This is part three of ADAM’S HOLISTIC LIFE MANUAL FOR HEALTHY & SUSTAINABLE LIVING.
Setting the intention for your mindfulness practice will give you a stronger determination and make the effects more powerful. Set the intention that your practice will benefit and heal you and all beings in the universe.
The basic technique of mindfulness is simple. To begin with, you seat yourself in an upright position with a straight back. Ideally you sit cross-legged on the ground on a mat with possibly a cushion as support. If this is uncomfortable you can sit on the edge of a chair so you don’t lean your back on anything. The important thing is that your back is straight and relaxed. To assist this you can imagine that there is a string attached to the top of your head that is gently pulling you up, so your spine is elongated upwards. You can also raise your arms to the sky pointing straight up along your ears. When you let them down your back will have the ideal position. Let your hands rest in your lap, the right on top of the left, or resting separate on your thighs.
The first step is to become aware of your breath. Breathe naturally, gently, slowly and deep. Imagine that you breathe all the way down into your belly, which should expand slightly on the in-breath. On the out-breath the belly should contract slightly in towards the navel. This is the natural movement of the stomach as we breathe, babies do it naturally like this, but many people actually do the opposite, contract the stomach on the in breath and expand on the out breath. If that is the case, please adjust this to the movement described above. You can check it by placing a hand on your belly as you breathe.
As you breathe in you imagine filling the lungs from the bottom up as you inhale, and emptying them from the top down as you exhale. The breathing should be smooth and relaxed in a natural flow. You can rest a little in the space after exhaling before you inhale. Once this natural flow of breath is established you simply rest your attention on the breath, being fully aware of every inhalation and exhalation.
By breathing slowly, gently and deeply our whole body and mind naturally relaxes, which has an enormously beneficial effect on our physical and mental constitution. Actually just breathing in this way can heal us physically as explained by Professor Andrew Weil, who has done extensive research into the beneficial effects of conscious breathing. The first thing he tells his patient is, how to breathe properly and this will greater aid the healing process. Ancient Indian texts describe how we live longer if we breathe slowly. They based this on observation of animals. The ones with quick breathing have shorter lives compared to the ones that breathe slowly.
From the breath now bring your attention to the body. Let your awareness move from the lower part of the body gradually up to the crown of your head. Always remember to let your awareness have the quality of love, care and healing. This will bring immense benefit. Be acutely aware of the sensation of your skin. Feel the sensations of your internal organs, muscles, bones, bloodstream and most importantly your heart. Tune in to the rhythmic pulse of your heartbeat. Move your awareness as a flow of energy around your body focusing on different body parts. Move your awareness up along your back as you breathe in and down the front as you breathe out in a circular loop. Then bring your awareness to the whole body as one experience. All the while you have maintained the basic awareness of the breath, so now you merge these two focal points into one sensation. Breath and body are one.
Once you have brought awareness to the breath and the body, you will notice that soon we get distracted and start to think about something else than just being aware of the breath and the body. Our mind starts to think about the future or the past in some other place and situation than where we actually are. This is only natural. That is how the mind works to process information from the past to guide us into the future. But only the present moment is real. The past is gone like a dream never to return. The future always turns out different than we had imagined. So life is in the present moment. We should try to be as present in the moment and acutely aware to our senses as possible and not let the mind wander too much in the past or the future.
Thoughts will naturally arise and we should let them. However, we should not engage in them and expand them so they take you further away from the present. Just observe them as if they were someone else’s. When we notice that we are thinking about something, gently let the thoughts dissolve and bring our attention back to our breath. By practicing this, we can develop gaps in between our thoughts where we are fully present in the moment and not engaged in thoughts and feelings about the past or future, which are basically illusory. Being fully present in the moment is to be fully present in the miracle of life.
By observing our thought processes, how thoughts arise and how we react emotionally to them, we can get to know how we think, how we respond emotionally and how we act upon our emotional impulses. Often this process is unconscious, and often we don’t really “know” why we act as we do. By getting to know how our mind works we can become aware of thought patterns and mental habits that don’t serve us and reprogram our way of thinking in a more beneficial direction, for ourselves and the greater good which are ultimately one and the same. We will get more into how to reprogram ourselves later.
From bringing our attention to the breath, body and mind, we now bring our attention to the space around us. Space is the common foundation for all phenomena in the universe. What we call outer space is also the space that surrounds us here on the planet and penetrates our bodies. In that sense we have an inner space that we can experience by focusing internally on our bodies. We have connected to this inner space by turning our attention inwards on our breath, body and mind. Now let’s merge that inner awareness with the space outside us. First feel the space surrounding you. Tune in to the sounds around you and listen very attentively to everything you can hear. Then look into the space in front of you and try to see everything as clearly and sharp as you can. This is what is happening around us that we can register with our senses. Now bring the identification from the body to being integrated into the processes around us. We cannot exist independently of all the phenomena that surround us. We are all parts of a greater biological and social process. Try to bring your awareness to whatever elements surround you and identify with them as if they were your own body.
Even the sun and the planets we can see, are actually quite close to us on a cosmic scale. Let’s bring our attention to them and feel the connection with those phenomena in our own body. Apparently all matter has been generated in stars that burned out and left the building stones of creation, so everything is literally stardust, including our own bodies. So feel the connection with nature, the planet, the solar system, our galaxy and the whole universe as one giant process. So basically we merge our experience of inner space with outer space, to experience them as one, which they fundamentally are. In ancient India they explained this with a simple example. If you have a clay pot it contains space within it. Outside of it is also space. If you break the pot the two spaces become one, but were they not always one?
Space is not biased. It lets everything happen in it equally, whether we perceive those phenomena as negative or positive. So we should tune in to the neutral and equal quality of space. Letting everything happen without judgment, just observing it calmly. This experience can lead to a deep sense of acceptance, calm and peace, as we see that we are infinitely small parts of an infinitely large and complex universe, whose workings are way beyond our mind. If we really look at the universe and nature and its infinite complexity and interconnectedness, can we say there is any mistake? If there is no mistake, then the universe as a whole must be perfect. We can in our minds tune into a level or frequency of the universe where everything is perfect. That experience can give great peace, joy and love. That doesn’t mean that everything in the relative world is perfect and that we can’t change anything to the better. We can indeed improve things in the world, and ourselves but the effects will be better if we act on a foundation of feeling peace, joy and love.
Here it is important to see the distinction between ultimate and relative reality. In ultimate reality everything is one and perfect. In relative reality there seem to be separate entities with different qualities that can seem positive or negative. By being in tune to the perfection of the ultimate reality we can better positively affect phenomena on the relative level, and thus make the world and our experience better from a relative perspective.
To be continued …