It may be hard to believe, but being mindful is an utterly transformative experience.
Our society encourages us to always do more, and faster—and then tomorrow, more and faster still. The problem is that most of us lack the skill to be alone and quiet for even short periods of time, always distracting ourselves by sending another text or checking email or flipping the channel.
When our brains are always on overdrive, how do we ever get a sense of what’s really going on underneath the madness?
The French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” I absolutely believe this to be true.
I knew that slowing my mind down would be helpful, but it seemed stuck on fast-forward. My brain was totally in charge of where it took me until I learned a few basic meditation techniques to gain control.
The good news is it doesn’t take hours to stop the spinning—even just five minutes of mindfulness can have a transformative effect on your entire day!
“I think our culture is really built around how we can go faster and faster,” said Lisa Stanley, Center Director for the Portland Shambala Center. She believes it’s important “to just be with yourself, slow down enough to know what you’re experiencing, to notice the stress in your body, or how you’re feeling in a given moment.”
You don’t need to sit in lotus position, you don’t need a fancy meditation cushion, you don’t need to chant or close your eyes – heck, you can even walk with your dog – and the experience and relaxation can be profound.
If you’re still a bit dubious, perhaps some of these arguments sound familiar:
I don’t have five minutes to sit still!
I’m willing to bet there are five minutes hiding somewhere in your day, just waiting to be found. Try these:
- Stay five extra minutes in the bathroom, at home or at work.
- Sit in your car (parked out of view of your home or office) for five minutes.
- Close your eyes on the subway.
- Lock the conference room door for five minutes.
- Stand in the yard with your dog while he sniffs around, and listen to the opening of our dog meditation MP3.
- Go into the attic to “look for the extra pillowcases” or the basement to “find the cans of soup,” both of which will take you– surprise!– five minutes.
- Sit in bed for five minutes before getting up in the morning, or before falling asleep at night.
- At the end of your workday, turn off the computer and sit for five minutes before getting up.
If you truly can’t find five minutes, how about one moment?
There’s always something interrupting me when I try to sit still.
Our lives are indeed very distracting. So, do what you can to minimize interruptions and distractions:
- Put your mobile phone on silent.
- If there’s a room with a door, go into that room and shut the door.
- Ask your partner, your kids, your dog, to please respect this five-minute sabbatical you’re taking. If you take it seriously, they’ll learn to, too.
Stanley said that what’s most important is “just paying attention to having a space and a time for you to practice,” and that some folks choose to incorporate their family and children in when needed. “Even dedicating ten minutes in an uplifting area of your home is really helpful,” she said.
Meditation seems so complicated and woo-woo. I don’t even know where to start.
Ready for the most un-woo-woo experience ever?
- Set a timer for five minutes.
- Sit comfortably upright, no slouching.
- Close your eyes.
- Take a nice, slow breath in to the count of four, pause for one second, and then exhale to the count of four.
- Pause for one second, then repeat until the timer goes off.
- When you lose focus, start over again without self-judgement.
Congratulations, you have just meditated!
Every time I try to follow my breath for five counts I lose track!
It takes time to train our minds and bodies to find stillness. Here’s a simple walking meditation to try:
- Stand in a quiet part of your home (a hallway, a room, the backyard, the basement), where there’s space in front of you to take at least 5 small steps.
- Set a timer for 5 minutes.
- Take one *very slow*step forward. As your heel touches the ground, notice it touching the ground. As your foot rolls forward, notice it rolling forward. As the other heel lifts off the ground, notice it lifting off the ground. As it rolls forward, notice it rolling forward. As the foot moves forward to take a step, notice it moving forward to take a step. As that heel touches the ground, notice it touching the ground. Basically, just notice every part of the movement and touching of your feet taking those steps forward.When you complete 5 steps, or when you get to the end of your hallway, turn around and start again.
- Repeat until the timer sounds.
Congratulations, you have just meditated!
When I try to sit still, I get antsy and itchy and my mind races and I just want to get up and run away.
Most of us don’t have a lot of experience with quiet or stillness, as our culture values distraction and noise more highly. So, sitting still for five minutes is a major accomplishment! Don’t worry if you need to work up to it. The important part is the practice.
I don’t have anywhere to go where I can sit still or close my eyes for even five minutes.
Instead of thinking we have to go somewhere special or find more time for this, we may just be missing the small pockets of space already available. “I’ve been learning. In the morning, as my coffee is brewing, I sit,” writes Leo Babauta. “Even for a few minutes, at first, it is instructive. You learn to listen to your thoughts, to be aware of your urges to do something else, to plan and set goals. You learn to watch yourself, but to just sit still and not act on those urges. You learn to be content with stillness.”