Finding Your Own Mindfulness Bell

In Buddhist monasteries, the mindfulness bell serves to remind people to begin their mindfulness practice. It is rung at the beginning of formal meditation sessions, and throughout the day to encourage people to be present no matter what they’re doing, whether chopping wood or fetching water. The mindfulness bell helps the monks and nuns integrate mindfulness practice into everything they do.

Outside of monasteries, we typically ring the mindfulness bell at the beginning of meditation classes. That’s a fine practice, but I think there’s something lacking in merely having the bell rung one time a week in a formal class. Really, when you think about it, there isn’t much purpose in ringing the bell before a class. We all know what we’re here for, right?

What I would encourage is to find another more useful mindfulness bell. One that is rung throughout your life. One you can use to reawaken at times throughout your day. For instance, you can use your phone to remind you to practice: Whenever you get a call or a text, pause and re-engage with the present moment. You can really use anything – the car horn honking, a new email message, the sound of your neighbor’s voice, the commercial break on TV… Find a sound or image that occurs frequently in your life, and once you hear it, use it to remind yourself to pause and reconnect.

Some people find it especially helpful to find sounds or images associated with stressful situations and make those their mindfulness bells. For instance, at work you can use an annoying co-worker’s voice, the phone in your office, or footsteps down the hall. In traffic, you can use cars honking, turn signals, red lights, or noisy cars. Be creative and co-opt a normal everyday thing into your mindfulness practice, cuing you one more time to turn your mind to the present. That way we have a bell that actually does what it supposed to, to remind us. 

Mindfulness STOP Skill

You’ll probably find engaging in a formal daily mindfulness practice has real benefits in reducing the stress and anxiety you feel throughout the day. There is significant research showing this is usually the case. However, there are more effective ways you can engage in mindfulness to positively shape your day to an even greater degree than formal sitting practice. One skill developed by Jon Kabat Zinn, is the mindfulness practice of STOP. 

STOP is primarily used to introduce mindful experience throughout your day, when you need it most. Even after a good mindfulness meditation in the morning, it’s easy to quickly get caught up in all of the stresses and activities of daily life. By applying mindfulness to these experience during your day, your mind will be on autopilot less, and you will be able to check in with how you are feeling, what you are thinking, and what behavior you’re engaging in. 

STOP is an acronym that stands for:

S: Stop. Whatever you’re doing, just pause momentarily. 
T: Take a breath. Re-connect with your breath. The breath is an anchor to the present moment. 
O: Observe. Notice what is happening. What is happening inside you, and outside of you? Where has your mind gone? What do you feel? What are you doing? 
P: Proceed. Continue doing what you were doing. Or don’t: Use the information gained during this check-in to change course. Whatever you do, do it mindfully. 

By occasionally reminding yourself to stop during your day, you can increase your awareness of what is going on around you and inside you. You may stop and notice you are engaging in a lot of negative self-judgments. Using STOP may help you recognize when your body is becoming tense, and allow you to correct it before you are in pain. You might find that you’re hungry, or that a break might be helpful. The more you STOP during the day, the more you re-engage with reality, and disengage from the habitual busyness of your mind. Click here for more information about mindfulness-based therapies

 

All material provided on this website is for informational purposes only.  Direct consultation of a qualified provider should be sought for any specific questions or problems.  Use of this website in no way constitutes professional service or advice. 

 

Walking Meditation Technique

If you have the ability to, you probably walk every day of your life. When you’re walking, usually you’re doing so to get somewhere. It’s how you get from point A to point B. And like any activity, you can bring the spirit of mindfulness to walking by refocusing your awareness on it. The nice thing about the mindful walking meditation is that you don’t have to do anything extra. You probably walk throughout the day. Mindful walking is just about doing it differently.

Begin by slowing down the process of walking. Draw all of your attention to just one step. Notice the sensation of the foot lifting. Attend to the way it travels through the air. Gently place the foot back on the ground. Repeat the process with the other foot. Just experience the movement, the sensations in the soles of your feet, the muscles turning on and off, weight shifting from one side to the other, the subtle corrections of other muscles maintaining balance. Rather than focusing on where you are going, pay attention to how you are getting there. In this way it’s a nice metaphor for a life well-lived.

It may be helpful to start in a quiet place, free from distractions, slowing the movement down to slow motion speed. Just concentrate on one step at a time, deliberately, and with awareness. Again and again, spending time with each step. Once you gain some familiarity with this slowed down practice, turn your mindfulness to the walking you do throughout the day – walking to the refrigerator, walking down the street, walking to the water cooler, walking in the store. Allow mindfulness to coexist with your already-established, normal everyday routine.

