Arriving Home :: Remembering, Returning and Beginning Again


Remembering, Returning and Beginning Again

When we meditate, we remember. We remember to stay in the moment. We remember that all of the billion thoughts we may be having can wait until we are done. We remember that this practice doesn’t have to be perfect and neither do we. We remember to keep as much attention on our breath as we can. We remember to meet each moment of judgement or constriction with tender compassion. We remember to stay open, vulnerable, soft and receptive. And we remember to practice stamina when we “don’t feel like meditating anymore” or when the thought arises “maybe I will meditate tomorrow instead of today.”

Remembering is the essence of meditation. when we are in our practice, we gingerly and as consistently as possible remember to return and begin again.

Depending on the type of meditation you practice, what you return to is often an object for your attention that is always residing in the present moment – whether it be the breath, the body, sound or a mantra.

The reason we return our attention to these objects is so we train our wandering mind to also be present and to join us in the peace of the present moment.

One of my favorite research studies to cite is from Matt Killingsworth who was a colleague of mine while I was directing research at the University of California San Francisco. The name of the study that was conducted at Harvard University while being mentored by Dr. Daniel Gilbert is called a “Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind”.

What Dr.’s Killingsworth and Gilbert found in this hallmark study (see TED Talk here) was that people’s attention is only in the present moment 50% of the time (46.9% to be exact). The 50% of the time our attention is not in the present moment is also when we are report to be the least happy.

Why I appreciate this study so much is that it points to what ancient meditation traditions have been telling us for thousands of years. We can find happiness, joy and a sense of contentment when we are present.

Returning to the present moment is the backbone of meditation. When your mind wanders away, you gently bring it back to the present moment and begin again. Even if you have to return a thousand times in 10 minutes that’s okay, as long as you decide to begin again.

Here are some ways to help you remember to bring your attention back to the present moment when it strays away.

  1. Notice and acknowledge when you are thinking, planning, remembering, daydreaming or drifting while you are meditating.

    • You can simply notice and return your attention to the breath or your object of focus in the present moment.
    • You can mentally note “thinking” and return your attention to the present moment. (See how to work with thoughts and more about this noting technique in this 'Arriving Home' post.)

  2. Let your attention be strong and powerful.

    • In meditation we learn to be awake and aware even though our body is often relaxed, along with the mind itself, yet our attention can be sharp and powerful like the beam from a lighthouse guiding ship to the harbor in the dark of night.

  3. Remember that each time you begin again, both your attention and ability to be in the present moment are growing stronger!

    • It’s true. Each time you return your attention to the present moment and begin again your muscle of attention in your brain grows and strengthens. This can be likened to a bicep curl for the arm - with each curl, your arm muscle grows bigger and stronger.

    • Another inspiring research study from Fidel Zeidan’s lab at Wake Forest University showed that after just four days of mindfulness meditation, participants enhanced their ability to sustain their attention in the present moment. So it doesn't take as long as we might think to grow our ability to be present. 

Remembering to return not only creates new neural network pathways in our brain, but it also grows our understanding that each time we return and begin again, we are met with the fresh new possibility of that present moment. And in that present moment we can access the inherent peace and happiness that is always there.

May you return and begin again in your practice with joy, patience and confidence.

With Love, Amanda