A lot of the exercises below are lifted directly from Tara Brach’s amazing book, Radical Acceptance. Read it!
Meditating is beneficial: this we understand.
Are you doing it, though?
If it’s a no, don’t worry; you’re not crazy, lazy or unevolved.
You just aren’t connected to the ‘why’ yet. And you might never be; no one says you have to meditate. That would be silly.
Having recently developed a practice myself (I did a course; it connected me to the ‘why’), and sustaining that practice, I am starting to see benefits: more focus; greater peace; more presence; more kindness.
Whether you are new to meditating or a seasoned pro, below are some effective meditations and reflections you can use to help you to become more aware of, and interrupt, unhelpful thought processes and behaviors.
(You can think of such habits as being ‘trances’. Trances of separation from your inherent perfection and wholeness, to be precise.)
Unless stated otherwise, you want to find a spot where you will be undisturbed, and give your body position enough attention so that it will not take away your attention during your reflection.
Aim: Helps you to become aware of fears and limiting beliefs that affect how you show up in the world. As the trance becomes more conscious, it begins to lose its power.
You can do this reflection – which is essentially a series of questions – anywhere. I suggest waiting for a quiet time in the day or evening, when you are not being hounded by colleagues or children.
The reflection questions:
Do I accept my body as it is?
- Do I feel I am attractive enough?
- Do I blame myself when I get sick?
- Am I dissatisfied with the way my hair, body or face look?
- Do I judge myself for being overweight/underweight or physically unfit?
Do I accept my mind as it is?
- Do I judge myself for not being intelligent/humorous or interesting enough?
- Am I critical of myself for having obsessive thoughts?
- Am I ashamed of myself for having mean thoughts?
Do I accept my emotions and mood as they are?
- Is it ok for me to cry? To feel insecure and vulnerable?
- Do I condemn myself for getting depressed?
- Am I ashamed of feeling jealous?
- Am I critical of myself for being impatient, intolerant or irritable?
Do I feel I’m a bad person because of the ways that I behave?
- Do I hate myself when I act in a self-centered or hurtful way?
- Am I ashamed of my anger?
- Do I feel disgusted with myself when I behave compulsively?
- Do I berate myself for not being accomplished enough, or incapable of intimacy?
WALKING LOVING-KINDNESS MEDITATION – GOOD FOR SELF-ACCEPTANCE/CONFIDENCE
Aim: Good for when you are feeling down on humanity and yourself. Helps to break self critical talk and harsh judging of others.
You send your loving kindness (video explains how to do it) as you are walking outside.
You begin by walking at a normal pace and directing loving kindness to yourself. As different beings go past, you offer them a loving thought. Alternate between sending them loving kindness and directing it towards yourself.
VIPASSANA (MINDFULNESS) MEDITATION – GOOD FOR ANXIETY
Aim: Develops the capacity to relate to our daily lives and experiences with deep clarity.
Begin by bringing you awareness to your breath. Breath is used as the primary anchor of mindfulness.
Take a few very full breaths, before settling into natural breathing. There is no need to control it.
You will find that your mind endlessly aims to drift off into thoughts. You are cultivating the capacity to recognize when that is happening without getting lost in the story-line. You could just remark ‘thinking, thinking’ and return your awareness to your breath.
THE SACRED PAUSE MEDITATION – GOOD FOR ANXIETY
Aim: To help you to reconnect with the present moment. Particularly good when caught up in striving, obsessing and leaning into the future.
Do this when you are in the middle of a goal-oriented activity such as reading, working on a computer, cleaning and eating.
Discontinue what you are doing, sit comfortably and allow eyes to close.
Take some deep breathes and with each exhale, let go of any worries.
Inhabit the pause and notice any sensations you are aware of.
You can weave the sacred pause into your daily life by pausing for a few moments each hour as you begin and end activities. Select one thing you do daily and make a week-long commitment to pause before beginning the activity. Brushing your teeth; making a phone call; starting the car; these are all excellent choices.
FACING DIFFICULTY AND NAMING WHAT’S TRUE – GOOD FOR EMOTIONAL HEALTH
Aim: To help you to improve your knowledge about a difficult situation in your life.
Bring to mind a situation or issue in your life that is currently challenging you (think interpersonal conflict, financial pressure or stress at work).
Ask yourself ‘how am I feeling about this?’ and bring a receptive presence to your body.
Pay particular attention to your throat, chest and stomach.
After naming your experience, ask yourself if its true. If not, continue the inquiry. If you get lost for a time in thoughts, make a note: ‘planning, obsessing, fantasizing’ and return your attention to your body.
Note: Labeling should occur in the background 5%, with the majority of your attention focused on awareness and attending to your actual experience.
BODY SCAN – GOOD FOR EMOTIONAL-SELF INTELLIGENCE
Aim: Develops an appreciation for where you are storing emotions in your body.
Get into a relaxed state.
Begin a gradual and thorough scan of your entire body, starting with the top of your head. Take your awareness down and around, slowly and methodically.
In certain parts of the body it is common to feel numbness or for there to be no noticeable sensations. Let your attention remain in those areas for a few moments in a relaxed and easeful way.
Now open your attention to include your body in a comprehensive way. Be aware of the body as a field of changing sensations.
