By Leo Babauta

Over the last couple of days, I responded on the forums to some awesome questions posed by some awesome members taking the Mindfulness Practices course. I’ve published the questions and my answers below because I think it’ll be helpful to others who didn’t see them on the forum.

Q: Do you recommend to go through as a sequence from beginning or I can start with the current day challenge to catch up or can take two to three challenges in a day?

Leo: I should note … for any of you who have not kept up with the lessons, meditation or challenges … it’s important to be gentle and forgiving with yourself. Simply pick up where you left off, or start at the beginning if you haven’t yet.

For the challenges … you should just do the current day’s challenge. If you feel motivated, definitely try two or three challenges in a day! But don’t feel obligated — you can always do them later if you feel like trying them all.

Q: What do you recommend as far as reminders to do this coursework? I am in a state of overwhelm and keep forgetting to do it.

Leo: I think you’re not alone, which is why this is such a great question. I recommend picking a time (first thing in the morning, lunchtime, or right after work, to give a few examples), and setting a reminder on your computer or phone. As a backup, also put a paper note to yourself where you won’t miss it. It might be a single word (“mindfulness”) or maybe a heart drawn on a piece of paper. Use this as a reminder to do your meditation exercise for the day, and then do the coursework (lesson or mindfulness challenges).

Q: Do you feel that during this course we should do what feels good and natural and skip what feels silly or not right, or should we be following the course to the letter, lest we miss out on something vital to our personal growth? (asked a tad tongue-in-cheek) If I find myself frustrated and/or bored with some parts, should I skip them and just do the things I feel are beneficial to me?

Leo: First, it’s not necessary to do every single exercise or challenge. I do recommend watching every video, and practicing some form of the meditation exercise every day (or as much as you’re able).

However … I do recommend you do some of the tasks that you find frustrating or boring, instead of skipping all of them. These are the juicy ones! This is the fertile ground where you’ll learn the most. Dive into your feeling of frustration — where is it coming from? What does it feel like? Can you do the task anyway even if you feel this?

Dive into your feeling of boredom — why is this task so boring? Do you already know everything about it? Or is it possible to be curious and see if you can learn more about it? I’ve found, in my experience, that there is absolutely nothing that is boring if I can open myself to being curious, to really noticing, to dropping my preconceived ideas about it. I’d love to hear what your experiences are, if you give it a try.

I realize that not everyone will heed this suggestion, and that’s OK. Do whatever feels right to you, but do consider this juicy training ground, as it’s possibly the best stuff you can get out of the course.

Q: I have slowly extended my meditation practice to 20 minutes. After about 10 to 15 minutes quite often, there is no distraction. My mind is more calm and feels more expansive. I was wondering if at that time I could stop counting and just sit in that space–just watching the breath and letting of counting–which at that time seems to be distracting rather than helpful.

Leo: Yes, you can stop counting after 10 minutes … what you might try is expanding your attention to include not only your breath but everything in the room. Try to pay attention to the entirety of the energy in the room (energy includes light, sounds, physical objects, temperature, other sensations, etc).

Q: I find it challenging implement new changes while my husband is not on the same page with me. I really wish that both of us could improve but I don’t feel like insisting on changes unless he really feels like it. Do you have any suggestions how to make changes when you have a family.

Leo: Your problem is very common among those of us who have partners/spouses or other people living with us who are important to us. It’s not an easy one.

I suggest that you meditate on your frustration … drop the story you have about him not wanting to join you and just feel the energy of the frustration. Just stay with it. Relax around it. Be gentle and friendly with it, instead of harsh.

Next, you might see if you can let go of your (good-hearted) hope that he join you. See if you can be content doing it on your own.

Finally, I also encourage you to have an open-hearted discussion with him about this. It’s not always easy, but you might share your hope that the two of you be able to make some of these changes together, as a way to grow together and bond. But you can also share you desire to make these changes with his support, even if he doesn’t want to join you. If you can do this gently, without blame or judgment, he might be open to considering this.

