In “How To Start A Mindful Awareness Practice Part 1,” we outlined how to begin a mindful awareness practice with some principles of mindfulness, suggestions for sitting posture, and the first step in starting a practice. Now that you’ve worked a little with the three anchors of sound, breath, and sensation, let’s move on to the next step.
Step 2: The Busy Mind
After practicing step one for a while, you might notice that the mind tends to wander (actually, you may notice it wanders A LOT). Don’t worry- all human minds do this! And remember, it’s not about clearing the mind or stopping thoughts, it’s about noticing that the mind has wandered and bringing it back to your anchor of choice.
In step 2, deepen your mindful awareness practice by noticing your thoughts as they arise. Using a “cloud” metaphor may be helpful in noticing these thoughts. Just as clouds drift by in the sky, our thoughts can “drift” through our minds.
We can be an observer of these thoughts without getting caught up in the story of them. Notice their tone, essence, feeling. As they “drift” through your mind, you may also begin to label the thought and then come back to your anchor of choice. Think of labels such as: future, past, planning, dreaming, etc. Noticing, labeling, and returning can bring our minds back from ruminating about things that happened in the past or worrying about what’s coming in the future. The simple act of noticing when our mind is not “here” helps build the “mindfulness muscle” in our brains to be more present.
If an extremely busy mind is frustrating at times, just notice, label, and be kind to yourself. There is no end game, just noticing what’s right here. I still have days where my mind seems relentless, and other days when there is more space. You may think your mind is too busy. Just notice that busyness, letting go of judgment, and begin again.
Spend the next week workings with thoughts in this way. Remember to be kind to yourself when you notice your mind wander, the reminder to come back to the breath or the anchor is gentle. Trying to make the thoughts stop will be futile–just notice and return–noticing if you are getting caught up in the “story” of your thoughts.