by Sharon Salzberg: Let your brilliance shine with three days of guided mindfulness practices to revitalize body and mind and help you shift into springtime…
Spring is an ideal time to nourish your mindfulness practice. With the change in seasons, boost of fresh air, and longer hours of daylight as inspiration, you can consciously invite in greater simplicity, love, and compassion, and clear those habits that no longer serve you. With that in mind, we designed this three-day practice routine to help you fit moments of mindfulness into your daily life—giving you a boost of calm, focused, natural energy and awakening your inner spark as you launch into spring.
Day 1: Connect with Your Natural Awareness with Barry Boyce
Like any good spring cleaning, let’s get right down to the basics of mindfulness and meditation. One of the most foundational aspects of mindfulness is the ability to calm and focus the mind using your breath. By bringing your attention back to the breath each time you feel your mind wander during meditation, you can strengthen your brain’s natural ability to focus over time. Cultivate greater attention with these short meditation practices.
In the Morning • Tune In to Your Natural Awareness
In mindfulness practice, you might often hear the term “natural awareness.” By natural awareness, we mean the awareness that simply comes with being a human being. It’s free from judging and characterizing—it’s just noticing and sensing the world.
- Settle into your seat. Begin by taking a seat, or if necessary, standing. The important thing is to feel where your body is touching the seat and touching the ground.
- Scan the body. Sense where your bottom is touching the seat. Sit up straight or stand straight but not stiff. Make sure your feet are completely touching the ground, connecting you to the earth. Your eyes are open, so take in the surroundings of where you are. Lower your gaze slightly.
- Connect with the breath. Pay light attention to your breath as it goes out. Breathe in naturally.
- Follow the out-breath. At the end of each out-breath, let there be a gap while the in-breath is happening. And in that gap you have natural awareness: It’s there already, you don’t have to create it. So, follow the breath out, and take a moment to rest in your natural awareness before the in-breath. As thoughts arise, treat them as you would anything else you encounter: Notice them, and use that noticing to bring you back to the out-breath and ride it out.
In the evening • Tune In to Your Meta-Awareness
The moment of noticing a thought is a very powerful moment. It’s really where the meditation occurs. That’s because there’s a spark of insight at that point, what in technical terms is called meta-awareness: You’re aware of your thought process, not just caught up in it. Now at that moment, there are lots of possibilities.
You can touch that thought and gently bounce back to attention on the breath and your body. But you might also say “Oh damn, there I go thinking again, I just can’t get away from this.”
One of the wonderful things about meditation is the fact that it allows for such a monumental amount of failure. Failure is just fine. So, if you’re sitting in meditation for 10 minutes and you don’t notice your thought until the bell rings at the end, that’s what that session was about. You learn from it. There will be another one. No big deal.
- First, feel your bottom on the seat, and your feet on the floor or the ground, flat, touching the earth. Your eyes can be open or closed, head tilted slightly down. Your shoulders are relaxed, your hands are resting on your thighs, and your upper arms are parallel to your torso. Just take a moment to feel that posture.
- Now we’re going to use the breath as an anchor for our attention. We don’t concern ourselves with trying to adjust the rate of the breath, we just come with whatever breath we have.
- Notice that your mind is like a waterfall of thoughts.As we try to pay attention to the breath coming in and out, our mind is filled with thoughts. And in mindfulness practice, just notice the thought. Touch it, and go back to the breath.
- Let your thoughts go. No matter what’s been going on during the session, you don’t need to evaluate it, just let it go. Open your eyes, and enjoy what’s coming next.
Day 2: Connect with Your Compassion with Sharon Salzberg
To connect more deeply with others, we must face the one person that we keep on the shortest leash: ourselves. We often reject other people’s care or attention when we believe we don’t deserve it—but there’s nothing special you must do to deserve love. It is simply because you exist. Follow this guided meditation to open your heart toward giving and receiving love.
In the Morning • Open Your Heart
This meditation begins by imagining yourself surrounded by a circle of the most loving beings, making generous offerings of love and goodwill to you. Sit comfortably, eyes open or closed.
- Imagine you’re encircled by people who love you. You, in the center of a circle, made up of the most loving beings you’ve met. Maybe they exist now or they’ve existed historically, or even mythically.
- Receive the love of those who love you. Experience yourself as the recipient of the energy, attention, care, and regard of all of these beings in your circle of love. Silently repeat phrases of tender love and care for yourself, not just for today but in an enduring way. Phrases that are big and open, like May I be safe, may I be happy, may I be healthy, may I live with ease of heart.
- Notice how you feel when you receive love. You may feel gratitude and awe, or you might feel kind of shy. Whatever emotions arise, just let them wash through you. Repeat your phrases of tender care: May I be safe. May I be happy…
- Open yourself up to receiving love. Imagine that your skin is porous and this warm, loving energy is coming in. Imagine yourself receiving love simply because you exist.
- Send loving care to the people in your circle. Allow that quality of loving-kindness and compassion and care you feel coming toward you to flow right back out to the circle of loved ones and then toward all beings everywhere, so that what you receive, you transform into giving. When you feel ready you can open your eyes or lift your gaze to end the session.
In the evening • Remember Your Goodness
If you find yourself ruminating on the things you regret or mistakes you’ve made, try letting go of those habits with this exercise. It will help you redirect your attention and remember goodness within. The point is not to deny your mistakes, but if you keep rehearsing them, analyzing them, creating stories around them, you’re simply reinforcing the pain and alienation they’ve already caused you. When you recognize and reflect on even one good thing about yourself, you are building a bridge to a place of kindness and caring. Sit comfortably in a relaxed, easy posture and close your eyes.
