Updated: Dec 12, 2019
What is mindfulness meditation?
Although there are many different styles of mindfulness practice, at the core it is actually pretty simple: mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment, without judgment.
Mindfulness meditation is when we take a concentrated amount of time during which we chose to bring our attention back to the present moment–again and again. Unlike how it’s depicted in popular culture, mindfulness meditation isn’t about clearing your mind of thoughts, so don’t worry if you’ve tried meditating and your mind was busy. That’s true of everyone! Meditation is simple choosing to gently refocus, over and over.
Advanced practitioners might sit in meditation for hours, or even days–but this kind of time commitment is not in any way necessary to reap benefits from the practice. While the common advice is to try to meditate for 20 minutes a day, I’m a firm believer that even one minute–yes, sixty seconds!–spent practicing mindfulness can help us to center ourselves and reframe our emotional state.
Typically in mindfulness meditation, we chose an anchor to help ourselves focus on the present moment. Often that anchor is the breath, although it could be anything: the feeling on the bottom of our feet during a walking meditation, the sound of the ocean’s waves as we meditate on the beach, or heck–even the sounds of horns honking as you’re stuck in traffic! An anchor is simply a way to help guide your focused attention back to the present moment.
Many meditation teachers, myself included, are especially fond of using anchors in our body (like the breath) because so often in modern day life, we become disembodied, focusing on our screens, our thoughts, the past or future, or on other people. Using our own body as an anchor can be very gently grounding.
Don’t forget to bring the gentleness! The second we judge our experiences, we have left the present moment.
So many of us live in a land of self judgment: second-guessing ourselves, beating ourselves up for mistakes, worrying about the future, or lamenting the past. Add to that the way we judge others (Why is he breathing so loud?!) or even inanimate objects (I hate these pants!) and it can be surprising and sometimes disheartening to realize how much of our own mental and emotional energy goes into judging.
The time we spend practicing mindfulness meditation can help this in two ways: it can both reveal to us how how our mind is operating (and believe me, I personally know how much bravery it can take to see this clearly!) and it can give us practice in non-judging. Even a moment spent practicing non-judgment is practice that your beautiful brain gets in existing in gentle awareness. And this is the practice of mindfulness meditation: existing, in gentle awareness, in the present moment.
Warning: If you find yourself judging something, don’t judge yourself for judging! That is a spiral that many meditators find themself in. One way to disarm this is to bring some humor or levity to the practice; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself laughing at how many layers of judgment I’ve piled on. When this happens, I laugh, I let it go, and I go back to my breath. Without, you know, judging.
It’s a practice, not a perfect!
Despite how meditation is portrayed in popular culture–as bliss, peace, gently closed eyes while sitting perfectly straight out in nature–the reality is much more gritty, raw, and real. A real-life home meditation practice might take place in a messy room while the kids are fighting on the other side of the door, or in the car when you have five minutes before going into a meeting, or with headphones on sitting at your desk. Finding a perfectly quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed for twenty minutes is certainly ideal, but it’s much more important to just, well, practice.
In fact, the key to making a mindfulness meditation practice something that you can benefit from can be found in the name: practice. Just keep sitting, just keep breathing, just keep practicing. The good news is that you can’t do it perfectly–so there is no goal to reach, no standard to hold yourself to.
May your practice be of benefit to you!
Liza Kindred is the author of EFF THIS! Meditation: 108 Tips, Tricks, and Ideas for When You're Feeling Anxious, Stressed Out, or Overwhelmed (available on Amazon and everywhere books are sold.
She is the creator of the EFF THIS! Meditation community, where she offers mindfulness practices to cynics, skeptics, and busy people. She is also the founder of Mindful Technology™ where she teaches companies how to build tech that values humans more than machines. Liza is a licensed minister, a level two reiki practitioner, and a terrible but passionate surfer.
Liza Kindred has studied meditation and Buddhism with some of the best teachers in the world for over a decade... but she still swears a lot. (After all, the path to enlightenment runs right through the messy realities of everyday life.)
If there is one thing that Liza wants you to know, it's that there is nothing wrong with you. While the wellness industrial complex might use self care as a way to keep us striving for constant improvement, she believes that unconditional self love in the here and now is the only way to ever be truly happy. You are complete, just not finished.
Stay in touch! Subscribe to Liza's newsletter at lizakindred.com/subscribe and connect on Twitter at @LizaK and on Instagram at @Liza_K ... and join the community on the ever-hilarious @EFFTHISmeditation and at EFFTHISmeditation.com/