I invite you to step into the New Year with intentionality and mindfulness.
By focusing on mindfulness at the beginning of the year, we are laying down a foundation for all other changes we make this year. Mindfulness helps us change all other habits: procrastination & productivity, exercise, healthy eating, relationships, writing & creating, and much more. It’s the habit that helps create all other habits.
And so, no matter where you are on your mindfulness path, I offer a deeper challenge. I’m calling it the Drop Deeper into Mindfulness Challenge.
What is this challenge? For the rest of this month, drop deeper and deeper into mindfulness, using a series of steps (or mini-challenges) that I’m going to lay out below. Use this month to go a bit deeper, no matter where you are.
Here’s how it works:
- Pick the level just above where you’ve been at consistently â€” for example, if you don’t meditate regularly, pick the “regular meditation” level. If you meditate regularly for 2-5 minutes, do the 10-minute meditation challenge. If you regularly meditate every day for 20 minutes, pick the “2nd meditation a day” level.
- If you do that consistently for a week, pick the next level the following week. Otherwise, stay at your current level and try to get more consistent. Feel free to drop back to the previous level at any time if you feel this new level is too much for you. There’s no shame or ego in dropping to a previous level or staying at your current level. It’s not about the level you’re on, but about practicing wholeheartedly.
That’s it. Practice each level or mini-challenge wholeheartedly, not just rushing through it.
Here are the levels or mini-challenges â€” remember to pick the one just above where you are already at (or if you can easily choose among several mini-challenges, pick the one that sounds most like a stretch to you).
- Meditate regularly. If you’re not already meditating every day, your challenge is to sit every day, consistently at the same time. For just 2 minutes a day. Up to 5 minutes if you feel like it, but if you just sit for 2 minutes, you’ve succeeded. Set a reminder, don’t put off the meditation, and find a quiet place to sit each day. It could be a chair, a couch, a place in your backyard. Just sit still, without moving, and notice how your body feels. Notice the sensations of your breath as you breathe in and out. When your mind wanders into thought, just notice that, and gently return to the sensations of the body or breath in the present moment. Be as consistent with this meditation as possible, trying not to miss a day, trying not to push it back later in the day.
- 10-minute daily meditation. If you can do the shorter meditation every single day for a week, and only then, extend to a 10-minute meditation. Set a timer. Focus on noticing the sensations of the body for the first minute or so, then focus on staying with the sensations of the breath for the rest of the meditation. Again, keep coming gently back to the breath, when your mind wanders. Don’t beat yourself up about your active mind, that’s just how it works. Just keep coming back. Be as consistent with this meditation as possible.
- Get more focused during daily meditation. Once you’re consistent with a 10-minute meditation, you can lengthen it if you like, but for this challenge, the important thing is to stay focused on the present moment as much as you can. Imagine that you are on a narrow plank walking across a deep ravine â€” what would your focus be like then? Bring that kind of focus to the present moment during your meditation. Don’t be harsh when your mind wanders (it will) but be as “on the dot” about the present moment as you can, continually coming gently back. While this is a tight practice (walking across a deep ravine on a narrow plank), see if you can also bring a sense of relaxedness to your practice as well, finding the middle ground between tight and relaxed.
- 2nd meditation a day. This one is simple: just pick a time later in the day (assuming you’re meditating in the morning) and meditate for 5-10 minutes. Or longer if you want. This will increase your mindfulness for the rest of the day.
- Notice bodily sensations during the day. Now that you’re meditating twice a day, you have a foundation for bringing mindfulness to the rest of your day. Put visual reminders around where you work and live, so that you’ll remember to be mindful more often. Whenever you can, notice your bodily sensations â€” what do your legs feel like? Your torso and arms? Neck and head? How does your body feel as you talk to others? As you eat, exercise, or shower? Keep coming back.
- Drop into bodily sensations when you’re stressed, angry, sad, etc. Keeping the previous practice of noticing bodily sensations as much as you can … be especially present to the sensations of your torso and head whenever you feel a difficult emotion. Irritated by someone? Feeling bad about yourself? Feeling uncomfortable, tired, stressed, anxious? Feeling like putting off exercise or eating junk food? Feeling depressed, angry, hurt? Feeling righteous, or want to prove yourself right? Drop into your torso â€” what sensations can you notice? Can you stay present to these sensations as much as possible, dropping from the narrative in your head to the felt sense of this experience? Breathe into this sensation. Stay with it.
- Let your heart be broken by the beauty and sadness of the world. Keeping the previous practices … bring an open heart to more moments during your day. Let your tender heart feel everything, and be broken by the incredible beauty and sadness in the world around you. See a small child? A destitute person? A field of flowers? A sunset explosion of colors? People starving in Yemen? Let your heart be broken. Over and over.
- Practice relating to your experience with gentleness & relaxation. Go through your day noticing tension towards anything you’re experiencing. Tension towards traffic, work, a meeting, another person, a task you have to do, a pose you’re doing in yoga? Bring relaxation and gentleness to that experience. Bring that same gentleness and relaxation to the sensations you notice in your body, to what you notice during the difficult moments. Bring that to every moment you can.
- Drop the ego regularly. Do this ego-dropping mindfulness practice regularly as you move through your day. First do the guided meditation (at the bottom of the article) in your morning meditation, then carry it forward and try to practice it as you move through your day.
- Break your habitual patterns. When you find yourself running to a common habitual reaction to uncertainty and discomfort, practice. Common habitual reactions to uncertainty & discomfort: complaining, arguing, spinning an angry or resentful narrative in your head, lashing out at others, seeking comfort foods or shopping (or online distractions, social media, videos, etc.), running away or procrastinating, shutting people out, shutting down your heart to others or your experience. When you notice any of these, break out of your habitual pattern by not engaging in these reactions. Refrain from indulging in them. Instead, stay with the felt sense of the experience â€” what does the energy in your body feel like when you refrain from complaining, procrastinating, distracting, etc? Stay with this energy with an open heart. Stay with it for longer. Breathe deeply into it. See what opens up.
- Put yourself mindfully into greater groundlessness. Having done practices 6-10 above … you are ready to put yourself in greater and greater groundlessness with mindfulness. For example, you can go to a new dance or exercise class, and feel the groundlessness of not knowing what you’re doing. Or give a public speech. Go to a party where you don’t know anyone and talk to strangers all night. Ask people out on dates several times a day. Write a book. Paint. Talk to strangers. Do a physical challenge that scares you. Confront your fears. As you do each of these, practice in the ways outlined in practices 6-10 â€” especially staying with the felt sense of the experience, breathing deeply into it, feeling the sensations in your body, relaxing and relating gently with your experience.
Please note that you do not need to do all of these challenges! Just one, if you like. Maybe up to four of them. These are not to be tackled all in one month.
Pick one for this week, and share it with us in the #drop-deeper challenge channel on our Slack community (join the Sea Change Slack community here)!
Articles for this challenge: