- Mindfulness practices are undeniably helpful in managing stress—but fitting the practices into a busy life can be tough.
- When time is short, brief guided meditations can help to "open and shut" the day's experience.
- A brief routine to close the day uses the words "there," "we," and "are."
While the terms "cliffhanger" and "meditation" are not generally found in the same sentence, I appreciate you tuning into this riveting completion of a two-part series entitled, "Open and Shut." It describes a set of short, scripted meditation exercises for daily use by our patients, our students, and ourselves. My intention is to provide brief, memorable awareness routines to help keep folks regularly reaching for that felt sense of being mindful and aware, even when more involved sitting practice is not an option. Life gets busy, and with that pace can come a default into unattended-to experience.
We can either "zombie" our way through our days, or skip all that bellowing for "brains!" and instead better entrain our own for sharpened awareness, even when the schedule is tight. Our walk through our days, even the busy ones, need not be "undead."
As with the "open" exercise, this "shut" sequence aims to oh-so-briefly touch on some core stuff in mindfulness:
- The calming inherent in our basic watching of the breath.
- The ID of and working to adapt to our experience of the moment in body/heart/head.
- The deliberate practice of setting an intention for action (even better, in service of compassion and kindness).
Bracketing the "open" set of launch codes (see the last post for the details on HWG —"here-we-go"), this "shut" set is meant to land the flight of the day with gentle care and mindful awareness, rather than a nosedive from intense activity to a rattling stop. The set plays off the "TWA" session-ending routine that I introduced in Practical Mindfulness—as a closing, three-step sequence: "there-we-are."
In this short version, these three-step identifiers are the whole closing practice: brief, day-end "pings" of awareness. It prompts us to take a few breaths of relaxation heading into bedtime, register a snapshot of the experience of the day, and set a being (rather than doing) intention for a night's rest. Beyond that, the secret sauce here is one more tuning into "meta"—our mind's eye capacity. Then, nighty-night.
As usual, it's best to find a space and time slot that allows minimum distraction, whether from a final/not final check for texts, management of bedtime protests from kids or the mirror, or a CPAP symphony from a loved one. All of the steps are best aided by relaxed, slow, deep belly breathing. I like using a slightly imaginal image of "gathering" awareness on the in-breath, then "releasing" that awareness into the object of each step.
"Shut" Exercise: There We Are
THERE: "There" can mean resting in the ebbing of a unit of lifetime—feeling the experience of the "now" yet also aware of another day lived, with its roses and thorns. Others find "there" helpful as a coda, a closing idea: "There, I made it." Whatever works. An in-breath to gather, then out to "me, immersed in this day now done," observing the effect. Just notice what comes up.
- Short: Take a couple of minutes of breaths. Divvying this into body/heart/thoughts/space around "there" can be helpful. Try to just observe what comes up, without further chasing in thoughts; these are the last fish of the day to catch and release.
- Super short: One in-breath to gather, then out to the inner idea (or even better, slowly and quietly spoken, if you wish)—"there." Observe that state, then move on.
WE: "We" (still) means reminding ourselves of connections to others—unconditional belonging to the great big club of humanity and beyond, no admission card necessary. "We" reiterates connection, a brief shout-out to the more-than-me as we settle in for rest.
- Short: Take a couple of minutes of breaths. Gather breath in to "me" (my individual sense of separate self), then breathe out to "we" (imagine exhaling as a reaching out in connection to all beyond "me").
- Super short: Even a single in-breath to a quietly thought or spoken "me," then out to "we." Smile as we bid goodnight to the cosmic soup.
ARE: "Are" is a final, quiet observation of the experience of self and everything else coming to a day's end and to rest, the bare intention just being to take it all in... then let it all go. No flipping the lights back on (if we can help it) for additional cogitating, stealing from the necessity of recharging with rest and sleep.
- Short: Take a couple of minutes of breaths. Gather breath and attention in, then breathe out to "there we are", or a settling word/s or thought that works best for you ("good night," "love you," "amen," "om").
- Super short: Even a single gathering in-breath, then out-breath to "there we are" or your choice.
I like to think this routine is most effective as a partner or bookend to the "open" brief practice. It can also function well on its own as a winding-down event, even upon lying down just after the light is turned out, as a part of good sleep hygiene. Others can use it as a brief, additional mindful check-in to engage, besides their regular daily sitting.
However implemented, cultivating our "meta" sense of observing, of mindful attention through meditation, is the broader goal, even in small ways—whether in the "going" of the day or the "being" of settling into rest.
These distilled, contracted mini-practices can be taught to patients and students, even young people, pretty quickly in an office visit or group setting. The prompts make retention and learning likely. Beneficial on their own, they hopefully can spark further interest in training up mindfulness for additional goodness.
For PDFs of these brief practices, click here.
Sazima MD, G.(2021) Practical Mindful‐ ness: A Physician's No-Nonsense Guide to Meditation for Beginners. Miami, FL:Mango Publishing.