14 Days of Mindfulness - Getting Started
"Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment." Jon Kabat
For most of us, when this happens, it's unexpected, maybe while walking on a mountain trail on a crisp autumn day, or being so focused in work or play that you are not thinking about past or future, or connecting with someone in a way that makes it seem like time is standing still. This state of being alive and whole in the present moment is always available, but it typically eludes us, especially in times of difficulty and external pressures.
The 14 Days of Mindfulness is a blend of meditation, body awareness, and mindfulness: learning through practice and study how your body handles (and can resolve) stress neurologically.
It's important to consider what it is that you hope will happen as a result of doing this program. For example, you may hope for some effective ways of dealing with stress or worry, ways to cope with illness or difficult life situations, better concentration, an increase in the ability to be present and fully engaged in life, or to accept yourself more fully and others just as they are. What is it that you hope will happen as a result of following this program?
What will taking the 14 Days of Mindfulness do for me?
Through this Health Action Plan, you will learn skills that can increase your ability to:
Cope with stress, pain, and the challenges of everyday life
Deal with disturbing events with grace and composure
Be fully present and alive in this moment
While this program is not a "cure" for serious medical conditions and should not be used as a substitute for medical treatment, research indicates that mindfulness training can have a significant therapeutic effect for those experiencing stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, depression, chronic pain, migraines, heart conditions, diabetes and other ailments.
Week 1: Body Scan Meditation
Body Scan Meditation (2:44) - Audio
Begin by bringing your attention into your body
You can close your eyes if that’s comfortable to you
You can notice your body, seated, wherever you’re seated
Feeling the weight of your body, on the chair, on the floor
And take a few deep breaths
And as you take a deep breath
Bring in more oxygen and livening the body
And as you exhale
Have a sense of relaxing more deeply
You can notice your feet on the floor
Notice the sensation of your feet touching the floor
The weight and pressure, vibration, heat You can notice your legs against the chair
Pressure, pulsing, heaviness, lightness
Notice your back against the chair
Bring your attention into your stomach area If your stomach is tense or tight, let it soften
Take a breath
Notice your hands Are your hands tense or tight?
See if you can allow them to soften
Notice your arms
Feel any sensation in your arms
Let your shoulders be soft
Notice your neck and throat
Let them be soft, relaxed
Soften your jaw
Let your face and facial muscles be soft
Then notice your whole body present
Take one more breath
Be aware of your whole body, as best you can
Take a breath
And then when you’re ready
You can open your eyes
DAILY PRACTICE: Read or listen to The Body Scan Meditation (Above). Do the Body Scan at least seven times this week. Don’t expect to feel anything in particular from this practice. In fact, give up all expectations about it. Just let your experience be your experience.
Make note of each time you do the Body Scan, put just a few words to remind you of your impressions of that particular body scan: what came up, how it felt, what you noticed in terms of physical sensations, emotions, thoughts, etc. It’s important to write the comments immediately after the practice because it will be hard to reconstruct later.
INFORMAL PRACTICE: Each day this week, see if you can bring mindful awareness to some otherwise routine activity. Before you go to bed each night, see if you can recall at least one example of “simple awareness.”
Week 2 - Seated Meditation
In a Washington, DC Metro Station, Joshua Bell, one of the world’s greatest violinists, played a beautiful, intricate, moving piece on a violin worth over 3 million dollars. During the 43 minutes he played, 1,097 people walk by. Only seven stopped to listen, and even those seven paused for only a few minutes. Two days before, Joshua Bell had played the same music to a sold-out audience in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each. His minimum fee for playing a public concert was $75,000. How could so many people have walked by? That so few people stopped was not a demonstration of the cluelessness of these commuters, but how the busyness of our daily life can sometimes prevent us from noticing the beautiful and miraculous world all around us.
How many amazingly beautiful things do we miss in a day, simply because of the pace of our lives and the intense focus on getting to the next thing?
We call the heart of the formal meditation practice “sitting meditation” or simply “sitting.” As with breathing, sitting is not foreign to anyone. We all sit, nothing special about that. But mindful sitting is different from ordinary sitting in the same way that mindful breathing is different from ordinary breathing. The difference, of course, is your awareness.
To practice sitting, we make a special time and place for non-doing. We consciously adopt an alert and relaxed body posture so that we can feel relatively comfortable without moving, and then we reside with calm acceptance in the present without trying to fill it with anything. You have already tried this in the various exercises in which you have watched your breathing.
It helps a lot to adopt an erect and dignified posture, with your head, neck, and back aligned vertically. This allows the breath to flow most easily. It is also the physical counterpart of the inner attitudes of self-reliance, self-acceptance, and alert attention that we are cultivating.
We usually practice the sitting meditation either on a chair or on the floor. If you choose a chair, the ideal is to use one that has a straight back and that allows your feet to be flat on the floor. We often recommend that if possible you sit away from the back of the chair so that you spine is self-supporting (see Figure A). But if you have to, leaning against the back of the chair is also fine. If you choose to sit on the floor, do so on firm, thick cushion which raises your buttocks off the floor three to six inches (a pillow folded over once or twice does nicely; or you can purchase a meditation cushion, or zafu, specifically for sitting).
DAILY PRACTICE: This week, we introduce the Sitting Meditation, using breath as the primary object of awareness, alternating this with the Body Scan (Sitting one day, Body Scan the next, etc.). Do the Sitting Meditation at least seven times this week. It can seem that the goal of the Body Scan or a Sitting Meditation is to stay focused on exactly one thing at a time (ankle, wrist, breath) and that when you notice your awareness has moved (to a memory, internal narrative, sound and wonderings about the sound), that you are somehow failing. These practices will increase your ability to focus and concentrate, but they will also expand your ability to be with whatever comes into your field of experience, non-judgmentally. Your NOTICING that your attention has moved to another object is, in itself, mindfulness in action. Mindfulness includes both a concentrative attention (think laser beam) AND a capacity to perceive a larger picture (think floodlight). Both are important. Focusing on only one thing leaves the larger picture unseen, and maintaining only a broad focus does not allow exploration of the parts.
Informal Practice: this week is about becoming aware of how we experience and process pleasant events. They don't need to be major events, they can be something as simple as feeling the sun on your face or someone smiling at you.
See additional Health Action Plans below!