SGM May 2012 Practice of the Month: “4 Simple Ways to Practice Mindfulness”

SGM May 2012 Practice of the Month: “4 Simple Ways to Practice Mindfulness”

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Welcome back to the May 2012 Edition of SGM. I’m Kevin Schoeninger. Thank you for being with us.

Wouldn’t it be great to meditate and be able to hold to your point of focus, gain deep insight, and take that calm presence everywhere you went? What if you could put your mind in your body in a way that released tension, facilitated healing, and gathered the exact guidance you needed just when you needed it? Such is the power of mindfulness. In this Week’s Message, we’ll explore some simple practices to unlock that power in your life.


As a reminder before we get to that, let me say a few brief words about practice. An important key to making real shifts in life and growing what you truly desire, is not only to learn new ideas like mindfulness, but to put them to work. You transform your life by applying your insights in daily practice.

So this week, we’ll dive into four simple practices to grow mindfulness in everything you do. You can apply these while you are meditating to deepen the effects of your practice; you can apply them in your relationships to grow in love and understanding; and you can apply them “out in the world” to be more present and effective in your work.

Let’s begin by recalling a definition of mindfulness:

Mindfulness is deliberately and non-judgmentally paying attention to what is happening in the present moment. It’s the ability to place your attention on something, hold it there, and recognize when your mind has wandered from its focus. Mindfulness includes three inner skills: concentration, clarity, and equanimity.

If you’d like to refresh your mind about the different aspects of this definition, refer back to last Week’s Message.

This week, we’ll practice the inner skills of mindfulness.

An interesting quality of mindfulness is that it can seem like “nothing”—or at least nothing special. Yet, as you cultivate it, you begin to realize that mindfulness has tremendous depth, power, and effectiveness. It is a key to releasing inner tensions, negative states, and personal limits. It empowers you with skills that you can use in everything you do to make you more present, engaged, insightful, and effective.

So, with those ideas in mind, let’s get right into our practices. If you are listening to the audio of this message, I’m leaving time for just a minute or two for each practice. If you are really getting into one of the exercises and want to go longer, pause the audio and continue as long as you’d like.

Let’s begin with a deceptively simple practice that is inspired by Eckhart Tolle. Let’s call it “Watching the Mousehole.”


Imagine that you are a cat. You are sitting relaxed, yet alert, a short distance away from a mousehole. You are watching the opening to the mousehole, anticipating what might come out of it.

Now imagine the mousehole is in your mind and what you are watching for is your thoughts. You are watching for the next thought that might arise, like a cat watching a mousehole. When a thought arises, when the mouse comes out of the hole, you stay right where you are, observing its movement. You are so sure of your ability to catch that thought, that you feel confident to just sit there and watch it.

Try this for a minute now. Sit in a comfortable position, lightly close your eyes, and watch for your next thought. Stay relaxed and attentive, like a cat watching a mousehole. Give this a try for one minute now. . .

So, how did that go?

Perhaps, you noticed that your mind quieted down as you “watched for” thoughts. Or maybe you found yourself deluged with them, like your mousehole suddenly burst open and released floodwaters of thought and feeling. Whatever did or didn’t happen is fine. Part of the power of mindfulness is in learning to “observe” whatever happens without reacting to it. And, if you do react, to simply catch yourself and observe that reaction, and so on . . .

You can apply this mousehole exercise to emotions or physical sensations as well. You can observe your emotions or inner bodily sensations like that cat watching the mousehole. This is a tremendously powerful way to become more conscious of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations and gain some separation from them, so you can relate to them in a new way.


Our next practice, is about Noting whatever comes into your “inner space,” whether it is a thought (words, images, memories, and so on), a feeling (anger, sadness, joy, fear and so on), or a sensation (warmth, coolness, tingling, tightness, itchiness, heaviness, lightness, and so on).

Whatever you notice inside, you’ll label it with one word or a short phrase, and then continue to observe that event and see how it changes—or see what arises next. You can say the label silently or out loud to yourself. Then let it go and wait for what might emerge next. For example, “Am I doing this right?” “thought”. . . “shooting pain” “sensation” . . . “left knee” . . . “hurt that knee in kindergarten” “memory” . . . “that kid pushed me” “memory”. . .“anger” . . . “feeling,” and so on.

