curious mind and a willingness to dedicate some time to practicing.
Mindfulness practice helps you develop the ability to respond to each moment with clearer, more deliberate intentions. This, in turn, will help you craft your life with integrity, clarity and focus.
So much of our stress has to do with our thoughts about situations, rather than the situations themselves. Ideally, when faced with a problem, we do all we can in the moment to solve it and then move on. However, all too often we keep thinking about the problem and stressing over it. So while some of the stress comes from the situation itself, often we greatly increase our stress by how we respond to the situation.
Mindfulness meditation is a proven practice to help reduce stress. For those of you who want to know about the research behind that claim, click here. Mindfulness is a practice of focusing your attention in a particular way: — you practice non-judgmentally paying attention to you experiences in the present moment. It sounds simple, and in truth it is. However most of us still require practice to do it.
So much of the time, we are very far from present. Instead we tend to be lost in our thoughts — thinking about things that happened in the past or that may happen in the future. Often these thoughts run continuously in the back of our minds — like a running commentary — and we usually don’t even realize this is happening. However, this process can have a huge impact on our stress levels.
To be clear, mindfulness is not about trying to stop having thoughts, or changing your thoughts. Rather it’s simply about recognizing when you’re “thinking” and then coming back to the present. You don’t need to engage with the thoughts. Lightly say something like “It’s just that thought again” and then imagine gently setting the thought upon a leaf floating downstream. Let it float gently away as you remain present at the stream’s edge. With regular practice, this kind of mindfulness can actually rewire the brain and make it easier to focus your thoughts where you choose, rather than where they automatically and unconsciously take you. It gets easier the more you do it.
The Mindfulness Process
Here’s how it works:
Focus: You begin by bringing your attention to your experience of the present moment. The best way to do this is to focus on your senses. For example, start by focusing on your experience of your breath – focus on how it feels in your body as you simply breathe in and out. That’s the start of the process.
Distracted: After a little while, your mind will become distracted and start thinking about stuff. You will probably become distracted before you even realize you are distracted. This is completely normal.
Awareness: Eventually you become aware that you are thinking and are distracted from just experiencing the present moment.
Redirection: This is a critical step. Without judging yourself for having gotten distracted, or for the content of the thoughts, just label them as “thoughts” and let them go, coming back to experiencing the breath.
And the cycle begins again.
The point of the practice isn’t to stay focused on the breath the whole time. The point is to become more aware of your thoughts and to learn to gain control of where your mind goes when it gets off track. You might go through the cycle several times a minute, and that’s OK. The progress comes from just practicing going through the cycle of focusing, getting distracted and then re-focusing. With practice, this becomes easier.
Ready to get started? Here’s a 5-minute guided meditation for you to try.
A Note About the Meditation: I usually begin and end my meditation recordings with the sound of a bell ringing three times. I do this for a few reasons. First, I find it a nice way to set “meditation time” aside, marking the opening and closing of the practice with the bell. I also find the sound of the bell a great thing to focus on. As you know, mindfulness practice is all about tuning your attention into your experience of the present moment – through the senses. Mindfulness bells tend to ring for an extended period of time, if you listen carefully they can sound like they go on forever. It can be a fun practice to see how long you can stay focused on the sound of the bell.
This program isn’t just about developing the skills to be a good meditator. Meditation is really just a means to an end. Practicing mindfulness is much like exercising at the gym, — it prepares you for living life outside the gym more fully. Mindfulness practice prepares you to live life itself more fully.
Homework is an integral part of this program. This program truly will give you all you need to start making the most of your life. However, it’s ultimately up to you to walk the path. Fortunately, if you do your best to complete the homework assignments I give you every week, you will absolutely be closer to reaching your goals by the time the program ends a month from now.
Next week, we’ll explore how to be more effective at goal-setting, but for now, your homework this week is to set a realistic goal for your mindfulness practice over the next week and work to achieve it. Two minutes a day, five, ten, twenty – pick a goal you can reach. No amount is too small.
Your goal-setting should include:
Specific: When are you going to practice? How often? Be as clear as possible and set up whatever kind of reminders you think you need.
Measurable: When the time comes, take note of what happened. Did you achieve your goal? Why or why not? Try to stay neutral and avoid self-judgment here. Just try to take down the facts about what happened.
Achievable: Don’t set the bar too high, especially at first. Try to set a goal that is hard enough to challenge you, but easy enough that you are pretty confident that you can achieve it.
OK. Once you have set a clear goal for yourself, write it down somewhere that you will be able to find. Be sure you take notes about your progress throughout the week, no matter what happens. This part is really important. You’ll learn more about why that is so essential next week.