When life is moving in a brand new flow, it can be tricky to hold on to our mindfulness practice no matter how committed you are. The world of lockdown means very different things to different people – for some it is a rest and a welcome break – for others it is a maelstrom of responsibilities.
As someone said wisely – we are going through the same storm but we are not all in the same boat. So if you are feeling like your mindfulness practice is slipping and you would like it back here are seven tips to help you do just that.
1. Find Objects That Support Your Practice
You do not need to spend money on this but simply gather a few objects from around the house that will become part of your ritual during lockdown, and help you find your way back to your seat each day. You will need a cushion and mat (a folded blanket works just as well) if you sit on the floor. Sitting on a chair is fine too. I have a few sacred objects around me – a crystal I found inside a teddy bear in a gift store in California (yes really), a candle made by my friend Nid Ra, and a small singing bowl from my favourite retreat centre, Esalen. Choose something that is meaningful to you – a photo, a flower, an object that makes you smile.
You will also need a small kitchen timer with an alarm. Using a timer allows your mind to stop worrying about time and will also keep you from falling asleep and missing your next zoom. (I prefer this to using my phone as smartphones are mindfulness kryptonite).
Finally, select a notepad to be your Mindfulness Journal. Find one with a cover that inspires you or draw something beautiful on it. I prefer blank, not lined, inside pages as the space will challenge you to be creative as you journal. If you feel the urge to draw something alongside your notes, absolutely do so. Allow the doodles to mix with the words.
2. Start Small
Start with a five minute practice and build up to twenty if it feels good to do so. Learn how the body and mind respond to different periods of meditation and find the right duration for your lifestyle.
Allow yourself some flexibility, accepting that some days you will have more or less time to dedicate to your practice, and that is OK.
3. Create A Ritual
At the time of your practice each day go through the same actions. For me, that means picking up my cushion, placing it in front of the window, setting up my timer, Mindfulness Journal and pen and placing my cup of chamomile tea at my side. I then take my seat and begin my practice. Every day the ritual is the same and I try to bring present moment awareness to each of those simple actions of preparation as part of the practice itself. The ritual helps me orient myself towards mindful awareness even before I close my eyes.
4. Work With Distractions
A glaring distraction in my morning meditation during lockdown is that I am sometimes joined by Ty (a large labrador) who tries all his tricks to get my attention. I close my eyes, he nuzzles my ears. I centre myself, he licks my face. If I focus on my breath, he rams a toy in my hand. I ignore him, he sits squarely on my lap.
Now sometimes I acquiesce and we play together on the floor. In those moments I try to be fully present with him and the game becomes something of a meditation itself. Other times, he gives up his nuzzling and sits quietly at my side. We then both journey inward, he to sleep, and me into meditation.
Ty has taught me that an authentic mindfulness practice cannot be overly rigid and must include space for the spontaneous and the unexpected. So, do not wait for the time to be perfect, the house to be silent, or distractions to be absent to start. Mindfulness practice exists amongst the realities of daily life. The only perfect moment to practice is now.
5. Add Informal Practices To Your Day
The research shows that adding informal mindfulness practices into your daily routine as well as your formal sitting practice is highly beneficial. This is as true during lockdown as it is for ‘normal’ practice. An informal practice might be washing your hands for 20 seconds feeling the physical sensations of soap and water and the warmth of skin on skin, eating your sandwich mindfully at lunch and attending to physical sensations as you do so, or silently sending compassionate thoughts and intentions to others as you engage with them over the course of the day. Choose ones that will be easy for you to integrate in your busy life.
6. Keep Your Practice Varied
Different mindfulness practices develop different skills through lockdown. I like to keep my mindfulness practice varied by choosing a different focus each day. One day I will use an open-monitoring practice to simply notice what is arising within me. Another day I will take a single focus such as the breath or the flame of a candle and when my attention wanders I notice this and bring my focus back. Alternatively I sometimes focus on a person I love and take time to absorb the feelings of support and compassion that arise as I visualise them with me. A varied practice will keep you interested and keep you learning. My book 100 Mindfulness Meditations has plenty of daily inspiration if you need support with this.
7. Forgive Yourself Often
In order to create a long-term mindfulness practice, forgiveness is essential because there will be days, weeks and even months when you lose sight of your practice. Without forgiveness it may be impossible to find your way back. So, each time a practice is missed, forgive yourself as immediately and completely as you can and try not to let guilty feelings of missing practice to keep you away from the rich possibility of your next meditation.
Remember, your breath and body will always be ready and available to lead you directly into present moment awareness.
And breathe …
By Neil Seligman
For more thoughts on how to keep yourself together during lockdown, checkout this informative piece from last week… Self Care During Solo Isolation
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