Continuous Mindfulness Practice

What are the benefits of mindfulness? How do you establish a solid mindfulness practice? What are the keys to progress in mindfulness? What are the challenges along the way?

In this in-depth article, I'll answer those questions by sharing some personal experiences and insights with you. Learning from my struggles can save you a lot of time and frustration.

Mindfulness is the strict opposite of stress and confusion. When you are under stress, you are under pressure. May it be that you are short of time, worry about your finances or your employer has high expectations on you.

Stress makes you restless, unfocused and agitated. You don't have to be a health professional to realize that stress is unhealthy for your body and mind. Next time you are under stress, stop what you are doing for a moment and give relaxed attention to your body and mind. That way, you will get a better idea of how stress affects you.

I view stress as an unpleasant and chaotic mental state. Mindfulness on the other hand, makes you calm and centered. That's quite a contrast.

Misunderstanding Meditation And Mindfulness

I had been meditating for about 7 years, when I went to see a physician for some recurring pain in the heart region. At the time, I had a really stressful job.

Meditation had become the most important part of my life. I meditated for at least an hour a day and was committed to heal my depression by observing my negative feelings and thoughts.

The doctor asked me a few questions and arranged for an ECG scan. Since the results from the scan were normal, the physician suggested that I should learn meditation for the purpose of relaxation, and handed me some papers with instructions. He was quite surprised to learn that I already meditated.

Going to see the doctor was a wake up call for me. How was it possible that a meditator could be under so much stress? What was I doing wrong?

In hindsight, I didn't practice the right way and wasn't receiving any guidance, other than from books. That, in combination with my limited experience, made the meditation practice a blunt weapon against the stress.

Now, let me outline some basic meditation principles. Your meditation practice doesn't start the moment you sit down on your meditation cushion, likewise, it doesn't end when you part with it. In truth, your meditation practice starts when you wake up in the morning and ends when you fall asleep at night. It's a continuous practice.

The benefits of only meditating while sitting on your cushion are most limited. You may be centered and calm while you meditate, but as soon as you stop you are subject to a myriad of sense impingements and thoughts, that can trigger strong reactions such as stress and anger.

That's how I did it. My practice was confined to the meditation sessions, which resulted in a build up of stress and tension while at work.

In contrast, continuous mindfulness practice entails that you are mindful throughout the day, which maintains your calm and focus. What is more, it generates a soothing warmth from deep within. This is how you benefit the most from meditation in your everyday life. Mindfulness also has a positive affect on everyone you meet.

I've seen several definitions of mindfulness. To me, mindfulness is simply a state of awareness or attention.

How To Establish A Continuous Mindfulness Practice

For those of you who are new to mindfulness practice, let me start out by going over the basics. In continuous mindfulness practice, unlike in traditional sitting meditation, you keep your eyes open and do two things at the same time.

Here are some examples. You could focus on your meditation object while eating or talking on the phone. You could be mindful while working or going for a walk. It's also possible to practice while washing dishes or vacuuming the floor etc. As you can see, there are plenty of opportunities to practice.

Since you are engaging in two activities simultaneously with open eyes, you end up giving less attention to your meditation object compared to when you only meditate. In other words, continuous mindfulness practice is not as deep as regular meditation. Deep as in calming, focused and soothing.

I'm mindful while writing this post. Let's say I give about 25% of my attention to my meditation object and the rest to writing. This balance would look quite different if I was practicing while parking a car. Then, perhaps I would only give 5% of my attention to the mindfulness practice and 95% to driving.

Never give more attention to your meditation object than what is practical and safe. Please note that mindfulness practice while driving could be a dangerous undertaking, it's for seasoned meditators only.

One of the beauties of continuous mindfulness practice, is that whenever you feel like it you can take a short break from whatever you are doing, and focus all of your attention on your meditation object. For example, I can remove my hands from the computer keyboard and place them on my lap, close my eyes and meditate for 10-30 seconds. That, immediately deepens the meditation and fills me with comfort and ease.

Before you start out with continuous mindfulness practice it's a good idea to be proficient in your meditation practice, since it's more challenging than regular meditation.

Moreover, find the right time and place to practice. That could be while brushing your teeth. All you have to do is give relaxed attention to your meditation object. The slower you brush, the easier it is to be mindful. Slowing down makes any mindfulness practice easier.

Another plus when it comes to continuous mindfulness practice, is that you make rapid progress since you are meditating all day long. Even better, practicing while engaged in other activities doesn't take up any of your free time.

If you really want to get established in your mindfulness practice, I recommend attending silent meditation retreats. There, you can practice in a supportive environment.

A good way to start out is by practicing walking meditation or mindfulness while walking. Give relaxed attention to your meditation object and walk slowly. I enjoy walking leisurely in the forest or along a lake. It gets harder when you are surrounded by traffic and people, which makes nature an ideal place to practice. The fewer distractions you are exposed to, the easier it is.

I had been meditating for about 16-17 years when I systematically started to practice continuous mindfulness in my everyday life, from the moment I woke up in the morning until I fell asleep in the evening. At first, it was hard to be mindful for example while listening to someone during a conversation. I'm sure they noticed the odd facial expression on my face, but don't worry about the way you look - focus on your practice. With experience, mindfulness becomes as natural as walking.

There is no need to wait that many years before you take on mindfulness practice around the clock. If someone had encouraged me to do it earlier, I would have given it a try.

I strongly recommend using the same meditation object for all your mindfulness practice. It doesn't matter whether I talk on the phone, drive a car or do laundry, I still give relaxed attention to my meditation object, which are the sensations in my abdomen.

The benefits of having a single meditation object is that it becomes a habit to give attention to it, and you also become very familiar with your object of meditation. One could say that your meditation object forms your meditative foundation, a platform to stand upon.

An easier practice to take up is to give attention to the movements or sensations in your feet while practicing mindfulness while walking, the motions of your hand while brushing your teeth and the taste of the food while eating and so on.

The drawback of such techniques is that you use multiple meditation objects, which makes it more difficult to master the practice. At the same time, it's better to practice with multiple meditation objects than not to be mindful.

Common Challenges In Mindfulness Practice

Continuous mindfulness practice is like learning to bicycle. Once you have picked up the necessary skills, it becomes second nature. I encourage you to make persistent effort and never give up. With this attitude, you are bound to succeed.

It can be challenging to transition from sitting meditation with closed eyes to mindfulness practice with open eyes, since it exposes you to more distractions. Focus on giving relaxed attention to your meditation object, and you will overcome it.

Practice in places where there are as few distractions as possible. The easier the practice, the more uplifting it is and the faster you progress. One approach would be to start out with walking meditation in your living room or out in nature.

Always give relaxed attention to your meditation object, trying too hard only generates physical and mental tension. By giving relaxed attention, the practice is comfortable and requires less effort.

Slow down. The slower you do things, the easier it is to be mindful.

Seek the guidance of an experienced meditation teacher. That will keep you on the right track and save you a lot of frustration.

Whenever you make mistakes or fail to live up to your own expectations, be forgiving and wholeheartedly accept the moment as it is. Anger and frustration virtually make it impossible to meditate, so make an effort to preserve your mental calm.

Best of luck!

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