You will find your mind wander repeatedly throughout the practice. That is to be expected. Plans for the future, memories, judgments about whether you are doing this “right.” Wandering is exactly what your mind is supposed to do. Your only job is to notice when you mind has wandered, and bring it back to taking this one step. Click here for more information about mindfulness-based therapies

All material provided on this website is for informational purposes only.  Direct consultation of a qualified provider should be sought for any specific questions or problems.  Use of this website in no way constitutes professional service or advice. 

Reduce Negative Emotions by Using the Mindfulness Describe Skill

Human beings have very sophisticated minds. We can make sense of things in a way no other animal on the planet can. Drawing connections between abstract ideas is one of the abilities that allows us to engage in life in a way that is rich with meaning. The drawback to this is that we often make cognitive connections that can crowd our experience with a little too much meaning, ultimately complicating our lives in ways that leave us feeling stressed, frustrated, and depressed. The mindfulness skill describe (Linehan, 1993), is a tool we can use to cut through the noise in our minds, and contact the present moment in a simple, engaged way. 

Describe, as with other mindfulness skills, is a technique you can use to contact the present moment. We are usually in the habit of thinking about the present rather than experiencing it. As a result, we often just end up interacting with all of our thoughts, assumptions, and negative judgments rather than connecting to what is going on around us. This way of going through our day, day after day, complicates our lives. Being present without the filter of all of our thoughts, allows us to simply be.

The describe skill is aptly named. It is putting words to our experience in an objective, non-judgmental way. Rather than falling into the habit of rehashing the past, rehearsing the future, or evaluating the present, we simply identify what we notice in just this moment. One way of going about this is by noticing what is happening around you, in judgment-free language. “Blue sky. Fluorescent light. Hum of the air conditioner.” Notice any judgments as they come up, and describe those too. “I’m noticing a judgment about being at work.” Then replace the judgment with an objective description “Sitting in my chair.”

You can also use describe as a way of being mindful of your present experience. One way to do this is by checking in with thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (Barlow, 2010). “I notice I’m having thoughts about the future. I notice a feeling of anxiety in my chest. Taking one step, walking on the pavement.” Describing one’s internal experience can be helpful in making thoughts and feelings feel less overwhelming. Instead of relating to these internal experiences as catastrophic, unmanageable, or harmful, we can learn to relate to them as merely events that are happening. In a sense, they are happening in the arena of our awareness. And in reality these unpleasant experiences are not harmful. They are just experiences. Removing the catastrophic interpretations that normally accompany these experiences such as “This is terrible,” or “I can’t stand it,” helps us to relate to them with a little more perspective, and a little more ease. 

When you notice your mind turning toward a judgment, or getting caught up in your internal experiences, acknowledge that the mind is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do. Then simply turn your mind back to describing. Again and again. As you begin filling the mind with more grounded descriptions and fewer judgments and catastrophic appraisals, you’ll find the intensity of negative emotions begin to wane. Continue to practice this, and you may even find worries and regrets begin to fade into the background, with your current present experience taking center stage. 

Click here for more information on mindfulness and mindfulness-based therapies.

 

Barlow, D.H. et al. (2010). Unified Protocol for Transdiagnostic Treatment of Emotional Disorders. London: Oxford University Press. 

Linehan, M.M. (1993). Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: Guilford.

All material provided on this website is for informational purposes only.  Direct consultation of a qualified provider should be sought for any specific questions or problems.  Use of this website in no way constitutes professional service or advice. 

Using the Mindfulness Observe Skill

One way of bringing yourself to the present moment is by using the mindfulness skill called observe (Linehan, 1993). Observe is about merely noticing what is happening right now. It is just noticing, nothing more. Often it can be more powerful to just notice the present rather than think about the present. Observing is contacting, whereas thinking about is distancing. 

In addition to getting out of the habitual, auto-pilot sorts of thought patterns that complicate our experience, the observe skill helps us check-in with what is going on right now. By checking in with what we are feeling we can make better decisions about what is right for us, right now. By checking in with our sensations, we can notice when we need rest. By checking in with our thoughts, we can make choices based on what matters to us. 

In the previous article, a breath-mindfulness was described. This was one way to observe – observing the breath. This is a great way to begin formal mindfulness practice because observing the breath tends to help us quiet the mind and allow for a deeper experience of the present. 

After observing the breath for a few moments, turn your awareness to other physical sensations. Notice the feeling of the air on your face. Observe the pressure of your legs pressing into your seat. Attend to the feeling in your fingertips. Feel your heart beating. You can scan your body from head to toe, pausing when you notice a physical sensation. Or you can allow your mind to go to whatever physical sensation arises as it enters your awareness. 

From physical sensations, move to observing sounds. Without naming them, attend to different sounds. The whir of traffic outside. The humming of the air conditioner. The noises inside your abdomen. When a sound arises in your mind, attend to it.

