I read recently that on the journey to holiness, you must only take the first step. The angels will carry you on the rest of the journey. This image makes my heart happy. It reminds me that only what can happen, will happen. And that everything is perfect. It really takes the pressure off.
Although I don’t think this necessarily means that the journey will be easy. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
There are really two essential things to know and remember when you are starting a mindfulness practice, and throughout this entire journey. The first is about intention and choice.
Mindfulness is a process of coming to recognize your power and your choice. Often we inherit the belief that our thoughts and emotions and reactions are involuntary, and outside of our control. But this is a giving away of an immense power that is within us – the power of will and choice that is given to each of us. It is intrinsic in our soul! So the end goal of mindfulness meditation is a reclaiming of your power over all of your being – which includes your thoughts and emotions, too. This is obviously a very lofty goal, but I think it helps to be able to see the end point sometimes. This takes years and years to cultivate, and when you have mastered it, you are in very holy territory. I hope to possibly be there by the time I am a gray haired grandmother.
So, where do we start the journey? Well, for most of our lives, we are taught to give away our power of choice, especially with regard to our thoughts and emotions. We allow our thoughts to take control of us – and often they develop a really mean and scary and judgmental voice. But! You, powerful being! You have taken the first step in saying that you wish to make a different choice, and take back your power. Congratulations. Well done. Next, we have to consider how to do this.
Here’s where the awareness comes in. This is the second essential thing about mindfulness – awareness. Often we allow our thoughts and emotions to take control and happen to us, without any awareness that they are happening. This is like the process of breathing, which is why it is such a good tool for mindfulness meditation. When we relax our awareness, our body will naturally continue to breathe without any help or input. But when we pay attention, and add our awareness, we can exert total control over the process of breathing – even to the point of stopping when we wish. And by utilizing our awareness of breathing, we can train ourselves into a habit of breathing a certain way, or in a certain rhythm, without having to keep awareness there all the time. This is what we want to do with our thoughts and emotions, as well. We start with the desire to retake our power and control. Then we bring awareness to the process of our thoughts and emotions. Finally, we can learn to train our thoughts and emotions to a different pattern, and to be aware of how these processes are happening.
So. We get to the actual reality of what you do. Meditation focusing on the breath is an awesome place to start. It helps us to subconsciously frame what we are doing, and offers a focus point while we work to clear the mind. Some meditation, like zen meditation, is the practice of clearing the mind, until you can maintain this state indefinitely. (Usually when starting a normal person can go for like 2 seconds with a clear mind.) You can use the clear mind and breath focus practice as a way to regain power – but let’s take a more direct route.
A standard of mindfulness meditation is sitting by the stream meditation.
- In this practice we start again by focusing on the breath. This helps to give your mind a focal point, and is a reminder of the rhythms of the body, and how we are reclaiming our power.
- When we use the breath to enter the state of focus and relaxation, we imagine we are sitting by the bank of a river.
- Then we begin the practice of awareness. When a thought comes into your mind, bring your awareness to it, and notice what it is without judgement. Sometimes it helps to name the thought – when I first started doing this practice, I noticed that sooo many of my thoughts were about food! It was: cool breath in….warm breath out…cool breath in….what’s for lunch? Then I would notice the thought and name it as: food.
- Then you imagine taking the thought, placing it in the river, and letting it float away.
- Then you return to the breath – cool breath in…warm breath out…cool breath in…I should make salmon for dinner…food, float it down the river. And so on.
Sometimes the thoughts are about innocuous things like food, but sometimes they are more intense, and you can name them like worry, or worry about money, or planning the future, or reliving the past. This practice helps you to do many things – one is bring awareness to the process of thought. Another is build the ability to let thoughts go that aren’t serving you. And it also helps you realize and categorize what your thoughts are, so that you can best know how to form new habits. For instance, if you find that a majority of your thoughts are planning the future, you can start to consider ways to bring your focus to the now. But the first step is the awareness – so this meditation practice is the first tool that I would recommend at the start of the journey.
There are also other ways that you can build awareness throughout the day. Remember the goal is to be able to regain your power so that you can, at anytime, choose where your thoughts and emotions are. But when we are not taking conscious control, we want our thoughts to fall into a natural place of peace in the present. We build up this skill by bringing awareness to all moments of the day. One tool to exercise awareness is to choose something in your life and bring awareness to it. You can start with something easy, like looking at your phone – and every time you do this, you bring awareness to it. I like to make this more holy by adding a mantra or prayer. When I started this practice I used walking through a doorway, and every time I would bring my awareness to the moment, and repeat my mantra at the time: I am a holy and wild woman. I have now evolved my practice: every time I feel fear, I bring awareness to my emotion, say a prayer of surrender and release my fear. This can be a harder practice, because we are more used to being aware of our physical actions than our mental or emotional actions. And it takes time to build up the skill of releasing unwanted emotion at will (it is a work in progress that I cultivate by practicing). It might be worthwhile to start by picking both a physical and mental action to which you will bring your awareness. So that’s tool number 2, and it helps to bring your practice throughout the day, and build awareness.
I am going to stop there for now. This is a really good place to start, and sets a strong foundation for the rest of your journey.
One final note: on my spiritual journey, I have found that it is so, so important to have my tribe of women who support me and care for me, and accompany me on the Red Road. I have many women I turn to when I feel I need it, but but it can also be helpful to have one to whom you are accountable. This can take whatever form works best; but is someone that you know will love you and support you no matter what, and is something regular to rely on and hold you accountable to your progress.