“Dad! My earrings! I don’t have them any more!” Julia stopped suddenly in her tracks, eyes wide.
I looked down and noticed that the crumpled, purple sticky note, through which my daughter had carefully stuck her extra pair of earrings, was no longer in her hand.
We had gone to Granville Island together to get her ears re-pierced, and she had brought 2 pairs of earrings with her on that sticky note. After the procedure, we had walked around the market for a while and picked up a few things for dinner, during which she must have accidentally dropped the note.
It was while we were walking back to the car that she suddenly realized her hands were empty.
Spontaneous Mindfulness in Daily Life
That moment of remembering, of heightened awareness of the present moment, was a moment of mindfulness.
I’m sure you’ve had many such moments in your life.
You suddenly remember some information you had completely forgotten, or you suddenly recall what it was you were supposed to be doing.
Spontaneous Mindfulness During Meditation
These moments of heightened awareness of the present moment, where you are more intensely aware of what you’re doing, as well as whether or not it’s what you had intended to be doing, also occur during meditation.
These moments are pure gold.
Because these are moments of spontaneous mindfulness. Spontaneous alertness and clarity. Spontaneous discernment of the appropriateness of what you’re doing.
After Attention Wanders
One of the first issues that you’ll need to deal with in your meditation practice is the tendency for your attention to jump from object to object, all by itself.
You sit down to meditate with the intention of keeping your attention focused on the breath, and what happens?
Your attention stays with the breath for a few moments, and then jumps to another sensation, such as the sound of the garbage truck rumbling down your street. Then before you know it, you’ve got images of garbage trucks in your head. And thoughts saying “why do they need to do pick up so early?” And “how nice it would be to live somewhere quieter”. And then you’re suddenly a little girl or little boy again on a family vacation somewhere out in the country, where it’s nice and quiet. And then … oh yeah, you’re supposed to be paying attention to the breath!
This is a natural tendency of the mind.
And it seems to be a constant source of irritation and discouragement for many, many meditators.
But, regardless of how bad you might think you are at meditating, there always seems to come a point when suddenly, spontaneously, you remember what it was you were supposed to be doing.
Pay Careful Attention to Those Moments
If you pay careful attention to that moment of recall, which I highly recommend you do, you’ll probably notice a few things:
- you’re more alert now than you were just a moment ago
- you remember your intention to focus on your meditation object (such as the sensations of breathing)
- you’re aware that your attention was not where you had intended it to be
- you may even be able to recall what your attention had actually been focused on and trace it all the way back, from association to association, to the moment where it first wandered away from your meditation object
Now imagine what it would be like if every waking moment was as clear as this, as mindful as this!
If only there was a way to make this kind of spontaneous mindfulness occur more frequently.
Well, there is.
And it’s surprisingly simple to do.
Cultivate More Frequent Episodes of Spontaneous Mindfulness
The secret is in what you do right after that spontaneous burst of mindfulness, that sudden recall that you meant be paying attention to your meditation object.
Most people react to this moment of remembering with feelings of frustration.
“I lost my meditation object again!”
“Why can’t I just stay focused?”
“What’s wrong with me?”
“I really suck at this!”
“Will I ever be able to pay attention to my breath for more than a few seconds?”
You’ve probably been taught to just accept that the mind has wandered and then gently return your attention back to your meditation object.
You know, “be kind and gentle with yourself”, “it’s a learning process”, etc.
But that can be hard to do when it keeps happening, over and over, sit after sit.
It’s natural to feel discouraged and frustrated.
The thing is, having a negative reaction right after that moment of spontaneous recall sends the wrong message to that part of your unconscious mind that prompted the recall.
By being reactive, you’re sending your unconscious mind the message that you find these moments of mindfulness to be upsetting and you’d rather not know that your attention has wandered from your intended object!
Obviously, that’s not a good idea.
Instead, cultivate these spontaneous bursts of mindfulness using positive reinforcement.
Give yourself a mental pat on the back for remembering what you were supposed to be doing.
Congratulate yourself on being so mindful in that moment.
Just like you would cheer on a child taking their first steps and learning to walk, you can give yourself some positive feedback at these crucial moments.
This helps to train your unconscious to produce more such Magical Moments of Mindfulness, or Triple-M’s, as I like to call them.
You create a positive feedback loop.
Apply the Correct Amount of Effort
In addition, by paying careful attention to the qualities and characteristics of the Triple-M, you learn to recognize what it feels like to be alert, clear and mindful.
Then, while meditating, and in your daily life, you can compare your present moment experience to your memory of what it feels like to be mindful.
This can help you to evaluate your current level of alertness, clarity and mindfulness and let’s you know if you need to apply a bit more effort or back off a bit (see my previous post on right effort for more details about this).
Savour that Moment
So, next time you’re meditating and you suddenly “come to”, savour that moment and really appreciate it.
And make sure to give yourself some positive strokes before returning your attention to the meditation object.
Post a comment below and let us know what you notice.
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