Mindfulness Doesn't Need to Be Difficult

Sky gazing meditation

Posted Aug 01, 2014

Many people think that meditation is arduous. There’s so much to do, why would anyone want to sit still and follow the breath? When I recently tried to introduce mindfulness to a new adolescent client, Alex, she looked at me as though I was asking her to do something that was both stupid and impossible. “This is deadly boring,” she challenged. “Why would I ever want to do that? How crazy do you think I am? This would really make me nuts!”

Alex may have been blunt, but she was not alone. Though she didn’t mince words, she did articulate the resistance we often see in so many clients. For most folks, it’s hard to start, let alone sustain, a mindfulness practice. The good news is that you don’t have to sit still and you don’t have to follow your breath. Meditation is not a one-size–fits-all endeavor. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh was once asked how to cultivate a practice of mindfulness. “Do you want to know my secret?” he asked with a smile. “I try to find a way to do things that is most pleasurable. There are many ways to perform a given task, but the one that holds my attention best is the one that is most pleasant.”

The following meditation is one of the most pleasant I know of, and is especially suited to a balmy summer day or evening. I learned it from Lama Willa Miller, a teacher in the Tibetan tradition, http://www.naturaldharma.org/about-us/teachers/lama-willa-miller/. I have adapted this practice to make it accessible for adolescents, children, and adults.

  • Start by lying on your back, on a blanket. While it is ideal to practice on a patch of grass or soft sand, it is fine to do this on an urban rooftop or a chaise lounge.
  • Start by taking a few deep breaths and let your body settle into the earth. Your eyes can either by open or closed.
  •  Feel yourself being held by the ground. Consciously relax each body part, the feet, the legs, the pelvis, the back, the belly, the shoulders, the arms, the chest, the neck, the jaw, and the eyes.
  • Let yourself rest, allowing your muscles to soften and release.
  • Find your natural breath, letting it come and go without controlling it or forcing it.
  • Become aware of the space and openness within your body.
  • When you’re ready, open your eyes if they have been closed. If the sky is bright, you may want to put of a pair of sunglasses. Do not look directly at the sun.
  • Let yourself rest while you watch the clouds pass through the sky. Become aware of the spaciousness and openness of the sky.
  • If thoughts, emotions, or sensations arise, allow them to pass as effortlessly as the clouds.
  • No need to hold on to anything, just allow it to be held in the vastness of the open sky.
  • Let yourself rest in the spaciousness within your body and outside of your body.
  • If you like, this practice can also be done at night, under a starry sky.

This is a wonderful practice to share with your children, friends, and loved ones on vacation, or as a respite during a stressful week. It is a meditation that helps us recharge and renew as well as develop a broader perspective on our lives.

 Even Alex, after some trial and error, took to this one. “I like this,” she reported. “It makes me feel like there’s some space in my world when the walls start to close in.” Then she smiled, “And it makes me feel less nuts.”

Susan Pollak, MTS, Ed.D., co-author of the book Sitting Together: Essential Skills for Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapy, (Guilford Press) is a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School