Our thoughts control us, and therefore our lives. We are blown about by the worldly winds with no real anchor in the present or conscious direction. We can lose large portions of our lives and miss out on beautiful experiences because our minds are caught up in worry about a future that will never arrive, or stuck in the past that is already gone.
Mindfulness can help us to regain control of our minds and direct our mental energy to more useful endeavours. It can help us to use our time and energy more skilfully and see the beauty that is all around us. Mindfulness helps us to develop kindness and a compassionate heart.
Responding Rather Than Reacting
Mindfulness allows us to pause and carefully consider our responses, reducing unhelpful or aggressive reactions. This space in which we can choose to respond rather than react is of enormous benefit to ourselves and everyone with whom we come into contact with during our day to day lives.
Joy and Peace
Mindfulness also brings more joy into our lives. Stress and anxiety are fear-based reactions to a perceived future threat. If we can remain fully aware and grounded in the present moment, we can see that such threats do not exist. We become absorbed in the minute details of what is happening right now, we experience a sense of joyfulness and peace, and life is all the richer.
We can develop a natural sense of presence and awareness and experience all of these benefits by engaging in the practice of Just Sitting meditation. It is the practice of being one hundred percent aware of our current experience.
What IS Mindfulness, Anyway?
Before learning how to do the Just Sitting meditation practice, I thought it would be beneficial to go into a little more detail on what mindfulness actually is.
Mindfulness can be broken down into three subsections:
The Three As
Awareness – This is referring to conscious, intentional awareness of one’s current experience.
Attention – Focused attention on the experience of the present moment. Attention is simply mental energy used positively.
Attitude – How do we choose to react to our current present moment experience? Yes, reactions are choices. We can choose to have a positive attitude encompassing these three states:
Acceptance of what is, without judgement.
Kindness to ourselves and any other beings that enter our field of consciousness, whether that is in real life or thought-form.
Curiosity of our current experience, as when we are curious we are open-minded and open-hearted, rather than being closed-minded and suspicious or sceptical.
“The past is already gone; the future is not yet here. There is only one moment for you to live.”
~ The Buddha
In Buddhism, there is a word in Pali – Sati, and in Sanskrit – Smrti. Like so much of these ancient Eastern languages, these words are almost impossible to translate directly into English, but loosely translated they mean ‘to remember,’ ‘to recollect,’ or ‘to bring to mind.’
This was how the Buddha taught the principle of mindfulness. Of course, the word mindfulness didn’t exist when he was teaching; this term is a western invention for bringing the Buddha’s wisdom to modern lives. The Buddha taught his disciples to ‘remember.’
I think that this is such a beautiful and simplistic way to think about mindfulness. To simply remember that we are universal consciousness and we are here, now, in this moment, experiencing this precious gift of human life.
Remember to remember as much as you can throughout your daily life, until remembering is your natural state. It is in this way that we can begin to relinquish our attachments and cravings, and thus tread the noble path to liberation from suffering.
The Three Rs
When you are practising Just Sitting meditation, and you realise that your thoughts have drifted away that is okay; it’s totally normal. It’s the nature of the mind – to think. Your practice is not to be devoid of thought; your practice is mindful awareness of your experience, which will inevitably include thoughts.
When you notice you have been following a thought story, simply realise that this has happened, remember that you are practising Just Sitting meditation and gently and without any judgement, return your mind back to your present experience of this moment where you are sitting and practising mindfulness.
That is your magic formula of awareness – The three Rs – Realise, Remember, Return. It doesn’t matter if you do this a hundred times or more during your practice. Each time you do it, you are practising mindfulness, and you are creating new pathways in your brain to help you in your future practice.
Realisation that your thoughts have wandered.
Remembering that you are practising mindfulness.
Returning your awareness to your current experience is an integral part of the practice.
Just Sitting Meditation Practice
You can follow the instructions below, or if you would prefer me to guide you, there are a few options. You can meditate along with me on Insight Timer or watch the video.
Written instructions for Just Sitting meditation practice:
1. Set a timer for the amount of time you would like to meditate for.
2. Sitting comfortably, close your eyes and relax your body.
3. Bring your attention to your breath. Just observe its natural tide and rhythm, its ebb and flow, and how it feels in your body.
4. Extend your awareness from your breath to your whole body, noticing everything you can about it—temperature, feeling of clothing, pressure on the floor or chair, any aches and pains etc.
5. Extend your awareness outward to notice everything in your environment. Any sounds, air temperature, breeze, smells etc. This is an exercise in being 100% totally present in that exquisite moment, experiencing it as fully as you are capable.
6. If you realise you have followed the thought train, simply bring your attention back to your experience in the now, using the formula of the three Rs as outlined above.
7. Remain present like this until your timer sounds.
This meditation is a simple mindfulness practice. It is a fantastic tool for those who want to practice the principles of mindfulness both as a meditative practice and generally in their everyday lives. The more we practice mindfulness on the mat, the easier it is to incorporate these habits and ideals during day to day life.
When to Practice
You can practice the just sitting meditation practise at any point during your day to help you spend more time in the present moment. My watch gives me little reminders during the day to breathe for one minute, and I use these times to practice mindfulness like this. We can all find one minute several times throughout the day.
If you don’t have a smartwatch, set reminders on your phone to prompt you to breathe and be present for a minute. Or, create an association with the sound of a phone ringing, the scent of incense, or the birdsong outside your bedroom window. Each time you notice this stimulus, practice Just Sitting meditation for one minute.
You can also do Just Sitting meditation to calm your mind and emotions before doing something that makes you feel nervous or uncomfortable—for example, an interview or exam, or having a difficult conversation with someone.
Feel free to comment below if you have any questions on Just Sitting meditation or mindfulness in general. I am here to help you so ask away!