By Leo Babauta
As you get started with theÂ Drop Deeper into Mindfulness Challenge, I’d like to offer some tips and answers to common questions.
The first thing I’d like to say is: don’t worry about whether you’re doing it wrong, or if you’re doing it imperfectly. That’s a normal question with any practice, but as long as you’re doing it, you’re doing fine. Let go of these worries and just practice.
The second thing: focus on just getting started (if you’re doing meditation). There is very often an urge to put things off. Don’t indulge that urge. Notice the urge, then just put it to the side and get started. No Big Deal. Get your butt on the cushion â€” that’s all you have to do! Just start. This skill will help you with all other habits.
The third thing: if you miss a day, don’t sweat it â€” just start again. We all miss a day from time to time. No Big Deal. Just start again. If you let a missed day or two sidetrack you, you’ll drop the whole challenge. But instead, if you miss a day due to travel or visitors or a crisis etc. … you can just start again and there’s no problem.
Now let’s get to tips for each level of practice.
The first two mini-challengesÂ are for those who are starting out: meditate regularly and meditate for 10 minutes.
- The tips above, to just get started and don’t worry about doing it wrong, are really important for these mini-challenges. Remind yourself of them regularly!
- The best focus for this sitting meditation is your breath. Notice the sensations of the breath as you breathe in and breathe out. Keep your awareness on the breath sensations, as much as you can. Your mind will wander into other thoughts. That’s OK. Just notice that and gently come back. Yes, that can get frustrating. You’re training the mind. Stick with it!
- Try not to use the meditation session as time to think or plan. That’s natural, but you want to be staying with the sensations of the body and (mostly) the breath as much as you can. It’s training in being present â€” thinking about other things and planning are ways to avoid the present moment. If you do them, that’s OK, just gently come back, without self-recrimination.
- See if you can notice your urge to get up and quit meditating. That’s normal. When the urge to get up arises, don’t get up. Just sit with the urge. It’ll go away. When it comes back again, don’t get up, just sit there. The third time the urge arises, get up.
Mini-challenges 3-5 are the intermediate levels (these are rough groupings, it’s not super important if we group a mini-challenge in the intermediate or advanced levels): Get more focused during meditation, meditate a 2nd time, and notice bodily sensations during the day.
Some tips for these mini-challenges:
- Get more focused: it’s normal if you try to stay focused for a bit, and then lose it. It’s a practice, not a perfection. Don’t worry too much, just keep practicing. Notice too if you’re getting too tense during this … it’s a tight practice, which is best balanced by relaxation. Finding the middle ground is the key.
- Meditate a 2nd time: Set a reminder. Don’t let yourself put it off (see “focus on getting started” above). Treat it as a lovely break in the middle of a busy day â€” it’s a treat to yourself, and so necessary when we’re constantly rushing. Try to carry some of that mindfulness beyond the meditation, into your evening.
- Notice bodily sensations: This is easy to forget, so the key is to keep remembering. Little cards around the house, or small objects, or other people, can be useful for reminding yourself. Eventually, you’ll remember more and more. This is a key training for bringing mindfulness to your entire life (and for all the advanced levels below this section). See the “review at the end of the day” in the advanced section below, as it applies here.
Mini-challenges 6-11 are the advanced levels … they’re not more important than the others, but it’s good to train yourself in the others before trying to take these on.
I’ll give general tips for all of these:
- Review at the end of each day, before you go to sleep. You’ll get better and better at this challenge if you spend a minute â€” as you get into bed and get ready to sleep â€” reviewing how your day went. This is key to all of the “all day” mini-challenges, so set a reminder around your bedtime.
- Be willing to be in discomfort. Many of these mini-challenges are not necessarily pleasant, though they’re not that painful either. Just a little uncomfortable. But what you feel is just sensation, even if the mind panics and complains about them and wants to exit. For example, if you feel frustration with someone, and you refrain from saying or doing anything (or even mentally complaining about them), you might drop into the body and notice the sensations of frustration … this isn’t pleasant. You want to get away from it. But it won’t kill you, and if you stay with the sensations, often the frustration will go away in a bit (not always). Relax your attitude toward these sensations â€” be gentle and even friendly toward them. It’ll change your relationship with your experience.
- Breathe deeply into the felt sense of the energy. When you’re feeling anger, sadness, overwhelm … and you refrain from indulging in your habitual patterns (maybe mentally complaining, maybe lashing out, maybe seeking comforts) … you’ll be left with an energy in your body. Again, it can be unpleasant. Just stay with this energy, and breath deeply into this felt sensation. Relax with it. Keep breathing deeply. Give it love.
- Keep your heart open. These practices allow us to move closer to others, to ourselves, to our experience … instead of shutting our hearts down and creating more distance between ourselves and others. Instead of moving away, keep your heart open, don’t shut down, and move closer and closer to others.
More questions or problems? Ask me or others on Slack.