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Mindfulness meditation, also called insight meditation, is an exercise that trains your mind to stay present.

What it isn’t

It is not a practice that clears your mind. This is probably the biggest misconception about mindfulness. If you were to clear your mind of all thoughts and awareness, you’d be unconscious. But the effect of practicing mindfulness is that there is a lot less clutter in your mind.

Mindfulness is not about intense focus.  Focusing alone will get you deeply involved in a thought.  Mindfulness meditation helps you be aware that you are having a thought or feeling, helps you note it and then you can once again pay attention to your breath.

What it is

Mindfulness looks like this:

You sit erect (imagine standing at attention.  Now change that to sitting, with the same posture, but not the stiffness of standing at attention.)

You observe your breathing. Every single detail is important. How your chest rises and falls, your belly rises and falls, how the air fells coming into your nostrils, how it feels going out of your nostrils and anything else that you can notice about your breath. Pay attention to the details, notice the changes–and most importantly–do not not control it but follow it.  Observe it without changing it–to the extent that that is possible.

It very simple.  What’s hard is what actually happens while you are doing this. You, (no matter how highly practiced you are) will find your mind wandering away from its job of attending to the breath. You’ll start thinking about something you should do, or something you shouldn’t have done or something someone said or you’ll have a great idea that you’d like to think about.

When that happens, note it. Say to yourself, “I was thinking about the fact that I forgot to write a meeting in my calendar,” or “I’m feeling scared.” Go back to the breath. You might have even spent a few moments on this thought or feeling before you realize that you got away from paying attention your breath. Be gentle about this transition. Don’t judge yourself in any way. This is the way the mind works.  If you meditate for ten minutes, you may find yourself noting your thoughts and feelings scores of times and going back to the breath.

Jack Kornfield has compared mindfulness practice to training a puppy.  If you want the puppy to sit, when it runs away, you gently place it down again and show it what sitting is. You don’t berate the puppy or force it. You gently bring it back over and over again until it learns.

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