To allow our mind and thoughts to settle, and to achieve the state of mindfulness, we need a clear focus, or an anchor— a calm and a fixed place to direct our thoughts and attention while the mind calms itself down.
This anchor often serves the same objective as setting down a full jar of muddy water. It simply helps keep us from stirring things up and making them more complicated.
As we continue with the guided instructions for beginning to start the meditation, try to read while sitting in one of the meditative or lotus yoga body postures as described in this article.
These guided instructions will help condition your soul, body, and mind to the proper position, and you’ll be prepared to follow step-by-step instructions as they are presented. When your body is completely and properly positioned, take a few deep breaths to help your mind, as you settle in.
As the process of your sitting meditation begins, you may discover that some part of your body requires a few readjustments. If you find that you need a little bit of time to shift your body, then it is perfectly fine to do so until you feel comfortable enough to begin.
Your goal is not to remain still but to attain some reasonable stability that allows you to focus on developing deep and mindful awareness.
As you begin to meditate, it’s nice to occasionally check each of the guided steps mentioned for posture to ensure that your body is in the best position to avoid any uncertainty.
The only rule in Buddhist philosophy and mindfulness of breathing is that if you make adjustments during your breathing meditation practice, do so with complete attention, and while being mindful.
Attending to the Mind
Once your body is at a zen place where it needs to be, we need to bring our full attention to the mind. One also needs to take a brief moment to pay attention and acknowledge one’s intention to practice mindfulness.
As we deepen our mindfulness practice, we will discover how critical we can be at times, and how difficult it is to set proper and clearer intentions; but when we are sincere and determined about our goals and purposes, they have an amazing capacity to be realized.
Now, if we are ready to begin mindfulness meditation. Our initial task is to establish a clear and determined focal point or anchor. What we need to do is to let the soul and mind completely settle down in a zen place, like a full jar of muddy water, allowing its mindless hyperactivity to subside gradually and calm down.
All the forms of mindfulness meditation use such an anchor, although the particular focal point varies from tradition to tradition.
Some meditation practitioners use a mantra, which is usually a traditional or religious short saying or set of syllables that the experienced meditators repeat to themselves. Virtually anything— may be an object or a sound, or maybe a personal thought, or a bodily sensation— can become the primary focus of our meditative practice.
Attending to the Mindfulness of Breathing
In the basic mindfulness exercises taught here on prokensho.com, we use breathing as the anchor for our full attention. Although we will not focus solely on the process of breath as it comes in and out, also at the beginning of our meditation training, it is a very good place to start.
For one thing, the breath is always present. Due to this, the process of breath is something to which we can return to later— no matter where we are in our meditation practice— when our mind starts to begin to wander here and there, as it inevitably will. That fact is very essential to strengthening our powers of deep concentration.
Second, simply attending to the rhythms of one’s breathing as we inhale and exhale brings profound calmness to one’s body. Watching the rhythms of one’s breath serves two important or primary purposes: first to calm us, and second is to focus our awareness. Observing the breath can also teach us many things about the world and ourselves, as we will see when we start to meditate.
There are various ways one can observe the breath, and one will also need to experiment a bit to see which technique works best for them as an individual.
- First, you need to watch the rhythm of your breath by focusing your full attention on the sensations of the air flowing through your nostrils in and out. Simply pay close attention to where the sensation feels most prominent, and then simply direct your awareness to that particular area. Take a few deep breaths and a few moments to try this technique.
- A second way to observe the rhythm of breathing is by attending to the abdomen or the chest as either expands and contracts with each breath. One may prefer directing one’s full concentration to one of these places if the sensation at the nostrils seems too peaceful, subtle, or too faint to hold your full attention.
Again, take a moment to try this method. Simply guide your state of mind, focus, and pure awareness to the place where you most prominently sense the rhythms of your breath (inhalation and exhalation).
Mindfulness Meditation and Distractions
As one advance in their mindfulness meditation practice, one may discover other distractions or places to attend to your breathing, which is fine as well. The most important thing is to choose a quiet place and stay with it, at least in the initial mindfulness meditation training stages. The rhythm of one’s breath functions as a focal point for deep awareness so that the point needs to remain constant.
Once you are focused and determined where you will observe the rhythms of your breath, then sit there and silently watch yourself breathe in and out. Now, stay in this mindful position for a few moments and then accordingly pay close attention to the rhythm of your breath. Let the rhythms of your breathing be as effortless and natural as possible. Just let it be what it will be.
Your task is merely to watch what happens. If you can do this, you are being mindful and aware of the present moment. Pay close attention to the minute qualities of this meditation process, but make sure to refrain from making quick judgments or evaluating your own experience.
Breathing and Mindfulness Meditation
No matter how hard one tries, it’s usually very difficult at the beginning of this meditation discipline to stay concentrated. Then after only a short time, our attention and thoughts usually begin to wander here and there, and a torrent of one’s negative thoughts, emotions, and judgments flood one’s brain.
When you notice that your mind has wandered away from its focal point, simply observe the fact that it has strayed and then—ever so gently—return your attention to one’s breath. Occasionally, what distracts one’s mind isn’t a thought but a sensation or a particular sound. Try not to make any harsh judgments about what has happened; so simply observe and move on.
What we’ve just described is the basic fundamental mindfulness practice of developing deep concentration. Concentration is usually defined as one’s capacity to stay attentive to a single thing while being fully present and completely mindful of the situation. Hindu monks and yogis often call this state of mind and ability “EKAGRATA” or one-pointedness.
To train one’s mind to attain the state of one-pointedness, one must practice and learn to become aware of when one’s mind tends to wander from its anchor and then bring it back to its focal point. In the process of learning to concentrate, we’ll repeat this process over and over: Because when the mind strays, and we need to return it to the breath.
In doing so, we are doing more than simply learning to be aware and to concentrate; we are also sharpening our awareness while being mindful of our surroundings.
The real challenge in the process of learning one-pointedness is to be fully attentive to the mind when it drifts and wanders in different places. Because we are conditioned to be mindless, we’re usually not aware of our surroundings, and often we lost our attention and focus.
Read: Maintaining Mindfulness Practice, to achieve the state of one-pointedness.
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