"The mind is a good servant, but a bad master."
~ Alan Watts
Thinking is a tool— indispensable in most situations, but counter-productive in surprisingly many. In the latter case, it's only too easy to use as a toy: hopping between thoughts for on-demand dopamine. When we are lost and have nowhere to go, like hansel and gretel, we follow the crumbs. Being beholden to your thoughts is being led to an unknown destination.
We can exercise control. Mindfulness is the experience of stepping back from the endless chatter of the mind, and into the present.
My favorite style of practice earned its preference through accessibility. It’s a relatively smooth route to awareness— and not just for beginners. People at all levels of practice can experience days of difficulty— days when the mind is particularly uncooperative. In these cases, a simple, graduated approach to mindfulness can be useful. Instead of repeatedly throwing oneself into the deep-end and reflexively scrambling out— we can move one step at a time, easing into a mindful headspace.
While this can be done indoors, I find that my best sessions tend to be outdoors. An empty trail is ideal if available; if not, any sidewalk works just fine. You’ll find that the sounds of traffic, even those of a chaotic urban environment, often willingly fold under your awareness.
As the walk begins, think only of the direction you’d like to begin walking. Having a discrete destination in mind represents a tax on attention as you regularly, often involuntarily, assess progress along your route.
Begin by bringing attention to what is visible around you. What do you see? As the mind clears, the visual stream of information will steadily break into its constituent dimensions— into colors, sizes, shapes, and distances. Verbalizing this when starting is completely normal; the words will fade away on their own, leaving only sensory experience.
Become aware of the body, and the sense of touch. Let the mind dwell on the rhythmic sensation of pressure against the feet, arising in synchrony with tension in the calves. Each step makes itself known as your weight shifts between hips, the core naturally contracts for balance, and the shoulders sway slightly. A wave of muscle contractions, dissipating while rippling upwards before finally easing away in the neck. All parts of the body are engaged: united in silent concert.
Continue cycling through the senses, giving each perceptual dimension its share of care and attention. Savor every sensation, immerse your awareness in its depths. It may be valuable to briefly consider the ephemerality of the present; each moment represents a unique intersection between here and now.
When ready, after a cycle or two, bring it all together. Try to retain the full sensory experience from each step in your cycle. As the sensations coalesce, they may produce feelings of stimulation, even euphoria. At first, this may be overwhelming— it's often likened to a wave crashing over the body. After some time, the subject of the experience drops away, leaving only waves crashing over an empty beach: a sense of being at once infinitely conscious, yet not at all.
Mindfulness offers a dip into an experiential undercurrent that is perpetually available— admission requires only attention. Permit yourself the solace of the present, and it becomes clear that one’s corporeal experience is derived primarily from the placement of one’s attention. I tend to think that it is only in this moment that we find reality, and that all else is, in effect, illusory.
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