- Bring to mind one thing you have done or said recently that you feel was kind or good. Maybe you smiled at someone or listened to their story; maybe you let go of your annoyance at a slow checkout clerk; maybe you were generous; maybe you sat down to meditate. It’s not conceit or arrogance to consider these things. It’s nourishing and replenishing to take delight in the good that moves through us.
- Think of one of your qualities or skills that you like or appreciate. Perhaps you are enthused about helping others learn or committed to practicing patience toward your irascible neighbor.
- Recognize that you want to be happy. If you still find yourself caught up in self-criticism, turn your attention to the mere fact that you have an urge toward happiness. There is kindness and beauty in that. Recall that all beings everywhere want to be happy, everybody wants to be happy.
- Don’t feel ashamed of your longing for happiness. Recall that happiness is your birthright. Seeking happiness is not a problem. The problem is that we often do not know where and how to find genuine happiness and so make the mistakes that cause suffering for ourselves and others. When we support the urge toward happiness with mindfulness, it can become like a homing instinct or a compass pointing us toward freedom.
- Allow any impatience or judgments to emerge during this meditation. Don’t feel as though you have failed if you start judging yourself. This is entirely natural. Simply allow the negative reaction to ebb as a wave on the beach, and see if you can return to the positive contemplation without self-criticism.
Day 3: Connect with Your Resilience with Mark Bertin
You cannot will yourself into particular feelings toward yourself or the world around you. Rather, you can simply remind yourself that you deserve happiness and ease—no more and no less than anyone else. The same goes for your child, your family, your friends, your neighbors, and everyone else in the world. Everyone is driven by an inner desire to avoid suffering and find a measure of peace and ease.
In the Morning • Tame Your Inner Critic
The inner critic is like the two old guys on The Muppet Show endlessly deriding whatever is unfolding on your life’s stage. Attempting to reason with your inner tyrant only validates it, as if it deserves your attention. It’s really just an unhelpful pattern of thinking most of us pick up along the way. And while the push to be perfect can be exhausting, we can invite more ease into our lives with practice.
- Begin by focusing on your breathing. Notice the physical sensation of breathing in, and then breathing out. Find yourself a posture of ease and strength. When your attention wanders, simply come back to breathing in and breathing out.
- Notice your judgy mind at work. For many of us, simply attempting to focus on the breath is enough to bring a lot of self-judgment to mind. You may immediately start thinking “I’m not very good at this” or “I should do this more often.” But for this brief practice, consciously reflect on somewhere else in your life where you feel judged. At school, at work, as a parent, or as a child?
- Notice how judgment is more than a single thought. Judgment affects how you feel, bringing tension or unease to your body. It may influence your emotional state as well. Notice where your thoughts go when experiencing this kind of self-criticism. What patterns do you fall into under this kind of stress?
- Practice leaving that voice of judgment, that inner critic, alone. Stop wrestling with it or appeasing it, or pushing it away. Label it if you want, or even give it a funny name if you prefer. Recognize what it feels like to you, and then let it be.
- Breathe in, notice. Breathe out, let go. On each in-breath, acknowledge whatever you’re experiencing right now in your body. What are your emotions? Your thoughts? There’s nothing to fix or change, this is what’s going on right now. Then, on each out-breath, offer yourself relief. Wish yourself what you would a close friend with the same doubts. Wish yourself relief or strength or humor or joy or anything else that feels appropriate. Breathing in, this is how things are; breathing out, focusing on ease or whatever else comes to mind.
- Wish yourself well, not because you deserve it more than anyone else, but because you deserve it as much as anyone else.
In the evening • Ease Into Sleep
(no time limit)
Neither sleep routines nor mindfulness practice respond well to a heavy hand. If you set out to force yourself into sleep, you’re less likely to sleep. If you strain for some picture-perfect mindset when meditating, you’ll create more stress and uncertainty. If you set yourself up with clear-sighted planning and patient resolve— intentionally but unforced—sleep and mindfulness are both more likely to follow.
- Begin while lying down,and bringing your attention to the physical movement related to breathing, such as your belly rising and falling. Or, if you prefer, focus your attention more closely on the air moving in and out of your nose and mouth.
- Observe your thoughts. Your mind rehashes the day or gets caught up in worrying about tomorrow. Recognize those habits, and then practice letting them be. Label whatever grabs your attention, and come back again to noticing the sensations of the breath. Breathing in… and breathing out.
- Notice if you get caught up in effort, or frustration, or fear—with compassion for yourself. Catch thoughts of self-criticism or frustration, and come back to just one breath, one more time. Breathing in…breathing out. There’s nothing you need to fix or change right now in this moment. Notice where your thoughts go, and label them “thoughts.” Come back to one next breath, over, and over again.
- Shift attention to sensations in your body. Start by moving your awareness to physical sensations in your feet. Just notice them — the temperature or the pressure of your heel against the blanket.
- From your feet, move your attention up into your lower legs, and then your abdomen, noticing in each area of your body whatever there is to notice. Letting go of a sense of effort or needing to make anything happen. If you feel any sense of stress or tension, relax, breathe, and let go.
- Move your attention from the belly into the chest and the back. Note each time your mind gets caught up in thoughts of discomfort or distraction or you feel any tension. Relax your muscles, gently and with patience.
- Shift your attention into your hands and lower arms,again without actively needing to move or change anything, simply observing, and then letting go.
- Then move your attention through your neck and into the muscles of your face, perhaps noticing any locations of tightness or pinching, and then with gentleness, as best as you’re able, relaxing those muscles. And then for a few moments, have a general awareness of physical sensations throughout your body.
- And then (if you’re still awake) bring your attention back to the breath. Each time the mind wanders, or you get stuck thinking, bring your attention to the sensation of your body breathing.