Whether you’ve just started your mindfulness journey or you’ve been practising for a while, it’s worth spending some time studying or revising basic mindfulness practices to help you get the most from them. Here’s the first of a series of posts about five key mindfulness practices to help you do just that! Each post will examine a different practice and include a free audio guide. Plus, there’ll be hints and tips on how to get the best out of each exercise. Enjoy your practice!
Settling the mind
Your mind has a tendency to wander and that’s perfectly normal—human minds have a strong predisposition to think compulsively. In fact, research by psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert has shown that people generally spend around 47% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing! Killingsworth and Gilbert also found that
“a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”
So, learning how to settle your mind would seem like a good idea! Practising mindfulness isn’t about trying to stop the flow of your thoughts, though—that would be impossible to sustain. Instead, it involves noticing your mind has wandered and then, without judging yourself, bringing your mind back to the present moment.
Many teachers liken this to training a puppy to come back when it has wandered off. Before you can do that, though, you need to develop the knack of noticing when your ‘puppy mind’ has wandered! The first step in the process is learning to settle your mind.
Why this practice?
Learning to settle your mind is your first step towards preparing for other mindfulness practices. It’s a great practice to do on its own or to prepare for your other mindfulness practices so you get the most out of them.
In daily life, we frequently get carried away by our thoughts and rarely allow our minds to settle. It’s as if we are constantly stirring a mug of tea or coffee—the surface of the liquid is never still. By learning to settle your mind, you find out what it’s like to resist the impulse to get carried away by your thoughts—what it’s like to take the spoon out of the cup!
Before you practice
If this practice is new to you, here are some tips to help you get the most out of the guided audio:
- It’s best to follow this practice in a seated position (you don’t have to sit cross-legged on the floor if that’s not comfortable for you).
- Be comfortable and, if you are sitting in a chair, choose a position that lets you keep your feet flat on the floor.
- As best you can, sit straight, with your head, neck and back in alignment. This helps keep you awake and alert during the practice.
- Bear in mind that there’s no such thing as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ mindfulness practice. There is just your experience, from one moment to the next. Simply noticing your experiences is an important step towards developing this practice.
- As with all skills, regular practice brings progress! Just as you would strengthen your muscles by going to the gym, riding a bike or digging in your garden, bringing your attention back to the present moment again and again will help build your mindfulness ‘muscle.’
- Once you’re familiar with this practice, you can vary the length of time you spend on it. Sometimes, you may only need two or three minutes to settle your mind at the beginning of your mindfulness session. At other times, you might simply make settling your mind your main practice for the day.
If you enjoyed the recording in this post, and you love learning online, find out about the Mindful heart-based living course. This eight-session course includes video talks, recordings of guided reflections and exercises, live online mindfulness sessions and access to a private Facebook group—all online! Learn mindfulness at a time that suits you, from your own home or workspace.