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Thursday, October 13, 2016
PRACTICING THOUGHT AWARENESS TRAINING: An excerpt from FULLY ENGAGED by Thomas M. Sterner
 
When we are “fully engaged,” we are in the here and now doing just what we are doing. We are not contemplating the future or the past and don’t judge how well or poorly we are performing. In Fully Engaged: Using the Practicing Mind in Daily Life, bestselling author Thomas Sterner promises that present moment awareness at that level is the ultimate definition of success. We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.

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How does one meditate or practice thought awareness training? If you’ve ever been curious about meditation, you may have found that there are numerous forms, but in my opinion they boil down to three general systems: guided meditation; breath-based meditation; and phrase-based, or mantra-based, meditation. In the context of becoming fully engaged I don’t feel guided meditations are particularly useful. Though they have many wonderful applications, and at times I use them myself, they have the shortcoming of requiring you to think. You are being guided to visualize through spoken word, and this requires you to process instructions, which is the opposite of what we are trying to achieve here. We want a still mind, or at least one that is as still as we can manage. We want to disengage from the thought process and simply observe the thinking that is going on normally without our objective perspective. Because of this I favor either breath-based or phrase-based meditation.

Either of these two systems is very effective for accomplishing our goal. You also may wish to experiment back and forth between the two styles to see which one resonates with you more. The mechanics for both are deceptively simple. In a breath-based meditation you assume a comfortable position so that you will not be distracted by any aches or pains. You want to be focused internally. This becomes more difficult when your foot goes to sleep or your ankle starts to throb. It should also be noted this kind of discomfort gives rise to thoughts, because you have to be thinking in order to notice that your foot is going to sleep.

You could lie down to meditate, but you may find that it’s hard not to fall asleep, which is why I generally stay away from that position. The more common positions are sitting comfortably in a chair with your spine erect (a hunched-over position breeds drowsiness as you become more relaxed during the meditation); some people prefer a kneeling position. You can kneel on a cushion and then place a pillow between the backs of your thighs and your calf muscles. This keeps you from putting stress on your knees and also from sitting on your heels, which can become uncomfortable. One advantage of kneeling is that it forces your spine into a very upright position and also promotes keeping your head level, which you want to do in both seated and kneeling positions.

You could also sit in a cross-legged posture, a position we are all familiar with from childhood (when it was sometimes called “criss-cross applesauce”). In a soft chair with armrests, this position can be quite comfortable. The same chair can also work well if you prefer to have your feet flat on the floor. If you are particularly flexible, you could assume the full-lotus position, in which you sit cross-legged, but with your feet resting on opposite thighs. Not many adults can manage a full-lotus position, and if you can, you have probably been meditating for years! You can do both the cross-legged and the full-lotus posture on a cushion on the floor; just note that you will need to work more diligently at keeping your spine as erect as possible since you will not have the back of the chair to support you.

To do a breath-based meditation, simply sit or kneel and begin watching your body breathe. The temptation is for the mind to get involved and to try to control your breathing, but you want to resist this and just quietly watch your body breathe. Obviously, our bodies don’t need our conscious instruction to breathe, or we would all be in trouble. In a phrase-based meditation you choose a simple phrase to repeat. For our purposes the phrase is probably best kept to three words or fewer and should be something that comforts you such as “I am still” or “I am quiet.” Some people may find a phrase-based system a little easier because it gives the mind one thought to focus on, discouraging it from randomly generating multitudes of other thoughts.

That’s it. As I’ve said, the mechanics are deceptively simple. But oh, if only it were just that simple. Here is what you will most likely experience very early in your practice: For maybe the first sixty seconds your practice will have your full attention, and it will seem pretty effortless. But at some point you will wake up to the fact that you are no longer watching your breath or repeating your mantra. Your mind has run off and is now visiting some unrelated situation. It could be something you’re worried about, something you’re looking forward to doing, or something you have to get done. Your mind can even come up with a very creative idea that you need to include in the book you are writing, making you feel you need to stop meditating so you can write it down before you forget it. It is very clever that way. One thing you can be sure of: your mind will not be where you are and focused on what you are doing. It has a very short attention span, much like a toddler in a toy store. It wants to run off in all different directions, checking things out. It wants to generate thoughts, to solve problems, to come up with ideas, and to judge.

Your mind serves a very valuable purpose, but even so, no matter how much it insists on being so, it should not be the master. When you realize that your mind has tricked you into allowing it to run off, simply bring it back to the present moment and to the task at hand. That is the practice in its entirety. It’s quite amazing, when you consider the incredible power this simple activity gives you.

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Thomas M. Sterner is the author of Fully Engaged and The Practicing Mind. He is accomplished as a musician, composer, and technician in various fields of music; as a recording and audio engineer; and in athletic pursuits from archery to golf. He speaks around the world on developing focus and discipline and lives in Wilmington, Delaware. Visit him online at www.TomSterner.com

Excerpted from Fully Engaged. Copyright © 2016 by Thomas M. Sterner.



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