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STOP and be mindful

People often come to my meditation courses because they want to learn how to slow down their crazy busy lives.

So you start sitting for 10, 20, or maybe even 30 minutes a day. But after some weeks of this, you still feel like things are crazy busy and all over the place. So your meditation isn’t working, you say to me.

Here’s my first thought. I’m wondering if you’re thinking of meditation as something you can drop into your life for say, 30 minutes a day, and have it counterbalance the other 15 or so hours that your mind is on full tilt. (I’m assuming you spend 8 or so hours sleeping or resting). Certainly, meditating 30 minutes a day is better than not doing it at all. But looking at it from a common sense perspective, is it reasonable to expect a 30 minute sit to cancel out the effect of 15 hours of frenetic activity?

Hmmmm…. so how do we slow down? Obviously we can’t quit and go live in monasteries.

I think a shift of perspective is in order here. There’s a much bigger context that we need to take into account.

Meditation isn’t like an anti-anxiety pill that will slow things down just by dropping it in. It’s really more a way to begin training ourselves to BE a different way. The point isn’t just to relax and recharge – and then go right back to what we were doing before. We practice BEING more calm and measured in the laboratory environment of a sitting practice so we can learn to BE that same way in the rest our lives when we’re NOT meditating. Even in the midst of a frenetic day. We’re training ourselves to stop feeding that busy energy into our body and mind, so that over time, a measured steadiness flows out of us naturally. All the time. Not just when we’re on the cushion.

And it’s not the 30 minutes of sitting alone that does the trick. It’s the thread of mindfulness that we carry throughout our day that brings the sanity back into our lives.

But that’s HARD, you say. Yes, it is. But it’s doable.

Here’s one tool to help you get started. This simple acronym — STOP — reminds us to be mindful during the day. It stands for

  • Stop: Mentally step back from whatever you’re doing, even for a second or two.
  • Take a breath: Literally, bring your attention back to your breath.
  • Observe: Take stock of what’s happening right now, especially in your body and mind.
  • Proceed: Resume ONLY after you’ve really paused to assess where you are.

This doesn’t take any extra time out of your day. It’s not something additional you have to do. It’s a simple but powerful way to insert a sliver of mindfulness in your day. It’s also a way of taking what you’re practicing on your cushion out into your life.

We need both a formal sitting practice AND an informal mindfulness practice. The analogy is like learning to play an instrument. The formal practice helps us to gain our “chops” in a quiet, comfortable place at home. But then we also need to practice how to perform on stage, in riskier situations and with other people in the mix. To be a true musician, and a true mindfulness practitioner, both are absolutely essential.

At first, you might feel lucky to remember to STOP only once a day, and maybe only just before you go to bed. That’s OK. That’s a good start. Do it whenever you remember. Over time, it’ll come more often and more easily. Give it time.

Yes, it’s a slow process to train ourselves this way. It’s not a quick fix. But it’s a way to create change at the core of our being. And isn’t that really what we’re after?

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About Sunada Takagi

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Sunada Takagi is on a mission to help people open their hearts and minds through mindfulness. Her work includes leading classes in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in the Boston area, and coaching individual clients through life transitions -- from anywhere in the world via phone and Skype. Read more at her site, Mindful Purpose Life Coaching.

Sunada also teaches and leads retreats at Boston Triratna Buddhist Community and Aryaloka Buddhist Center. Sunada was ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order in 2004. This is where she received her name, which means "beautiful, excellent sound."

You can follow her at her Mindful Living Blog as well as on Facebook and Twitter. Read more articles by .

Comments

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Comment from Marion McDonald
Time: November 2, 2011, 9:04 am

Hi Sunada, as always when I read something by you it is both perfectly apt and opportune! I’ve just forwarded this to someone who is really interested in learning, and applying the insights to daily life Thanks so much, Marion

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Comment from Sunada
Time: November 2, 2011, 10:23 am

Hi Marion! Thank you for your kind words. I hope your practice is continuing to serve you well…

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Comment from Al
Time: November 2, 2011, 11:27 am

Excellent.

You make an important point I frequently fail to practice.

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Comment from Sunada
Time: November 2, 2011, 4:40 pm

Thanks, Al. I thought you might appreciate this.

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Comment from Janet Pal
Time: November 3, 2011, 4:51 am

Oh! I like that – STOP. Will definitely be using this one! I’ve also recently been thinking a lot about what I am doing/not doing off the cushion. I do think I have become a little bit less reactive generally – which was my goal – though I do have a long way to go. What a great reminder and way to keep checking in with myself. Thank you for this, Sunada! (As an aside, I’m registered for an MBSR course at my local hospital starting in January and am looking forward to learning lots of new ways to deepen my practice.)

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Comment from Sunada
Time: November 3, 2011, 9:06 am

Thanks Janet. STOP actually comes from MBSR. Great that you’re taking the course. You’ll learn a lot of ways to practice bringing mindfulness more to your daily life. I think you’ll enjoy it.

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Comment from Sheila
Time: November 6, 2011, 12:25 am

Many thanks Sunada for STOP. I try to be calm in everyday life, but your straightforward advice has prevented me from ‘running aboot lik’ a heidless chicken!’ whilst packing all my stuff (too much of it), for re-locating from Pitlochry to Edinburgh for the winter.

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Pingback from ……. in the Name of Love?? | MindMindful
Time: November 8, 2011, 9:49 am

[…] one of the blogs from Wildmind’s Buddhist Meditation, Sunada writes about the difficulty of inserting a meditation practice into our busy lifestyles. We […]

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