This month I’ll be walking you through Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness Meditation Challenge. If you didn’t get the opportunity to register for it, I’ll be sharing with you here my thoughts on the practices as well as teaching them in my mindfulness classes throughout the next few weeks. In the 10th Anniversary of Sharon’s Real Happiness book, she includes downloadable meditations, and all the practices, reflections, and journal prompts that are included in the Challenge. Get it on Amazon in print or Kindle. I encourage you to purchase the book if you are able to do so that way you can follow along and have all that you need in hand.
I have been a mindfulness and meditation practitioner since 1980 and have used a variety of meditation techniques over these last few decades. But I will say that I find that mindfulness has been my main meditation practice for a long time. Mindfulness helps me to be aware of what is occurring in the present moment while being non-judgmental to what is there. This is not just in meditation as this has become incorporated and integrated into my daily life. That is what mindfulness can do for us. It can help us to be more patient with those in our lives and we can have a sense of calm as we navigate life’s challenges. Of course there will be times where we become angry or sad or disappointed, but we welcome these feelings with kindness as that is what is right here, right now. Certainly, I have all of these emotions, but I find I am not as reactive as I once was.
With that all said, let’s get started on our theme for Week One: Concentration.
If this is your first time meditating, or if you are returning to meditation, be sure you set up an area of your home where you can practice. One that is inviting as well as quiet with little disturbance.
One of the first questions and/or comments I receive from meditation students is “I find it hard to concentrate in meditation, what can I do?” Honestly, I still can have moments with “monkey mind” where my mind is jumping from one thought to another. It is normal and natural as that is what the mind does, it thinks! 90,000 thoughts a day! Some of course thoughts will come into your mind as you meditate. Using specific concentration practices can help us to maintain focus and attention when distractions appear.
But we need to start at the beginning and set up the foundation for our mindfulness meditation and that is where we are today with Day One.
Day One: Breath Meditation
Here we set up our foundation for our meditation and that is one breath at a time. As we become situated in our seat, we settle into the moment. It might help to take a couple of deep breaths to begin to feel the fullness of the breath. As you breathe, where do you find that you notice the breath the most? Is at the nostrils where the air arrives and leaves, and do you notice warmth, coolness, or vibration there? Is at the chest with the expansion and contraction? Or, is at the belly with the rising and falling with the breath? You choose one of these areas to place your attention, taking each breath one at a time. It is normal for distractions of thoughts, emotions, sounds or bodily sensations to appear. Gently and kindly bring your attention back to the breath. There is no need to berate yourself if you lose focus. Be compassionate with every breath and every distraction that may occur.
If you are brand new to meditation, I suggest five minutes a day to begin, even though in the book it suggests 20 minutes 3 times a week. Sharon’s practices for the meditation challenge hover around ten minutes. Use your own best judgment as what is right for you. Sometimes when we set our goals too high that they become unattainable, thus we quit. This is why I have always recommended for brand new students to start with the more digestible amount of five minutes. Students find on their own that they can increase their time spent in meditation gradually.
In my mindfulness classes during the week, I have taught various techniques that are similar to what Sharon suggests in her book. A few years ago I used this book as a basis of a class. Today in my Monday mindfulness class, I taught the students the Day 1 Breath Meditation and Day 4 Counting Meditation. At Friday’s class, I will be incorporating one of the other concentration techniques. I hope you will join me in my mindfulness classes throughout the week as well as here on the website blog for inspiration and information to support your practice.
Let’s take a look at Sharon’s journal prompt for the week.
EMBRACING THE DISTRACTIONS
We’re learning that distractions can come from internal thoughts or external surroundings. List distractions you’ve noticed in meditation this week. Now, list anything you identify that habitually pulls focus throughout your day. What was the moment like that you let go of those distractions? Could you do that gently, or did you find yourself being critical or judgmental? Putting your experience on paper might help you remember to be kind to yourself when faced with these distractions in the future.
Even as an experienced meditation practitioner, I still have distractions that arise in my mind. These can be daydreams or plans for projects or self-criticism coupled with judgmental thoughts of others. There are times I return lovingly back from the distracting thoughts or other times not so much and want to cling to the judgment. In all, I know from my practice that kindness is best in returning. If I take everything in my practice as one breath at time, I see there is no hurry or worry that cannot be solved by a calm mind.
Let me know how this week goes for you and with each practice that I post. You can join me in my mindfulness classes or if you would you like personal meditation instruction, I am happy to assist you through these practices. Contact me.
Recommended reading for Week One of the Challenge is pages 37 – 47 and pages 64 – 74 in the second edition of the book, “Real Happiness”.
Supportive guided meditations by Sharon Salzberg are located here.