5 Practices to Jumpstart a Mindful 2020
“The more you practice, the more mindful you become, and the more vividly you see the world as you tune in to the moment at hand.”
-Laurie J. Cameron, The Mindful Day
We start the new year full of hope and possibility for new beginnings. Our inboxes are filling with new projects, invitations and newsletters to help us clarify visions and intentions. Gym memberships are on discount, online and studio challenges and summits abound… it is that time of year. In the publishing world, it is called “New Year, New You.”
And we know that new habits are hard to sustain. Old habits are like deeply worn grooves in an oft-played vinyl record. The needle easily falls into the old groove, playing the familiar tunes.
What we can do is to learn new ways of being… ways of being present in our everyday life that allows us to feel less anxious, less alone, less uncertain. More calm, clear, connected and purposeful. We can learn how to do this, and with practice (yes, we have to do it over and over) they move from being practices to being just how you do things. THAT is when you are living fully, with joy.
One of the most common questions I get is “Just tell me… how do I change? How do I stop being in a rush, feeling uneasy, stressed and overwhelmed? How can I become more mindful? What do I really do?”
There are many ways we can become more aware and open to what’s happening right now… with our emotions, our thoughts, our body, our surroundings… other people. We learn to recognize the walls we build up and how we check-out or escape when things get unpleasant. We learn to see more clearly- with curiosity, openness and compassion… the joys, the delights, the hurts, the fears… all of it. That’s what mindfulness is about… being deeply present for the life right here.
In my book The Mindful Day I have 50 chapters that are situation and emotion-based that reveal just how to do it at work, home and in relationships… but to kick off your year I am sharing just five.
With mindfulness and meditation we learn to let go of what keeps us from our natural state of kind awareness… and build up resources to connect more deeply to a life of meaning.
Mindfulness reinforces a way of being present that is open, receptive, accepting, and compassionate.
You can cultivate greater connection and joy with these practices:
1. Mindful Breathing: Sitting in Stillness
2. Mindful Listening: Conscious Connection
3. Loving-Kindness Meditation
4. Mindful Nature Walking: Meditation While Moving
5. Take in the Good: Positive Savoring
As you reflect on your goals and intentions for 2020, include Mental Fitness in the list. You might pick one a week for the next five weeks… or if you are an over-achiever (many of you “corporate athletes” in this community are!) you can map each one to a day of the week and focus each day on the one you chose. The key is to find times in your day that work for you… on your commute, when you sit at your desk, between meetings. However you do it… these five practices will eventually just become what you do and who you are.
This foundational mindfulness meditation practice trains attention, cultivates awareness, settles the mind and calms the body. It brings you back to the here and now.
Start with intention. What is your reason for practicing mindful breathing? How can it serve you now?
Sit in stillness. Find a quiet place if you can. Set a timer for a few minutes, and enjoy the pause.
Focus on your breath. Bring attention to the process of breathing. Observe the inhale and the exhale, the felt sensation of breathing: Rise of the abdomen, air coming and going.
Begin again. Recognize when your mind wanders and return attention to breathing. Each time you return to breathing, your attentional muscles gets stronger.
Just listen. Be with another person by giving them your open-hearted attention. Drop your agenda and be curious. Don’t interrupt, share a similar story, or steer the conversation. Hold the space with a compassionate presence.
Focus and attend. When your mind wanders, bring your attention back to what the person is communicating with words, tone, and body language. You are being curious about the other person, and also checking in with yourself.
Track your internal signals. Sense your own physical sensations and emotions in response to what you are hearing, and return attention to listening. This builds emotional self-awareness and insight.
Be empathetic. Reflect with the other on what you sensed and heard they were feeling and saying, allowing the other to be seen, felt, and understood. You can say “I see you” or “I hear you.”
Increase caring and compassion for yourself and others. Open your heart and increase strength, courage, purpose and compassion with this timeless and evidence-based practice.
Take a few mindful breaths. Settle your mind and body.
Recite the following phrases:
May I be happy
May I be safe
May I be healthy
May I live with ease.
Extend these wishes to others. Start with a person easy to love. Bring them to mind, see them in your mind’s eye, smiling at you. Repeat the phrases to them… May you be happy, May you be safe, May you be healthy, May you live with ease.
Extend in widening circles. If you like, bring to mind family and close friends. Repeat the phrases to direct kind wishes. Then extend to neighbors, community, co-workers. Repeat the phrases. Go wider… people in your country.. in the region, in the world. It gets easier with time. Keep practicing… so you are able to finally extend wishes to include all beings- where no living being is left out.
Mindful Walking in Nature
You can practice walking meditation as an antidote to our tendency to rush through the day. It is meditation while moving, and a daily meditation practice for me. You can do it anywhere, but when you do it outside, you get all the positive well-being benefits of being in nature. Nature regulates our nervous system and invokes a sense of awe and wonder. My teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, who held the hand of my daughter daily in walking meditation, calls it “kissing the earth” with your feet.
Find a peaceful place to walk. A park, your neighborhood, in the woods, along a river. Let go of trying to get somewhere, and pick a place about 15 feet to walk back and forth, or in a circle. You can also walk from here to there… like a regular walk, but this one will be intentional.
Begin by feeling your feet. Start with standing in mountain pose, noticing your feet making contact with the ground. Feel your center, above your abdomen. Take a breath here at your core. Invite a sense of ease.
Try slow, focused walking. Use your feet making contact with the ground as your anchor of attention. When your mind wanders and races, simply bring your attention back to your feet.
Now try open awareness. Instead of focusing on one anchor, like your feet, open your awareness to take in the trees, the sky, sounds, other people… invite appreciation by using your senses to tune in. This strengthens the core skills of mindfulness and your ability to be present in the here and how.
Take in the Good
Train your brain to notice, appreciate and install positive experiences so they don’t fleetingly come, go and disappear. Increase your joy by noticing what’s good, beautiful, kind, and full of wonder, and wishing those things for others.
Look for the good. Seek out the positive. Notice the bright winter sun in the blue sky, the smell of good coffee, the smile of your child or an act of compassion you witnessed. Notice the positive in you- qualities or actions you take to serve others.
Take it in. Savor. Fully take in the experience or observation for a full breath, or about 15 seconds. Give yourself time to “install” the positive moment fully in your mind and body so it sticks.
Deepen with gratitude. Deepen joy by adding appreciation and gratitude to the moment.
Share it. Spread joy to others. Say out loud what you are savoring. In our house we say: “Take in the Good!” out loud. It cultivates joy and connection.
Remember that whatever you practice gets stronger.