Day 3 of 30: Celebrating the Noticing!
An important shift at this point is bringing positive reinforcement to the noticing when your mind has become distracted from your selected object of focus.
In our culture the typical response when something does not go the way you expected is self-criticism:
“I’m a bad meditator. I’ll never be good at this” or similar self-talk.
Starting today (or Marshall Rosenberg’s wonderful phrase of “from now on …”) I invite you to begin to replace that initial response with a new one:
“I just noticed that I had become distracted. Noticing distraction is the practice is!!! I am doing it! I woke up!”
… or similar language that works for you.
At the same time, allow yourself to feel the positive emotions that come with celebrating a success.
Then return your attention to your breath. Depending upon the source of your distraction, it may take effort and skills to return your attention to your breath. If you hear a car pass by and notice that your attention shifted to listening to it, that’s probably pretty easy. But if your attention is grabbed by recalling a heated discussion with a friend you had last night, that one may be more sticky. By “sticky” I mean harder for you to let go of for now. It is helpful to remember that you are in control of your practice. You have options from which you can choose:
- One option is to see the recollection of yesterday’s discussion as a thought, a memory. Name it silently as a thought. With a gentle puff of imaginary wind or an imaginary tap of your finger, see the thought pass. (You can always return to it when you choose to after your practice.)
- Another option is to give yourself the gift of a moment of self-compassion. Silently say to yourself in your own words what is true for you about how you are feeling and what is important to you about what happened, such as, “That discussion last night was challenging. I feel sad remembering it. I value my connection with my friend.” Often self-compassion will create space for you to say goodbye for now to juicy, sticky thoughts that arise along with feelings.
- Yet another option: especially starting a new practice, it works for some to place a notepad and pencil next to you. Place it next to your foot or thigh where you can feel where it is. This options works well for thoughts that are “good ideas” or things you feel like you need to remember. Pausing and stillness have the effects of relaxing your mind and when your mind relaxes it may produce thoughts that you find of value. When that happens, to give you some peace of mind that they will not be lost when you let them go, open your eyes for a moment, write the thought down (legibly – I write that from my personal experience), and return to your practice with the confidence that you do not need to continue to give that thought any more energy because it is safe in your notepad.
- One last option I’ll offer you is to choose to engage with the thoughts. This option might surprise you … but remember you’re in control of your practice. You do have the option when something arises to choose that it is time-sensitive and important. To do so would be to choose to end your practice early for now. You’ll re-schedule your practice for another time later in the day. Note that giving energy to the thoughts is not the practice. It is a choice to end your current meditation and return to your practice after you have attended to the matter at hand.
When you return your attention to the felt sensations of the rising and falling of your belly, it is guaranteed that you will get distracted again. It’s part of being human. When you notice that you’ve become distracted again, rinse and repeat: give yourself the gift of saying and feeling the celebration of noticing, bring gratitude that you have autonomy and choice to place your attention where you wish, and then place your attention back on the felt sensations of your belly while breathing. Again and again, this approach is our current meditation practice with which we are starting in these 30 days. It is called “concentration”, “calm focus”, or “samadhi” (in Pali and Sanskrit languages).
My invitation to you is to continue with at least 5 minutes of breath-centered concentration practice every day. In your practice today, you may choose to bring energy to remembering to celebrate your noticing when you realize you have become distracted and celebrate that you have the ability to choose to return your attention to your breath.
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See you tomorrow!
Below is a resource about meditation for concentration practice with breath as your anchor from Joseph Goldstein’s The Experience of Insight .
“Awareness of the breath can be practiced in one of two ways. When you breathe in, the abdomen naturally rises or extends, and when you breathe out, it falls. Keep your attention on the movement of the abdomen, not imagining, not visualizing anything, just experiencing the sensation of the movement. Don’t control or force the breath in any way, merely stay attentive to the rising, falling movement of the abdomen.
The alternative is to be aware of the breath as it goes in and out of the nostrils, keeping the attention in the area around the tip of the nose or upper lip. Maintain the attention on the breath much as a watchman standing at a gate observes people in and out. Don’t follow the breath all the way down or all the way out; don’t control or force the breathing. Simply be aware of the in and out breath as it passes the nostrils. It is helpful in the beginning of practice to make mental notes either of ‘rising, falling’ or ‘in, out.’ This aids in keeping the mind on the object.
In the first few minutes see which object appears more clearly, either the rising, falling or the in, out. Then choose one place of attention and stay with it, do not go back and forth. If at times it becomes less distinct, don’t switch to the other object thinking it’s going to be easier. Once you have decided where you’re going to cultivate your attention keep it there and try to remain with it through all the changes. It is sometimes clear, sometimes not, sometimes deep, sometimes shallow, sometimes long, sometimes short. Remember, it is not a breathing exercise; it is the beginning exercise in mindfulness.”
Periodically it will be helpful to turn to a reminder of why are you choosing to invest in meditation. Here is a partial list of benefits…