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  • Writer's picturehayneslamottepsych

Mindfulness Through Meditation

By now, there is a general cultural awareness of the concepts of mindfulness and meditation, and that they can be positive for mental health. However, it may be less clear what the differences are between these terms.

Mindfulness can be described as intentionally living in the present moment without judging it, rejecting it, or clinging to it. When you are fully engaged in what you are doing, not focused on anything else, and lose track of time, this is mindfulness. In a future post I will explore the concept of everyday mindfulness (i.e., building mindfulness into your daily activities and approach to life).

What often comes to mind for people when they hear the term mindfulness is meditation, which is a related but distinct idea. Meditation involves the intentional practice of mindfulness over a set time through training one’s attention. This happens by either focusing the mind on a single idea (such as mantra), or by opening up the mind to attend to one’s ongoing sensory experiences (e.g., noticing what you hear).

Both everyday mindfulness and meditation involve transitioning out of a problem-solving mindset and into an observing one. In essence, this is the key ingredient as to why both are so beneficial to people. In a sense, problem-solving mode keeps our Fight-Flight-Freeze mechanism revved up, so staying in this mode will cause a buildup effect of stress.

When we practice mindfulness, we go into observation mode (i.e., simply noticing your experiences without trying to change them). This is something that we generally don’t get a lot of practice with, and by turning off problem-solving mode, it tends as well to bring on a calm or relaxation response. One way to think about what you’re doing is taking a different stance from the position of your consciousness.

As opposed to more everyday mindfulness, which is built into the way you do your daily activities, meditation can be like a refuge within your day, and works well for when you only feel able to practice mindfulness for a set amount of time, such as during a lunch break.

With meditation, generally if you follow the guide’s instructions (and don’t become too stressed about whether or not you’re doing it right, which is problem-solving mode), you likely will feel a sense of calm.

In this post, I include recordings of two guided mindfulness meditations:

The 1st is a more general mindfulness exercise taking a non-judgmental stance toward our emotions, body sensations and thoughts:

The 2nd is an exercise called Leaves on a Stream that focuses on mindfulness of our thoughts:

In the process of developing an approach of mindfulness and meditative practices, it can be helpful to have the assistance of a licensed therapist that understands these concepts. If you live in Seattle or the greater Washington area, and are interested in working on this via telehealth, please feel free to contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation today or learn more about my approach on my website.

Script: Mindfulness of Body Sensations, Emotions, and Thoughts

Take a few minutes now to settle into your chair, finding a posture that feels relaxed and centered. You can allow your eyes to close. Feeling the weight of your body- where it contacts the chair or your cushion, where your feet or legs contact the ground. The points of contact your body makes with itself- maybe your hands resting on your legs or your arms against your sides. Maybe you can feel the places where your clothing touches your skin.

Now bringing your attention to sounds and the sensation of hearing. You might observe the sounds both inside and outside the body, near and far away. Noticing the texture and the pitch of the sounds. Noticing how the mind labels or makes sense of the sound. Staying as best you can with the raw experience of hearing rather than the thoughts and ideas. As thoughts arise, returning again and again to the experience of sound. And if you find yourself carried away from awareness of hearing, just noting that and gently guiding your attention back to the experience of hearing.

Now letting the different sounds fade into the background of your awareness and allowing your attention to rest naturally on your breath. The inbreath, the slight pause, the outbreath. Aware of the sensations in your abdomen as the breath moves in and out of the body. Noticing that your body knows exactly what to do. Just observing as your body breathes, the slight stretching as your abdomen rises with each inbreath, and the gentle falling with each outbreath. As best you can, staying with each breath as it enters and leaves the body. Each time you notice that your mind has wandered off the breath, gently letting go and beginning again, allowing your attention to return to the breath.

Now when you’re ready, allowing the breath to fade into the background of your experience and shifting your attention to the sensations in the body. Noticing all the different sensations that may be present in this moment: Sensations of touch, pressure, tingling, itching, or whatever it may be. Spending a few moments exploring these sensations.

If there are sensations that are particularly intense or uncomfortable, bringing your awareness to these areas and seeing if you can stay with them, breathing into these areas and exploring with gentleness and curiosity the detailed pattern of sensations: What do these sensations really feel like? Do they change or do they stay the same? Is there a way to experience this discomfort without resisting or fighting it? Noticing any reactions that arise, and meeting whatever is here with kindness. If there is tension, softening those areas as best you can. Seeing now if you can just allow whatever is here to just be.

