The mind is built to wander. Just like the pancreas produces insulin, our minds produce thoughts. It’s the human way of surviving, making decisions, deciding on dinner options, choosing to marry the love of our life, etc. The good news is we can teach our minds to redirect from random thoughts to the present moment (or on one thing).
How - by practicing concentration. With mainstream media at our fingertips, most of our focus is the scrolling screens of our laptops, mobile devices and channel surfing. It’s penetrating into our frontal lobes and numbing us out of reality - out of the present moment. The first step in learning mindfulness is to practice concentrating on one thing. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as paying attention on purpose, to the present moment, non-judgmentally.
The practice of paying attention can be done with a candle flame. Here’s how:
- Start in a comfortable position, sitting in a chair - with integrity (spine straight), light a candle and place it approximately 2–3 feet in front of you in a secure safe position. Set a timer for 10 minutes.
- Begin by taking 3 deep breaths (like you do when the doctor listens to your lungs) and exhaling fully with a sigh. After 3 deep breaths, begin breathing naturally, without forcing it and shift your awareness to the candle flame. Maintain a smooth breathing practice and continue to pay attention to the candle flame.
- When you “notice” that you aren’t paying attention to the flame and that your mind has wandered to what’s for dinner, I forgot to finish my report for work, I wish I wouldn’t have sent that text, or wherever the mind has wandered to, without judging yourself kindly say to yourself, “I'm thinking” and then gently redirect your attention back to the candle flame.
- When the timer goes off, thank yourself for taking the time to practice, blow out the candle flame, and mark your calendar for the next practice.
It’s ok that your mind wanders, remember that is what it is supposed to do. The practice is building muscle memory in order to control the mind. When we practice this for at least 7–10 minutes per day for at least 4–8 weeks we will notice that our minds don’t “wander” as much when we sit to practice. Remember that the wandering part of our mind doesn’t know that we are sitting to meditate. It is up to us to practice. The only way to do it wrong, is to not do it at all.