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The examined mind: Practicing mindfulness meditation

Meditation may call to mind associations with Buddhism, calming environments, and even popular apps. The concept is frequently brought up in our modern culture, but we often fail to grasp what it really is and how it can be useful to us. Now more than ever, in an uncertain world still experiencing the effects of the pandemic, meditation can be a great help to us all. 

Many have heard about the assortment of benefits that come as a result of regular meditation, which include increased focus and calmness and decreased anxiety, according to Gretchen Reynolds for the New York Times. However, sometimes this laundry list can seem abstract and clinical, pushing us away rather than inviting us to begin a practice. 

Meditating means confronting ourselves rather than using distractions to numb ourselves and tune out. It’s an alternative to pushing away what’s really going on inside our minds. 

By confronting ourselves, we can bravely take on the chaos roaming around inside our own heads. This level of chaos is normal, but we don’t talk about it, so it seems wrong or mistaken. 

The great thing about meditation is that we can practice it within a small, manageable time frame, but still reap the benefits throughout our day.

“Mindfulness meditation is an active exercise,” Anna Goldfarb writes for the New York Times. “You focus on thoughts and sensations as they bubble up in the moment and observe them without judgment; you don’t zone out.” 

Meditation often involves anchoring oneself in one’s own breathing and bringing oneself back to the breath to refocus, over and over again. 

The best way to begin is starting small, with just a few minutes of meditation. Scheduling a manageable chunk of time, even just two minutes to begin with, is a great place to start. A lot can happen within the mind in just two minutes, so this short amount of time is plenty for a beginner.

Meditation does not mean trying to control the mind or forcing it to do a certain thing. Rather, it means facing our experience head-on. 

“There’s…a fierceness in meditation that says, ‘You have to show up to what is happening,’” Reverend angel Kyodo williams says in an interview. “And you have to feel what you are feeling about this rather than escape and check out into powerlessness.”

Meditation can have a significant impact on our daily lives outside of our practice, spilling over into the rest of our life with the power to transform our daily experience. For me, regular meditation has created a “buffer zone” around my thoughts and feelings, enabling me to observe what’s going on internally and leading to better emotional fortitude. 

Meditation apps often provide a structured set of guided meditations. Some good ones include Headspace, Calm, Simple Habit, and Insight Timer, Goldfarb writes. 

Many apps require a subscription fee, but meditation doesn’t have to cost money. One can simply set a timer and practice returning to the breath for a set amount of time, bringing the mind back from wandering over and over. 

Mindfulness meditation comes in all different forms, and it may be worth trying many to see what works for each individual. Some specific methods include five-finger breathing and grounding oneself by feeling one’s feet. 

Five-finger breathing engages both sight and touch in a “multisensory task” and combines this with breathing, focusing the mind. 

“Hold one hand in front of you, fingers spread,” Tara Parker-Hope writes for the New York Times, describing the practice. “Now, slowly trace the outside of your hand with the index finger on your other hand, breathing in when you trace up a finger, and out when you trace down. Move up and down all five fingers. When you’ve traced your whole hand, reverse direction and do it again.” 

Grounding oneself by focusing on one’s feet can be helpful because feet are often free of anxiety, whereas we typically hold anxiety in other body parts.

“When you’re feeling stressed or just need a mindful break from work, take a moment to focus on your feet,” Parker-Hope writes. “What do your feet feel like right now? Are they warm, cool, sweaty, tingling or dry? Does one foot feel different than the other?” 

By expanding our ideas of meditation, we can figure out what works for each of us and build a more resilient reality for ourselves.