Q: I wonder if you have any general loving-kindness exercises you could recommend. I seem to come back to self quite often when I meditate, and most of the time my thoughts are quite critical.

Leo: Yes, it’s quite normal to be critical of ourselves … I totally do it all the time. The practice is to try to be more friendly and less harsh toward yourself. Smile at yourself and say, “May I be happy.” Repeat this in your mind over and over until you can really feel it, genuinely. Try to open your heart and feel genuine love for yourself, a genuine desire to be happy.

If you are suffering, say to yourself, “May my suffering come to an end. May I find peace. May I be kind to myself. May I accept myself as I am.”

Q: Apparently a lot of people find calmness in meditation, but mine is a constant struggle with the wondering mind. I’ve read and heard of teachers saying not to expect any state or goal and just be aware. I would like to know your personal experience based opinion.

Leo: Yes, the wandering mind is something we all struggle with. However, the wandering mind can be quite a good teacher … if you try to pay attention to that. Notice that your mind wandered (maybe even for several minutes), and smile at yourself. Don’t be harsh, but be kind and friendly. Just say, “thinking” … and then gently return to the breath. Think of the mind like a baby whose attention keeps wandering, and you’re trying to feed it. Just gently bring the baby’s attention back, over and over. With this practice, you’ll start to develop an awareness.

Also note that there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way to meditate … even if your mind wandered the entire time you sat, at least you sat! Develop a trust in yourself to keep sitting, keep coming back. You’ll have sessions where you’ll say, “I didn’t do very well there!” but in truth, you did well just by noticing that your mind was wandering the whole time.

So yes, in my experience, not expecting any kind of goal to happen, any kind of outcome … this is the right mindset. Just try to develop awareness, and when you notice that you’re not aware, in that moment of noticing …you are aware!

Q: I’m going for a long (deserved) vacation next weekend. Will be traveling with the family. My normal daily routine will change and I’m worried that I will not find that special place and time to do my daily meditation. Normally I wake up a bit earlier than the rest of the family and welcome the day with a meditation session. For different reasons, it will be difficult to keep this routine for the next three weeks. Any thoughts on how to deal with this? I have a similar problem when I travel for work… how to keep that routine, how to protect that nice warm place so carefully crafted for a personal daily meditation?

Leo: For your vacation & work travel, you have a couple options:

  1. continue to wake up a little earlier than everybody, and just sit somewhere (sit up in your bed, on a chair or couch, outside, etc) and meditate … just do a couple minutes; or
  2. you could write a note to yourself and use it as a reminder to meditate for a minute or two when you get a break during the day … if you’re walking around, taking a taxi, relaxing on the beach, shopping at a mall, you can always find a spare minute or two during the day to just focus on your breath — keep it short and simple.

Q: Sometimes I tend to get bit overwhelmed with the tasks… I’m having trouble keeping up with the daily journal + the daily challenges + the daily meditation + the lessons… I feel that there is so much to learn, so many important lesson that need space and time to grow… I don’t want to miss anything… I try letting go, having patience with my self, been gentle… any thoughts?

Leo: Yes, I totally understand, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and fall behind, and the anxiety that comes up is that you’re going to miss out.

First, recognize that this feeling is a form of suffering, and meditate on it.

Second, there’s no need to do every challenge, or hit the exercise every single day if you’re having trouble … just practice as much as you’re able. Take your time — it’s not important to do everything as it is to put what you can into practice, repeatedly. The challenges are to supplement the learning but the main things are the video lessons and the daily meditation sessions.

Third, feel free to save daily challenges for later in the year, and you can do them then … no need to do everything within this 6-week course. This is a lifelong practice, and you won’t learn everything right away.

Q: Like some others, I’m struggling to keep up with the pace of the class. I have already dropped the challenges, but I also feel a need to repeat the lessons, and therefore constantly fall behind. Will we have access to the lessons after the six weeks, or should I just try to keep up, and hope that it will stick?

