The Book of Self-Care: Remedies for Healing Mind, Body, and Soul by Mary Beth Janssen (Sterling Publishing, 2017), inspires one to be more aware of oneself. Janssen encourages readers to take time to meditate and focus on breathing. Follow her step by step instructions for successful meditation. The following excerpt is from Chapter 4, “Embracing Mindfulness.”
Though mindfulness takes practice, as with forming any new habit it can become second nature. Some common wisdom says it takes twenty days to form a new habit, and mindfulness is no exception! Just take that time to witness your thoughts from when you get up in the morning until you go to bed at night. Narrate your day to yourself: “Good morning, self,” and so on; do so with great interest and enthusiasm.
Cultivate and practice noticing what gets your attention and what you usually ignore. To paraphrase Jesus, where your attention is, there will your heart be also. If you think about what you paid attention to throughout your day, what did you learn about yourself? What place did love and soulful connection with others have in your day? Would you like to change where you put your attention, time, and concern? These are all important questions for the soul that wants awareness.
A more formal approach to mindfulness is through meditation with a particular focus on breathing. Sit in a chair with shoulders relaxed, or lie on your back. Keep your spine straight. Focus on every aspect of your breathing, the gentle in and out of air. “Be with”—follow it with body and mind as it travels up and down the body—each in-breath and out-breath for its full duration, as if you’re riding the waves of your own breathing. You may feel the coolness of the breath as you inhale through your nostrils. Fill your lungs as widely and deeply as is comfortable for you on the in-take. You’ll feel your belly gently rise and expand. The belly then falls or lowers on the exhale. Make certain you fully exhale before taking in the next breath. A slight pause after the inhale and after the exhale allows you to feel the entire fullness and lightness of each in-and-out. Feel the warmth of the air through your nostrils as you fully exhale. Feel it all and take note.
Every time you notice that your mind has wandered away from watching your breath, notice what took you away, and then gently bring your attention back to your breathing. It’s okay and natural for thoughts to arise and distractions carry your attention away to follow them. Simply accept them without judging, labeling, or interacting with them. Just let them come and go like cars on the street or sunlight patterns on the floor. Now bring your attention back to the breath. Send yourself healing, loving energy through this process. Breathe it all in, love it all out!
If your mind wanders away from the breath a hundred times, then your job is simply to bring it back to the breath every time, no matter what it becomes preoccupied with. Continue this way for several minutes, ultimately working up to fifteen minutes per day. Over time, you will become grateful for your mindfulness meditation time. You’ll look forward to it.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, a mentor of mine in the mindfulness practice space, is the creator/founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, which helps people cope with stress, PTSD, anxiety, pain, and illness. This esteemed program is offered at medical centers, hospitals, and health maintenance organizations worldwide.
As Kabat-Zinn is fond of saying, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” He often uses the example of waves to explain mindfulness.
“Think of your mind as the surface of a lake or ocean. There are always waves on the water, sometimes big, sometimes small, sometimes almost imperceptible. The water’s waves are churned up by the winds, which come and go and vary in direction and intensity, just as do the winds of stress and change in our lives, which stir up waves in our mind. It’s possible to find shelter from much of the wind that agitates the mind. Whatever we might do to prevent them, the winds of life and of the mind will blow.”*
* Portions of this section were first published in Organic Spa Magazine, Embracing Mindfulness, July 1, 2014
Reprinted with permission from The Book of Self-Care: Remedies for Healing Mind, Body, and Soul by Mary Beth Janssen and published by Sterling Ethos, 2017.