If no particular sensations call your attention, remain open to feeling energy simultaneously in all parts of the body. If thoughts carry your attention away, gently note, ‘thinking, thinking,’ and then reconnect with the energetic field of aliveness. Rest in this awareness of your living being, letting life live through you.
In daily life, you can use the body scan to readily arrive in your body by relaxing and softening through your shoulders, hands and belly. You then carry an awareness with bodily sensations as you move through the various circumstances of your day.
The better we get at knowing our sensations, the higher our emotional-self literacy.
RADICAL ACCEPTANCE OF PAIN – GOOD FOR EMOTIONAL/PHYSICAL HEALTH
Aim: Relax our resistance to unpleasant sensations. Particularly useful if you are presently distressed by physical pain.
Get into a relaxed state.
Gently scan through your body. Where is the area of strong discomfort or pain that calls your attention? Bring a receptive attention directly to the unpleasant sensations in that part of your body. Notice what happens as you begin to be present with this pain. Is there an attempt, however subtle, to push the pain away? To cut it off, block it off, pull away? Is there fear?
Experience your awareness as the soft space that surrounds the pain and allow the unpleasant sensations to float in this awareness. Resting in this openness, now bring a more precise attention to the changing sensations in the area of pain. What is the experience actually like? Do you feel burning, aching, twisting, throbbing, tearing, stabbing?
Investigate with a nonreactive, soft attention. Let the body become like open space, with plenty of room for unpleasant sensations to arise and dissolve, fade and intensify, move and change. No holding, no tension. Inhabit the sea of awareness, and let any painful sensations float in an accepting openness.
DISCOVERING YOUR DEEPEST LONGING – GOOD FOR UNDERSTANDING YOUR DESIRES
Aim: To bring your myriad wants into the light of awareness. You can use the intelligence as you see fit.
Get relaxed and comfortable.
When you feel settled, ask yourself, ‘What does my heart long for?’
Your initial answer might be that you want to be healthy, to lose weight, to make more money, to find a partner. Ask again and listen deeply, accepting whatever spontaneously arises.
Continue in this way for several minutes, asking yourself the question, pausing and paying attention in an accepting and nonreactive way. Perhaps your answer will begin to deepen and simplify. Be patient and relaxed—with time, as you listen to your heart, your deepest longing will emerge.
This longing might be expressed as the longing for love, presence, peace, communion, harmony, beauty, truth or freedom. When you recognize what you most deeply and truly long for in this moment, surrender to that longing wakefully. Say yes, allowing the energy of your deepest longing to fill your body, to suffuse your heart and awareness.
What is your experience like when you fully inhabit your deepest longing? Continue to meditate, experiencing longing with an open and embodied presence.
HELLO, FEAR – GOOD FOR EMOTIONAL FREEDOM
Aim: Cultivating an open and engaged presence. (This isn’t suitable if you have suffered serious trauma.)
Get into a relaxed state.
Now bring to mind a situation that evokes fear. Ask yourself: ‘What is the worst part of this situation? What am I really afraid of?’
While your inquiry may arouse a story, if you stay alert to the sensations that arise in your body, the story becomes a gateway to accessing your feelings more fully.
Pay particular attention to your throat, chest and stomach area, discover how fear expresses itself in you.
You might kindly invite the fear: ‘Be as much as you really are.’ Now, as you breathe in, let the breath directly touch the place of most pain and vulnerability. Bring your full attention to the sensations of fear. As you breathe out, sense the openness of space that holds your experience.
Feel the fear as if floating and untwisting itself in this openness. What does the fear actually feel like? Where in your body do you feel it most strongly? Do the sensations change or move to different parts of your body? What is their shape? What color, if any? How do you experience fear in your mind? Does it feel contracted? Is your mind racing or confused?
With each in-breath, feel your willingness to gently connect with the waves of life that are unpleasant and disturbing. Breathing out, let go and feel how the waves of fear belong to a larger world, an ocean of openness.
You can surrender your fear into this vast and tender space of healing. Breathing in, you contact the immediate sensations with a kind and clear attention. Breathing out, you realize your belonging to the boundless awareness that has room for all of life’s fears.
You can practice being with fear anytime it comes up in your day. Using your breath, you allow yourself to touch its sensations, exhaling, and letting go into openness. This way energy does not get buried and fester. Plus you reinforce a self that is more confident.
COMMUNICATING WITH AWARENESS – GOOD FOR RELATIONSHIPS
Aim: Training ourselves to be present with each other when we are communicating, this practice is beautiful.
1. Set an intention before any interaction or at the beginning of the day to be present, honest and kind. Select 2/3 touch points in your body that you can use to reawaken a sense of presence.
2. Let your listening be whole-hearted and deep. Pay attention to the person’s tone, pitch and volume as well as words.
3. Receive the mood and spirit of what is being expressed, as well as the content.
Speak from the heart: don’t prepare what you are going to say. Instead, say whatever arises from your immediate stream of experience.
4. Pause relax and attend. Use the power of pause repeatedly throughout your interactions. Pause before and after you speak, after they speak, to tune into your sensations. Ask yourself what you are experiencing and what the other person might be experiencing.
5. Hold the whole process with radical self acceptance. This process makes your interactions sacred. It is very humbling.
This is of the best ways to integrate mindfulness into your life (instead of the concept just sitting out there in your periphery vision), and relate wakefully to others.