Finally, a more subtle and consequently more difficult object of the observe skill, observe your own thoughts. Notice them come and go, without clinging to or avoiding any of them. Watch each thought appear and fade. Rising and setting like the sun. Not getting caught up in the content. Just watching them as you might watch the participants in a parade. 

As you practice observe, you will undoubtedly notice your mind wandering to other things. As is always the case in mindfulness, the act of noticing it has wandered is a sign of success. Acknowledge that wandering is what minds are supposed to do, and gently bring it back to observing. 

The key with this practice is to allow awareness of all of these events to come and go without clinging or attachment. If you notice an itch, allow it to be there. Make space for it by interestedly watching it. As you do, you affirm a level of acceptance for each moment.  Rather than getting caught up in the “should be’s” of autopilot-thinking, you drop the struggle, and embrace what is. 

As with most of the mindfulness skills, you do not have to save this practice for the five-or-so minutes a day you reserve for formal meditation practice. You can employ this skill in everything you do. Observe driving to work. Observe walking to your car. Observe eating you lunch. Observe at the gym. Observe in the shower. The more you use it, the more connected and present you’ll be, and the less your day will be caught up in the dramas your mind would otherwise create. 

 

Linehan, M.M. (1993). Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: Guilford.

All material provided on this website is for informational purposes only.  Direct consultation of a qualified provider should be sought for any specific questions or problems.  Use of this website in no way constitutes professional service or advice. 

Learn to Meditate to Reduce Stress

Meditation is an ancient form of contemplative practice that was developed as a crucial component of the world’s great spiritual traditions. From mindfulness meditation to creative visualization, the different forms of meditation that have developed throughout the world all have the goal of developing and enhancing serenity, compassion, and wisdom. Only recently has modern science begun to recognize the positive impacts of meditation on the brain, including increased emotion regulation, decreased psychological distress, improved attention, and improved immune system functioning. As a result, people who are not necessarily connected to a spiritual tradition have begun to benefit from this ancient practice as a way of improving quality of life. The following is a brief introduction to a specific form of meditation called mindfulness. 

The purpose of mindfulness meditation is to bring your mind fully into the present moment, without being distracted by unrelated thoughts, or unhelpful judgments. We are usually caught up in our thoughts, not realizing we are totally disconnected from what we are doing. This can have many negative consequences, the most important being we miss out on fully engaging in our lives, with our brain on autopilot. New research has shown that when we are caught up in our thoughts, our mood takes a significant dip. Conversely, when our find is focused on the present moment, our mood is usually improved, even when we may be doing something unpleasant. 

There are many ways to practice mindfulness. Below are some instructions for developing a simple daily meditation practice of being mindful of the breath. 

Find a quiet place free of distractions. Your mind will offer enough distractions of its own, so a place where there is noise or a lot of activity will make sustained attention significantly more difficult. 

Have a seat and close your eyes. There is no right way to sit. You can sit cross legged, full lotus, or upright in a chair. The most important thing is that your sitting position is comfortable, and not distracting itself.

Bring your mind to the sensation of your breath entering and exiting your nose. Just notice the tingling as cool air enters and warm air exits. This is a simple task in that there are not a lot of steps or complex visualizations to keep track of. However, you will find it is a difficult task. You will notice your mind wandering to all sorts of things: physical sensations, planning, daydreaming, rehashing past events. That is to be expected. In fact, the better you become at mindfulness, the more you notice how distracted you become when trying to focus your mind. 
All you have to do when you notice your mind leaving your breath, is gently bring it back. Again and again. If your mind wanders 100 times in one minute, bring it back 100 times in one minute. Sometimes people become discouraged because their minds continually wander. In reality, you should congratulate yourself for noticing your mind drifting. This is a significant improvement over never noticing at all. 

Watch your breathing for about 5 minutes. Continually aware of when your mind leaves. Continually bringing it back. Afterward, you may notice an increased sense of calm that you can use to set the tone for the rest of the day.

As you become more acquainted with the practice, you can increase the time sitting to 10, 15, 20 minutes. The most important point of developing a daily meditation practice is consistency, so 3 minutes every day is better than an hour once a week. 

Try this simple practice for yourself, and see what you notice. You may just find that taking a few minutes to be present is rewarding enough, that you look for other opportunities throughout the day to be present. Just as this practice is focused on the breath, you mindfully focus on driving, eating, drinking your morning cup of coffee, chatting with a co-worker… There are endless opportunities to connect to the present moment. 

 

All material provided on this website is for informational purposes only.  Direct consultation of a qualified provider should be sought for any specific questions or problems.  Use of this website in no way constitutes professional service or advice.