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Mindfulness: Actually Sitting for Practice (aka Addressing Restlessness)

Mindfulness: Actually Sitting for Practice (aka Addressing Restlessness)Have you ever sat down to meditate only to get up before you’re done? Maybe your child is calling, or you remember a frustration from earlier in the day. Or maybe you sat there for the time you’d planned, but your mind wandered all over the place and you ended up feeling more frustrated than when you started? Or maybe you’re into a practice now, but restlessness creeps in to distract you such that it’s inhibiting your experience of mindfulness.

Why does this happen? Learning to sit with restlessness can initially feel uncomfortable and we’re hard wired to avoid discomfort. Initially, we often move away from such feelings. And the human mind can be very active, seemingly enticing our attention every which way.

The sometimes busy nature of the mind isn’t bad though. It’s a very functional aspect of our awareness and with practice we can gradually learn to skillfully direct our attention. The brain and nervous system are continually gathering and assessing information about everything we experience, in gracious attempts to keep us safe. Mindfulness offers the opportunity to gently notice the tendencies of our minds and bodies while we gradually learn how to choose our responses to them.

One simple way to address restlessness when we’ve decided to sit for practice is to see our attention as a boomerang. It could go like this. We sit down, close the eyes (or leave them open, whatever works), bring attention into the body and notice what it feels like to breathe, notice the calm on the exhale, then we hear a sound in another room which grabs our attention. The tendency to move away from noticing our present moment experience arises (whether through following thoughts or uncomfortable feelings), we notice our attention has moved and like a boomerang we notice it come back into the breath and body.

Repetition is part of the practice so it’s not about how many times the mind “wanders”. It’s about gently noticing where our attention is and gently bringing it here, now, into the breath, body, sensations and our choice of focus.

Application to parenting: Do you ever feel restless or frazzled with the kids? I do. When you feel this way, experiment with stopping for a few moments to focus on your breath and body. Bring attention to the relaxation inherent in the exhalation when you breathe. Notice any tension, softening or other sensations in your body. Also note where your attention boomerangs as you stop for a few seconds. Bring it back inside for a breath or two and see if you can also feel love for yourself and your child. Acknowledge and express that love.

Sometimes a split second to stop can make a world of difference. Other times we notice that things are really intense and maybe we could use some support. If so, get the support you need and thank yourself for the willingness to look within.

Are you struggling as a parent? If so, I’d like to share something with you: a story and some hope.