Now allowing the focus of your attention to shift from sensations to awareness of thoughts. Seeing if you can notice the very next thought that arises in the mind. Then just watching each thought as it appears and passes away. If you notice yourself getting involved or lost in a thought, just observing that as well and gently bringing yourself back to the awareness of thinking. Letting go, beginning again each time you become involved in a thought. If you notice your mind repeatedly getting lost in thoughts you can always reconnect with the here and now by bringing your awareness back to the movements of the breath. Continuing to practice observing thoughts as they arise and pass for a few moments.

Gently shifting your attention now from thoughts to an awareness of any emotions or feelings that might be present. Maybe sadness, frustration, irritation. Whatever you notice. What is this emotion or feeling? Seeing if you can allow yourself to soften and open to this feeling. What does this emotion feel like? Where is it in the body? Maybe there are specific sensations that go with this emotion. Maybe there is tingling or tension somewhere. Maybe heaviness in the chest or perhaps the heartbeat speeds up. Maybe there is warmth or pressure somewhere. Or maybe it’s just a general sense that permeates the whole body. Just see what you can notice. Acknowledging what’s there and letting it be.

In these last few moments, seeing if you can hold the whole body in awareness: the breath falling in and out of the body, the other sensations throughout the body, any thoughts that arise…

And finally, I’d like you to picture yourself in the place where you are. If you’re in a room, picture exactly where you are in that room. Or if you’re outside, picture exactly where you are outside. And when you are ready, you can open your eyes to end the exercise and come back to the place where you are now.

Script: Mindfulness of Thoughts (Leaves on a Stream)

Begin by settling into your chair and closing your eyes. Sitting with a calm and wakeful presence, with your spine straight and body relaxed. Taking a moment to become aware of yourself here in this room at this moment. Bringing awareness to your body here in the chair.

Now gathering the attention and bringing it to your breath: the in-breath, the out-breath, the waves of breath as they enter and leave the body. Not looking for anything to happen or for any special state or experience, just continuing to stay with the sensations of breathing for the next few moments. Now letting the breath fade into the background, allowing your awareness to focus on the thoughts that arise in your mind. See if you can just notice the very next thought that arises in your mind, and letting it naturally pass by, and the next thought, allowing that to pass by as well, without becoming involved in it or following it.

You might imagine that you are sitting by a stream. Take a moment now to picture this stream in your mind. Now, as thoughts begin to arise, imagine you are sitting on the shore of the stream, watching them float by as though they were leaves on the water. As you become aware of each thought that appears, just gently allow it to float by. The thoughts might be words or an image or a sentence. Some thoughts might be larger or heavier, some smaller, quicker, or lighter. Whatever form the thought is in, as the next one appears, do the same – allowing it to float by. Just doing your best with this. If you find that you are worrying about what it should look like, or if you are doing this right, just notice that these, too, are thoughts on the passing stream. If thoughts come quickly, you might picture the stream rushing with white water. As the thoughts calm down, the stream might slow down and flow more smoothly.

If you find that you become lost in a thought or your attention has wandered, you might congratulate yourself for becoming aware again, noticing, if possible, what thought pulled you away and then simply beginning again, bringing your awareness back to observing your thoughts.

If you find yourself following the thoughts, as often happens, as soon as you notice that they have carried you away from the present, simply stepping out of the stream brings your attention back to sitting on the bank observing them.

Something you might try here is labeling the thoughts as they appear. Maybe they are judgments about yourself, your experience, or of how you are doing in this exercise. If so, just label that thought as “judgment” and let it pass. Perhaps you have a memory arise. If so, you might just label it as “memory.” Or perhaps plans come to mind about what you are going to do after this exercise or where you’re going to eat your next meal. Often fantasies come to mind. We imagine scenarios that might happen or that we would like to happen. Just recognize the thoughts as judgments, memories, plans, fantasies, or any labels that work for you, and allow the thoughts to pass. Try practicing this now. If no labels come to mind, that’s okay, too. You might just use the label “thought” or simply notice that no labels come to mind and continue to observe.

If you find you are lost in one of the thoughts that has arisen, notice what thought carried you away, then gently bring yourself back to the exercise of observing.

Now, very gently and when you are ready allow your awareness to shift to the place that you are right now. Picture yourself exactly where you are. You may notice your body in the chair. And when you are ready give yourself time to just gently allow your eyes to open, holding this awareness as best you can as your eyes take in the setting around you.


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