In order to get the best results, set aside a regular time of day such as first thing in the morning or last thing at night, preferably in the same place so as to ground the practice in your very being. You will find that regular use will dampen the physiological signs of anxiety.
If you extend your practice to a month or longer, you will be retraining your thinking patterns from past- and future-focused to present moment-focused (Brahmavamso, 1998). Then you will consistently feel more relaxed on an ongoing basis.
Here’s how you do it.
The aim of the present moment awareness meditation is to achieve a calm, clear, alert mind. At the same time, the body is profoundly relaxed, even asleep. We aim to let go of all inner chatter and emotional arousal to become empty. Out of this can arise a state of profound and blissful peace although it may take a little practice to achieve that mind state (Harrison, 2001).
Adopt a comfortable posture but not one in which you are likely to fall asleep. The aim is to have an alert mind but a deeply relaxed body as if asleep. Sitting upright is more effective than lying down. Experiment with your posture and take time to set it up.
Shifting from Thinking to Sensing
The first step is to move from being caught up in endless cycles of thinking. Move toward experiencing the present reality as it is. To do this, first set up the inner gatekeeper. The gatekeeper controls what comes in and what stays out of the mind. Give the gatekeeper clear instructions at the outset and he or she will do his or her job without further interference from you. Silently repeat clearly and with full attention the following phrase three times: “Now is the time to be aware of the present moment. I let go of the past and the future.”
Because the mind has a natural tendency to think, keep it occupied with a relatively unexciting task. When you first meditate, your mind might be like an unruly teenager, undisciplined and always wanting its own way. Therefore, as a beginner you give the mind lots to focus on; as you improve your meditation and relaxation skills you give it fewer and simpler objects of focus. This first stage of meditation is called “present moment awareness.” Simply turn your attention to:
First focus on the most obvious sounds and as your concentration gets sharper, notice more subtle sounds, such as bird calls and distant traffic. Just allow them to wash over you, letting go of the sounds that have just passed by and being present to the sounds that arise now.
- Bodily sensations.
Feel your arms resting on your lap, your legs on the chair. Feel your clothes against your skin. Notice any pains, muscle tightness, fluttering in your stomach or anxious feelings, the very things you were trying to avoid. Watch how these sensations shift and change, letting go of them and becoming present to those that arise.
Watch your thoughts arise and pass, without getting caught up in them or feeling that you have to act on them. Some thoughts are nonsense; others are so compelling that you follow them. With demanding thoughts, observe them, label them and let them go. For example, if you are thinking: ‘I’m upset over that insult,” you might label it “hurt” and let it go, ready for the next thought to arise. It’s like watching clouds passing in the sky and you are progressing towards a “blue sky mind” where storm clouds pass and the mind is clear, calm and alert.
Watch the natural changes in your breathing as you become more relaxed. You might notice that your breath starts shallow and fast, but becomes deeper and more regular as you relax more profoundly.
Brahmavamso, A. (1998). The Basic Method of Meditation. The Buddhist Society of Western Australia.
Harrison, E. (2001). Meditation and Health. PMC.