Leo: Yes, you’ll be able to access the lessons for as long as you’re a member. You can even download the videos, I believe, if you want to watch them later. And you can save the challenges to do anytime after the class is over (I think I’ll collect them all and put them in one article for you guys).

No need to feel like you’re behind … everyone should go at the pace that feels right … this is a practice for life!

Q: I do a 10mins meditation (I also do a 20mins, often guided meditation, earlier in the day). You often mention about being with things that come up whilst meditating. Following the breath, aside from the occasional passing chatty thought there is simply being the breath. So I was wondering about this?

Leo: If you’re only there with the breath, with an occasional passing thought … this is totally fine. You might notice in later meditations that certain emotions or discomfort comes up, or you get caught up in thinking about something … in this case, work with those things rather than pushing them away. But if nothing is coming up for you right now, that’s OK. You can work with what comes up for you after meditation, in your regular life, if that’s helpful.

Q: At start of meditation you recommend seeing what emotions, thoughts are there, and possibly bodyscan. I was going to ask, how to do all this without having a conversation with myself as I try to work out which I’m doing, what is there, what needs to be done next etc.

When drafting this question it popped up, for now, to simply focus on one of them at the start of each meditation. I experimented with this, and found simply being with 1, there is no conversation in head, and greater clarity – rather than getting lost, fuddled and muddled doing them all.

Leo: It’s totally fine to have a conversation with yourself about how to do the body scan, as you’re doing it. Thoughts are not a problem, especially if you’re not getting caught up in them. And if you do get caught up in the thought, just notice and return to the body scan. I also support the idea you had that popped into your head.

Q: Any tips on writing the Mindfulness Journal, either after the meditation, or at other times during the day. Struggling with this one.

Leo: If you’re using a paper journal, just put it next to you as you meditate, perhaps next to your timer. If you’re doing it on the computer, put a note on your computer. You might also set a daily reminder in case the note doesn’t work. Finally, if you have been remembering but putting it off, try telling yourself you just need to write one short paragraph in the journal. If you feel motivated to keep writing, that’s fine, but telling yourself you only need to write a few sentences makes it easy and something you can do in a couple minutes.

The journal should be a reflection on your meditation (or mindfulness you’re trying to practice outside of meditation, if you like), that can be about:

  1. How the meditation went for you
  2. What you learned
  3. What you’re struggling with

You don’t have to capture all of that in each entry, but just reflect on something each day. Over time, this will solidify what you’re learning.

Q: During my practice, I can feel a strange crave for writing my meditation journal. I see that it’s just my mind trying to get me out of the meditation and into my computer, which is the real addiction and not the journal… anyway… do you have any advice on this kind of craving/addiction during the meditation?

Leo: Yes, your mind wants to run away from meditation by going to the journal or the distractions of the computer … this is the mind’s way of getting away from discomfort, to something more comfortable. This is completely normal! I do this all the time. However, you’ve made a commitment to yourself to stay with this, so when you notice this urge come up … just stay. Breathe, and notice how this urge feels in your body. What is the energy like, if you drop below the story about the urge? Is it tightness, hotness, coldness, sharpness, dull throbbing, electric? Try to investigate the energy in your body. This is really good stuff to meditate on!

Also, you’re learning about how your mind works when it is asked to focus. This is really valuable learning, and will help you with the addiction of the computer in other areas of your life. Don’t expect to master it immediately, so stick with this learning!

Q: I’m keeping up to about 10 minutes (including my check-in time), and after that I just have to say thanks and go doing something else. Is this wrong? I mean, is it normal to get to a point that it’s unbearable to keep meditating?

Leo: Yes, this is very normal … and 10 minutes is great! However, if you’re getting to a point where it’s unbearable … try to stay for just a few moments longer, instead of getting up right away. You’ll see that “unbearable” is just a story you’re telling yourself. You can bear it. I’m not saying you have to stay for 5 more minutes, but just a little longer, before you get up, instead of following the urge immediately.