Here’s how Shinzen Young describes Noting:

“Each act of noting typically consists of two parts:

1. You clearly acknowledge the presence of a sensory event.
2. You focus intently on that sensory event.

During the acknowledging, you have the option, but not the requirement, to label the event you have acknowledged. To label means to think or say a word or phrase that describes the sensory event you are noting. The relationship between mindfulness, noting, and labeling is as follows:

• Labeling is designed to facilitate noting.
• Noting is designed to facilitate mindfulness.” (p.13, Five Ways to Know Yourself)

So let’s try this Noting practice now just for a minute.

Find a comfortable, seated posture. Lightly close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths . . . and relax. Feel your body as a whole from the inside. Now notice whatever comes into your inner space, label it with a word (such as thought, feeling, memory, sensation, and so on). Then continue to observe it or what emerges next. . .

O.K. so how did that go?

Did anything surprise you about this experience? Did you notice anything noteworthy? Did you notice how inner events come and go? Or did one thing stick with you for the whole time? Whatever you noticed is fine. It’s all instructive.

Our next mindfulness practice is also suggested by Shinzen Young. He calls it “Do Nothing.” Cats seem to be great at this.


Here’s how Shinzen describes it:
“Do Nothing is an approach to rest that involves little or no effort. You don’t even have to intentionally note restful states. It is totally passive and easy going.

Basic Instructions
1. Let whatever happens, happen.
2. Whenever you’re aware of an intention to control your attention, drop that intention.” (p.40, FWTKY)

Let’s try “Doing Nothing” now for a minute.

Again lightly close your eyes. Allow whatever happens to happen, without trying to control it. Simply be present while you do nothing. If you find yourself trying to concentrate, or “do it right,” or doing anything, let go of that and return to doing nothing. Ready, begin. . .

O.K. how did that go for you? What did it feel like? Did you notice yourself trying to “do something?” Did “doing nothing” feel good to you?
If anything interesting or noteworthy happened, feel free to pause and make a few notes to yourself.

Now if you found “doing nothing” a challenge, count yourself a member of our hyperactive culture. It’s O.K. It’s a challenge to be here and not be all revved up getting things done these days. However, it can be an important and instructive experience.


Let’s draw this week’s practice to a close with one more mindfulness practice from Shinzen Young. This one he calls “Nurture Positive.” Here’s a simplified version of it:

First, choose a specific positive thought, feeling, or behavior. Spend a minute or two, contemplating, feeling, and imagining anything related to that thought, feeling, or behavior. For example, you could choose the thought of “Earning a living following my passion.” Or you could choose the feeling of “Loving my kids.” Or you could choose the positive behavior experience of “Enjoying exercise.”

Once you’ve defined your positive focus, then, state a phrase that summarizes it and “dwell in” that experience. Imagine and feel yourself involved in “that” right here and now. Allow the experience to grow in emotional richness and sensory detail. If you find your mind wandering, simply repeat your focusing phrase and re-enter the experience.

Let’s take a minute to do this now. First, describe in a short phrase a thought, feeling, or behavior that you’d like to grow in your life. Now, close your eyes, smile, silently or out-loud say your focusing phrase, and step into that experience. Go ahead and do that now. . .

O.K. how did that go for you? Were you able to “stay with” your positive experience? Perhaps words of doubt or negative judgment came up? Did any uncomfortable feelings arise? Or, maybe, it felt great.

Remember, with mindfulness the number one instruction is to recognize and accept whatever happens. Be present with what is going on. Allow experiences to arise, watch them as they stay for a moment, and allow them to fade. As you mindfully witness whatever comes into your inner space, you begin to develop concentration, clarity, and equanimity.

For those of you who are practicing qigong, Core Energy Meditation, or any other meditation technique, did you notice some similarities in these four mindfulness practices and what you are doing in these other meditations? You can apply the skills of mindfulness to any meditation practice to make it more rich and effective.

Whatever your meditative focus, you can grow your ability to deliberately place your attention on that, maintain your focus, and recognize when your mind has wandered away. You can notice what your attention wandered to, let that go, and return to your meditative focus. As you do this over and over again, you become comfortable with witnessing whatever comes into your inner space and skilled at consciously directing your attention in productive, positive, and healthy ways. You grow your inner skills.

In next week’s message, we’ll explore how mindfulness can free us from suffering and negativity.

Until next time,

Witness what is happening here and now,