What does sitting still with my eyes closed have to do with my life?

Formal sitting meditation is similar in some ways to practicing your golf putt with a cup on the floor, playing piano scales or shooting hoops. Sitting with your eyes closed while paying attention to the breath or sounds is a training; it’s not “the game.” But like other activities we practice with repetition, it helps to strengthen our ability to focus. Developing focus is one of the four fundamentals of leadership excellence; without it, we perpetually skim the surface of experience, never resting long enough to understand what is truly before us and what response is called for now.

Yesterday my meditation was easy and today it was hard: My mind just kept drifting away to my weekend plans. What am I doing wrong?

First for the bad news: This is a very good description of doing the practice “correctly.” Your question shows you now know some things about your own mind. You know that the mind you sat down to meditate with today was very different than the mind you sat down with yesterday. You know what “today’s mind” was intent on doing: planning for the weekend. And you know your mind is quite happy to go ahead and do what it intends to do without asking for “your” permission! Great! The good news is that you also recognized at some point that the mind had “drifted away.” The practice is to use that recognition to gently redirect the attention back to our intended focus. Some days our mind will throw a lot at us and we get a lot of practice redirecting; others, our mind will be settled and content to sustain attention on whatever we intend. Either way, our practice is to be with whatever our experience is, with as much self-compassion and curiosity as is available to us.

How long will it take before I notice a difference?

Not surprisingly, there is a good deal of variability in how this practice impacts people’s lives and when they start to see those changes occur. That said, it’s fairly common for people to report within a couple of weeks of dedicated practice that they were able to meet a situation with a new sense of having choice in how they respond. These are the early signs of developing a degree of freedom from our automatic and habitual tendencies. Something else to consider: Co-workers, family and friends sometimes notice these changes before we ourselves are clearly aware of them.

I can’t sit still for 10 minutes, is it OK if I move around?

Through mindfulness practice we begin to learn more about the inter-relationship between the body and the mind. Just as we have developed the habit for our minds to spend a great deal of time jumping into the imagined future or rehashing the past, so too, we have developed the habit for our bodies to continually shift position in response to the slightest uncomfortable sensation, usually without our being aware of it. Quieting the habitual jumpiness of the body supports us in aiming and sustaining attention, which in turn, strengthens the mind’s ability to focus. So we do our best to not shift position automatically and bring awareness to any movements we decide to make.

* Mindfulness Institute