One of my closest friends wrote me to say he planned to go on a mindfulness meditation retreat to find some relaxation.

I picked up the phone to suggest that he might want to reconsider that plan.

Now, I’d like to be clear about this. I have spent long periods of time at meditation retreats practicing meditation mindfulness, and yes, sometimes the effects of this form are amazing.

However, in the last few years of teaching meditation, I have heard all of the common complaints that arise when someone decides they want to start practicing meditation regularly.

Two of the most common complaints are not having enough time to practice and difficulty bringing the practice into their everyday life.

This can mean that even after meditating an hour, or a half-hour, or even twenty minutes, they may have found some peace of mind, but if someone cuts them off in traffic, it all goes out the window.

One of the more entertaining examples of this phenomenon is the parent who tries mediation in order to be a better mom or dad. But if their child happens to interrupt their meditation, they get irritated, "Not now! I'm meditating so I can be more present with you!"

So, let’s examine more closely the concept of mindfulness meditation, and also what problems there might be with it.

John Kabat-Zinn, as some of you know, made mindfulness meditation widely known when he wrote a book called Full Catastrophe Living. Hospitals all over teach mindfulness meditation for daily stress reduction and relief from anxiety. I’m not trying to say that mindfulness meditation has no value, though in a bit, I will point out that there can be a simpler way.

To begin with, in mindfulness practice, you do things slowly, one at a time, while paying attention to every thing you do in each moment. We all know that minds don't do this automatically. A peculiar blend of relaxation and effort is required for success.

My main point, however, is that doing this kind of thing really isn't natural. This is one of the reasons why it’s so hard to incorporate into everyday living - we just don't usually live like that.

If you've ever resolved to achieve some goal, like paying off debt or losing weight, you know that creating new habits takes some effort. It's especially difficult if this new activity isn't innately something you would choose to do. It’s much harder to establish a new habit when it’s not something we would ever do for fun, but just because we’re trying to achieve some goal.

When what we're doing isn't fun now, but we keep at it because we hope it will bring some future enjoyment, it creates a special kind of stress.

This stress comes from the fact that we’ve learned on some level that our ideas about what we’ll enjoy in the future are often wrong. Either the happiness we get from attaining our goal fades really fast, or achieving the goal doesn’t even bring happiness at all (or perhaps not as much as we hoped it would).

The friend who wrote me wanted to learn how to find some relaxation time during his day to help him with his family and his work, and he hoped the mindfulness meditation retreat would help with that. I mentioned that he could probably achieve these benefits without taking ten days out of his normal life.

Instead of trying to force artificial relaxation, it's possible to pay attention to the relaxation or spaciousness that is already there in each moment. What I mean is, instead of attempting to change something or fix something, you might notice the little moments when you are already experiencing what it is you wanted.

I don't mean that you have to wait until you’re totally relaxed to do this, though that can be a really good time for it. What I’m saying is actually something even more radical – no matter what is going on in a given moment, regardless of how difficult or stressful, it’s entirely possible to experience an already-existing peace of mind or relaxation. Here is an analogy to better illustrate how this works.

Take a moment to notice all the things on the floor around you. Normally, these things on the floor are what get our attention. When we pay attention to these things, we’re focusing on the foreground.

However, it’s also possible to focus your attention on the background. Take a look at the floor underneath the objects. Whatever is or isn't on the floor doesn't matter; the floor itself remains unchanged. The floor doesn’t worry about all the stuff on top of it.

Our minds developed to pay more attention to the foreground than the background. It was a crucial survival skill a hundred thousand years ago out on the savannah. It was necessary to be able to notice unusual objects standing out from the background because such things might be something we could eat, or perhaps something that wanted to eat us.

My suggestion, however, is that you shift your attention to the background. Noticing things in the foreground only happens because there is a background there.

Without a background, we would never notice stressful, irritating, noisy, rushed thinking. With no background for comparison, we would never notice itches, aches or pains. Those thoughts or sensations are our foreground, as if they are the objects on top of the floor. In the background body-mind, there is calmness.

When you learn to pay attention to that always-present background, there is no need to generate feelings of calm or peace, because they’re already there.

Once you’ve noticed this background of calm, peace and space, you may find that it is available to you always, no matter how stressed out or involved in your daily life you are. The peace you sought from meditation can be found there.

Now, I'm not telling you to try to do this all day, every day, any more than one would want to do meditation mindfulness all day long. There is no need to, for one. Just a moment of shifting your attention from whatever is in foreground to the background can change that moment completely, not to mention the day it’s a part of, or perhaps even an entire life.

Author's Bio: 

Steven Sashen began meditation when he was eight years old, was one of the first biofeedback pioneers, and researched cognition and perception at Duke University. In addition to a successful career as an entrepreneur and entertainer, Steven has taught transformational techniques around the world and developed the Instant Advanced Meditation Course, which Dr. Gay Hendricks calls, "Perhaps the fastest and easiest way to relax, expand awareness, and find deep inner-peace."

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