The simple, basic instructions are given to children from a parent or teacher when starting school. What to do is clear, but there was no instruction on how. In my seventh decade, I continue to explore the power of this advice.
Returning to the basics is fundamental in developing any skill, practicing the scales of a musical instrument, the bar exercises for ballet, or systematic reading of a cardiogram. For mindfulness, it is the repeated effort to notice the wandering mind and returning to the anchor of the breath or a chosen object of focus.
As a child, counting to ten was the remedy to fuse my anger. I could fly off the handle at any time. I remember asking my father how counting to ten could be helpful. I did not understand the importance of finding a space with the gift of time.
My volatile temper, only slightly contained, when I connected with my husband. I had met my match, but who has a worse temper is not a competition. Something had to improve, or we were going to hurt each other, emotionally or physically. The tough part is recognizing the trigger and observing the emotions or sensations that follow without reacting. Initially, the trigger and the reaction are inseparable, but with practice, they become more distinct. With this separation, I discovered the wealth of choices available to me. I have been investigating the beautiful, wholesome qualities of kindness, compassion, and joy in making my choices.
In the clinic, I may ask if you are taking the time to do nothing each day? Most will answer that they may nap, read, watch tv or listen to music — all delightful ideas to rest the body. We think of being still with the body without including the mind. Not even aware of how busy or zoned out the mind can be.
The effects of strenuous exercise gave me a glimpse of stillness. After my dance class or performance, I was aware of how my problems seem to disappear, and the solution seemed so clear.
I spin a stationary bike or practice the eight brocades in qi gong before my morning meditation. The exercise helps me to wake from my sleep in preparation for my time to sit still. A formal routine practice has power, strengthening the awareness of stillness availability at any time.
Daily practice is the key. Apps are useful, or link this exercise to another daily activity, like brushing your teeth. My hand touching the doorknob to open or close a door is my reminder to bring my attention to right now. Mindfulness is remembering to sit still, be quiet, pay attention to our surroundings, and what is happening in our bodies and mind at this moment.
I invite you to join me to observe the breath going in and out, counting each cycle of the breath. Start at one and continue to ten. If you notice that the mind wandered before getting to ten, this is the moment of mindfulness. You may bring in a gentle kindness in the next breath and begin the counting at one again. If you manage to get to ten without the mind wandering, congratulations, start at one again.
Sit still, be quiet, pay attention counting to ten.