“To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.” – Lao Tzu
In last week’s post, “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: Week Three,” we explored what it means be mindful in movement. There is often a common misconception that in order to practice mindfulness, you must engage in a very still and quiet formal meditation practice. Learning how to become alert to the present moment and mindful of our bodily sensations and movements allows us to anchor ourselves back in the “now.”
We are fortunate to have access to a constant and steady anchor into present moment awareness: the breath. Focusing on the breath is an easily accesible route to refocusing attention in the here-and-now. We take our breath with us throughout the day, although we often seem to “forget to breathe,” particularly during times of stress or anxiety. It is in these moments when it is especially important to bring the awareness back to the slow and steady breath moving through our bodies. This is one of many examples of being mindful in movement.
Now that you have reached the beginning of week four in your personal MBSR journey, you have learned about the benefits of mindfulness in your daily life, how to address common obstacles to mindfulness, and how to anchor your present moment awareness through mindful movement. This is a good time to pause to reflect on the thoughts and feelings that you have recorded in your MBSR journal. What changes have you noticed? What has surprised you (or not)? During week four of MBSR, you will learn to fully immerse yourself in the present moment and practice staying in the present moment.
MBSR Week Four: Staying Present
Take a moment to pause and reflect on the quality of this very moment in time. Notice how your body is positioned in space, what physical sensations you notice, the thoughts arising in your mind, and the emotions that can be felt in your heart. How does this very moment compare with memories from the past or thoughts of the future? How would you describe “you” just as you are at this moment in time?
We all have natural tendencies to react to our present moment experiences. Becoming mindful involves paying attention to and noticing these tendencies. It is only once we fully observe and recognize our patterns and habits that we can then accept them and ultimately change them, if we so choose. There are three ways that we generally tend to react to our experiences:
(1) Attachment to pleasant experiences… leads to fear of what happens when they are lost.
(2) Aversion to unpleasant experiences… leads to stress each time things don’t go your way.
(3) Indifference to everyday experiences… means missing out on the mystery and wonder of being fully alive.
This week, direct your mindful focus toward unpleasant experiences. We all have to face troublesome times, stressful events, and unwanted experiences at times in life. The important thing to start noticing is how you react and respond to these challenges. Once you become more alert to your ingrained patterns of responding, you can slowly begin to learn alternate ways of responding to stress in the future. This is a gradual process of untangling yourself from deeply entrenched habits that you have developed over time. Recognize the possibility that there are different ways to respond to unpleasant experiences.
MBSR Week Four: Practices
- Days 1, 3, & 5 – Practice 30 minutes of mindful movement. This might mean stretching, walking, yoga, or tai chi. Follow your 30 minutes of mindful movement with 15 minutes of mindful breathing.
- Days 2, 4, & 6 – Practice 30 minutes of guided sitting meditation.
- Practice the mini-meditation exercise, “3 Minute Breathing Space,” three times a day. Schedule these times when they will be most convenient for you. Commit to your practice in your schedule as you would with any other appointment.
- Practice the “3 Minute Breathing Space” during other times during the day when you notice yourself experiencing something unpleasant. Write down your thoughts and feelings in your MBSR journal about the effect that your mini-meditation exercise has on your aversion to this unpleasant experience.
- Become more alert and aware to times of stress. Notice your habitual reactions and responses to stressful situations. Do you tend to shut down, block out, or deny the stressful event? Do you find yourself becoming emotionally overwhelmed or anxious? Do you become irritable with loved ones? Become aware of your natural tendencies and begin to practice acceptance of this reaction. It is only once you truly accept what you are doing in the moment that you can begin to make real changes.
Take a moment to thank yourself for making the commitment to your MBSR practice. You are making the choice to learn specific mindfulness tools that have the potential to liberate you from living a life on automatic pilot and feeling detached from your true self. Remember that the process of making lasting change requires time, dedication, and patience. Practice giving yourself the same compassion, empathy, and kindness that you would give to a loved one.
If you find yourself struggling to maintain your personal MBSR practice, listen to your intuition and push yourself just outside of your comfort zone enough to challenge, but not drain yourself. A large part of becoming more mindful means becoming more sensitive and in tune with your own needs and experience. Listen to the quiet voice within that knows what is in your best interest.
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Next week, I will explore the practices involved with Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction: Week Five – “Embracing Acceptance.”
This article is not intended to be a substitute for therapy or MBSR as developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn. This article is intended to introduce you to the basic concepts of MBSR that you can practice in your daily life. If you are interested in exploring MBSR in greater depth, you can explore an online course or a directory of MBSR classes worldwide.
Alidina, S. (2011). Mindfulness for dummies. West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Featured image: The Golden Retriever Meditates on What it Means to be Cold, Loved, and Warm by Andrew Morrell Photography / CC BY-ND 2.0