Laurie Barker-Perez


There are many ways to meditate. Mindfulness meditation asks only that we focus on
the present moment. As you may suspect, this is easier said than done. Like many
things in life, though, it gets easier with practice.

All you need to get started is a few minutes of your time and a place where you can sit
quietly and comfortably without being disturbed.

At first, you may want to sit in meditation for just for just three or four minutes, and then
gradually, as your mind and body get used to being still and mindful, increase the time
to 15 or 20 minutes, or even longer, at a stretch. Some people like to meditate twice a
day, once in the morning and once at night. As you develop your practice, you can
experiment to find a time that suits your lifestyle and body rhythms. In order to truly reap
the benefits of meditation it is important to develop a daily meditation habit. A good way
to do that is to meditate at the same time every day. All too often I have procrastinated,
forgot, or got “too busy” and then realized when it was too late and I was too tired, that I
hadn‘t meditated all day. By meditating at the same time every day I not only eliminate
the procrastination, I find that my mind and body start to prepare for the meditation as
the time approaches and I can more easily slip into a meditative state.

To get started, find a chair or a cushion to sit on. You need to feel stable and
comfortable. You want your back to be relatively straight, but relaxed. If you like to sit
cross-legged, you might want to sit on a cushion so that your hips are high enough off
the floor that your knees can be pointed slightly downward. Relax with a few deep
breaths and start to still your body. Stilling your body will help to quiet your mind. Gently
rest your hands on your knees or in your lap. Relax your shoulders. Let your belly be
soft and your chest be open. Gently close your eyes, or if you prefer, you may leave
them slightly opened - pointed downward. With an attitude of openness, bring your
awareness to the present. Notice what you are feeling in your body. Notice if there is
any tension. Notice any sensations. Notice what you are feeling. Notice any thoughts
you are having. Notice any sounds you hear. Just notice them.

Begin to focus on your breath. Don‘t try to force it or regulate it in any way. Just
recognize that you are breathing. Notice that the breath breathes itself. You may
experience the breath as a tickle in the back of your throat, or as a coolness. You may
feel your breath in your belly. You may experience the breath in many different ways.
Just notice each breath as it goes in and goes out.

As you focus on your breath you will notice that the mind wanders off. Each time you
notice the mind wandering, just bring your focus back to your breath. It will happen over
and over again. Just bring your focus back to your breath. Sometimes it will help to track
your breaths by saying, very softly, “in” with the in-breath and “out” with the out-breath,
still aiming to keep most of your attention on your breath. Your mind will still wander. It
will wander again and again. That is the first insight of mindfulness meditation; noticing
just how much your mind wanders. Be gentle with yourself. You are learning a new skill.
You are learning to be mindful. Just return to your breath. When I am having a hard time
focusing I find it helpful to imagine that I am standing on a platform in a train station
watching a train go by. Just as I can watch the train cars go by, I watch my thoughts go

You will discover that some days you will be able to focus on your breath very well and
on other days it will be a struggle. Keep practicing and gradually you will find that your
mind wanders less and you are “in the moment” for longer and longer periods.
Mindfulness is nonjudgemental awareness of the present, it is noticing what is
happening to you. As you practice focusing on your breath, notice when you are doing
something else. That moment of recognition is mindfulness. Congratulations! You are
practicing mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness meditation is a method to help us awaken to our own lives; to our
experiences, to our bodies, minds, and spirits. Focusing on the breath is a very effective
tool; it helps us relax and focus our minds. As you settle into your meditation practice,
there will come a time when it is no longer necessary to focus on your breath, you will
simply be able to focus on being aware and awake.
Following are some guidelines to keep in mind as you develop your practice, as well as
some ideas on how to deal with various distractions that you may encounter.

When and Where to Meditate:
When and where to meditate must necessarily be considered together. It is important
that you find a time and place where you aren‘t likely to be interrupted, so that you can
relax and not feel that you are on guard. When the weather and other circumstances
permit, I like to meditate outside in a quiet, out-of-the-way place. When I meditate at
home and I am not the only one in the house, I meditate in my office. I have found
putting a sign on my door to be an effective way to remind others not to bother me for
the time being.

Another thing to consider when scheduling your meditations is your energy level. You
want to be relaxed and alert. You don‘t want to be so relaxed (or tired) that you fall
asleep, and you don‘t want to be so full of energy that you have a hard time sitting still. I
like to meditate a little while after some exercise, when my body is a bit tired and ready
to settle down.

It is recommended that people sit up straight, in a relaxed manner, while meditating, not
only to encourage good breathing, but to minimize the possibility of falling asleep. If you
find sitting difficult due to a physical situation, don‘t let that stop you from meditating. It
is possible to meditate while lying down. Personally, I like to sit cross-legged on a zafu
(round cushion), placed on top of a zabuton (flat cushion). I find that the zafu and
zabuton force me to keep my back straight, while providing comfort and support.
Preparations to Minimize Distractions:
Before you sit down to meditate, turn off your phone and take care of your pets (as best
you can) so they don‘t interrupt you. In order to avoid being distracted by hunger or
thirst I like to drink some water right before I get started, and if I‘m hungry, I might eat a
light snack.

Methods to Deal with Distractions:
As you are meditating you will sometimes find that body sensations, thoughts, or
emotions become quite strong. It might be necessary to mindfully adjust your posture to
relieve some discomfort. It might be helpful to name a strong sensation, emotion or
thought that comes up. For example, you may softly say to yourself “itching, itching” or
“planning, planning” until you notice the itching or planning thought dissolve. Sometimes
there will be environmental distractions, such as a neighbor‘s car alarm going off, in
which case you can softly say “sound, sound”. Naming the itch, the planning, the sound
is a way of being mindful. Be mindful and let them pass. Sometimes you may
experience disturbing emotions. What is most healing in these cases is to acknowledge
the emotions, notice what causes them, and give them your attention.

Mindfulness can be practiced throughout the day, in all our daily activities. I like to take
a few moments at the beginning of meals to practice mindfulness, giving my full
attention to my food and considering where it came from.

As you develop your meditation practice you may wish to experiment with playing New
Age music, or lighting incense, or whatever else you think may help you focus and be
mindful. You may wish to invest in Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield, the book
and meditation CD these instructions are based on. The goal is to develop a daily
practice and to be truly awake and present with those around us and with what we are
doing. Living mindfully helps us let go of attachment and fear so that we can live a life of
compassion, kindness, and wisdom.