Meditation: How to do nothing and everything

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In this column, I’ve shared a few different mindfulness methods to help with stress and difficult situations. The uber-method, the cornerstone of mindfulness practice, is meditation. Many people try meditation and think they “can’t” do it—but, actually, they’re doing it.

Here is my favorite definition of meditation: the practice of learning to stay in the present moment and out of our heads. In recent years, psychologists have confirmed what meditators have known for millennia: Meditation is super-good for you. The full list of benefits would make this article too long, but they include reduced stress and anxiety, improved focus, and better sleep.

Distracted? You’re doing it right

We spend so much time caught up in worries, fears, memories, and anxieties. When we untangle ourselves from those mental stories and come back to the present moment, we discover a refreshing simplicity and calm.

Unfortunately, resting in the present is easier said than done. Our mental stories tend to suck us in. Letting go of them is a skill that requires training. Meditation is that training, and it’s very simple.

One more tip before you get started: Daily consistency is more important than sitting for a long time. Even a few minutes a day will bring noticeable benefits. The Tibetan masters say, “Short sessions, many times.”

4-step guide to doing nothing but actually everything

1. Sit down: Find a comfortable sitting position that lets you maintain a straight, unsupported spine. The simplest way is to sit in a chair, with both feet on the floor and hands resting on your thighs. Sitting toward the front edge of the seat may make it easier to sit straight without slouching.

2. Find your anchor: Bring your attention to your nostrils and notice the sensation of air passing through that area as you breathe. That sensation is your “anchor,” a resting place for your attention that will help you connect with the present moment.

3. Rest attention on the anchor: Rest your attention on the breath at the nostrils. Form the gentle intention simply to remain there and observe the flow of changing sensations. As you do this, there’s no need to deliberately make your breath slower, or deeper, or anything like that. If the rhythm of your breathing changes on its own, that’s fine.

4. When the attention wanders, notice that and return: You will eventually become distracted—probably pretty quickly. That’s OK. In fact, that’s what’s supposed to happen. All you do is notice that the attention has wandered and then gently escort it back to the breath at the nose, back to the present.

Give it a try (and another, and another). Enjoy!

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