As you begin to practice mindfulness, you might be surprised to notice how often your mind wanders, and how little it truly is in the present moment.
Whether engaged in a ‘Formal’ or ‘Informal’ practice, sooner or later (usually sooner) you will find the mind drifts away from the focus on the breath to thoughts.
This is perfectly OK. It is not a mistake or a failure. Minds wander, it’s just what they do.
This wandering may involve thinking about the past, somewhere you went or someone you knew, or maybe thoughts about the future, an upcoming meeting at work or holiday you are planning.
When you notice that your awareness is no longer on the breath, congratulate yourself for noticing this and then gently bring your attention back to the present moment.
It is often helpful to to acknowledge briefly where the mind has been (“Ah, there’s thinking”, “there’s worrying about work”, “there’s money worries”). Then, gently escort the awareness back to your breathing.
As you continue, you will notice your mind will wander repeatedly, this is natural, to be expected. Again, when you notice this happening, you might want to congratulate yourself; you have “woken up”, then label the thought and bring your attention back to the present moment.
This process of watching the mind wander and then escorting you awareness back to the focus of the meditation will happen again and again. To quote Jon Kabat Zinn - "If the mind wanders a thousand times your only job is to bring it back a thousand times”
Regardless of how many times your mind wanders, always congratulate yourself on noticing that it has wandered and be gentle and compassionate with your mind as you bring it back to the present moment. This attitude of cultivating compassion for the wandering of the mind is a very important principle within Mindfulness practice. One of the reasons for this is that as you evolve in your Mindfulness practice, you will find that this cultivation of compassion towards yourself will extend to others as well.
As the mind wanders it chooses its own direction - into the past or into the future. So, while we may not have control of the first thought that fires off in our minds and the associated emotions created by this thought, we do have control on how long we dwell on these thoughts and, more importantly what we do next.
Research has found that we have 60,000 thoughts per day but these thoughts can only happen in our minds, one thought at a time. As you develop your Mindfulness practice it allows the opportunity to see your ‘thought stream’ in action from the perspective of an interested observer. For a brief moment, you will become aware of your thoughts as they move like clouds across your mind, some big some small.
Mindfulness creates a distance between you and these thoughts. As you become the observer of these thoughts you can choose to accept them or reject them. With this sense of expanded awareness comes liberation.
Remember, at all times you are only ever one thought away from the present moment. Step out of that one thought, focus on what's happening in front of you right now, using as many of your senses as possible and now you are practicing Mindfulness.
The Mindful Therapist offers online Mindfulness-based Therapy to help clients overcome a range of issues including anxiety, stress, moderate depression and addictions.