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Counseling Center

Mindfulness and Meditation

Due the demands of our current lifestyles, caring for ourselves by being mindful at first often feels peculiar, difficult, or even boring. Like developing any skill, the cultivation of mindfulness takes time and practice. Consider how long it took you to play an entire song smoothly on an instrument you were learning, or to begin to acquire mastery in a novel sport. It is no different with the inner art of mindfulness.

Since mindfulness is a way of life, there is both formal and informal elements to the practice. Formal practice refers to setting time aside for the sole purpose of being mindful of a particular activity such as breathing, stretching, or walking. The informal practice is developing the habit of cultivating awareness in all other areas of our lives, such as driving in our car, sitting in class, or spending time with a lover.

When first beginning the formal practice of mindfulness, it is often helpful to do the following:

Create a quiet spot that enjoy spending time. Many people enjoy decorating this spot with special pictures, statues, or colors.

Pick a specific time everyday for the sole purpose of being mindful - And make that gift to yourself a top priority.

You don't have to always like it, Just do it. From a certain point of view, once you have your set time for mindfulness, its none of your business what happens during it. Some days you will feel relaxed, others tense, others successful, others like a failure, just sit and watch these states arise and pass.

No need to advertise. You can do yourself a favor and focus your energy on your own practice and not on being a spokesperson for mindfulness. This usually only serves to diffuse one's energy and confuse (or scare) one's friends and family.

Find a teacher or group that can be supportive. The process of cultivating mindfulness is best done while in dialogue with an experienced teacher. Further, the exercises described below are best understood and used within the context of the 10 week course offered by the Towson University Counseling Center.

Breath Focus


When first beginning the practice of mindfulness, it is usually necessary to begin with a practice that harnesses one's concentration and steadies one's awareness. Most traditions suggest the practice of focusing on one's breath. Since our bodies are breathing at every present moment of our lives, it can serve as a direct connection to this moments experience.

The practice is simple, but not necessarily easy. The instructions are to pay attention to the raw sensations related to the body naturally breathing in this moment. When our mind wanders, we simply notice where it went, and then gently and without judgment escort our attention back to the bare experience of the breath in this moment. And repeat the instructions. It is recommended for one to work their way up to 45 minutes per day. This provides enough time for one to have a full range of experiences (including restlessness, boredom, frustration, self-judgment, etc) and to practice noticing them as passing mind states and return to the breath. This simple practice over time begins to quiet our mind and transform our relationship to our emotions, thoughts, and body's sensations.

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Body Scan


The body scan cultivates awareness and intimacy with our bodies. Many of us have the experience of not truly inhabiting our bodies and thus have little skill in listening to its symptoms or utilizing its healing capacities. We often live in a world pervaded and colored by our thoughts, leaving little room for truly opening to the experience of our other senses (touch, smell, sound, taste, sight). Tuning into the body can serve as a window out of the endless thought cycles of worry, regret, or self-judgment. As with the other formal mindfulness activities, the body scan works best when done for the purpose of becoming intimate with our bodies without judgment and not for the purpose of attaining some particular way of feeling (i.e., relaxed).

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Self Care: Evoking Kindness Toward Oneself


This guided meditation provides an opportunity for one to care for oneself and cultivate a sense of kindness toward oneself. In our busy lives, we often push ourselves to the limit. As a consequence, our bodies, emotions, and minds are neglected and criticized by ourselves. This inner battle with our thoughts, bodies, and emotions leaves us feeling sore, numb, or exhausted. As an alternative to pushing away unwanted parts of ourselves, this meditation provides an opportunity to open and transform our relationship with our inner world. This leads to increased vitality, clarity, and self-esteem.

Have you ever noticed that while sitting in class you find yourself in an argument with your roommate about something that has been bothering you about them.  Your heart starts beating more rapidly, your muscles tense, your breathing quickens, perhaps you’re even feeling angry, only to realize that your roommate is not even in the room – the conversation has taken place in your own mind. Afterwards, you can’t even recall the main points from the lecture. 

Or perhaps you failed to study as much as you would have liked for a test and the rest of the day you find yourself ensnared in a self-condemning dialogue.  The test is over and you are stuck in an unproductive state keeping you from dealing effectively with what is actually happening.

The truth is that most of us live our lives absorbed in our thoughts about what might happen or what has already happened, missing the moment to moment experience of the life that is unfolding before us.  This habit not only decreases our effectiveness but it also robs us of the full experience of our lives happening here in the present, which is the only time we get to live or act. Due to this habit, we may miss more than our class notes, we may be distracted during valuable time with our families, thinking of other things while with a lover, or off in thought in the midst of a delightful Spring day.

Of course it is important to take time to plan and reflect, but this works much better when conducted through the clarity of conscious choice, and not habitual, unproductive, discursive thinking.

Mindfulness is about cultivating full awareness of the present moment so that we can better manage stress and develop states of clarity and relaxed alertness. Some common misconceptions about mindfulness meditation is that it is about making your mind blank, feeling a specific way, or running away from problems.  Mindfulness is about waking up to the fullness of your life and changing your relationship to your problems, your fears, your physical or emotional pain, so that these things don’t wind up controlling you and dictating the quality of your life. Mindfulness is not an idea, it’s a practice and a lifestyle cultivated by making a commitment to it over time.

 

Counseling Center
Ward West (map)
Hours: Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Phone: 410-704-2512
E-mail: counseling@towson.edu

 

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