A picture popped into my mind recently when thinking about the idea of centering oneself before starting the day. Matthew McConaughey talks about a non-negotiable centering process which he goes through every morning when he wakes up. It involves checking in with himself, centering himself to see how he is doing, before going into the day ahead.
Imagine you’re on a boat, and you’re tired after a day’s sailing. What do you do? You cast the anchor down into the ocean so that you can be still enough, to be relaxed enough, to be able to really rest. When you awaken in the morning, you’re wherever you anchored – the boat hasn’t drifted with the currents to collide with rocks, other boats or drift off course. The anchor is still down, creating a more stable environment from which to begin the day’s tasks. The anchor is reeled in, the sails are raised and another day’s sailing can commence.
Many mornings, however, I have woken up to find that I have no anchor. The boat is rocking all over the place; drifting here, spinning there, a seemingly chaotic environment from which I decide, consciously or otherwise, to start my day. More often than not, I’m not even consciously aware that this is the case.
The process of mindfulness meditation (watching yourself do nothing particularly interesting other than exist) feels like it centres the mind in very much the same way that an anchor stabilises a boat at sea. Life is an ocean, sometimes turbulent, sometimes placid, but never still. Mindfulness is like the anchor, centering the boat of our minds into a place where we can observe the ocean that is life. After the practice of observation is over, we can reel in the anchor and consciously set sail with increased clarity towards the variety of appearances that exist in consciousness.
Currently I’m exploring the effects of a single thirty minute mindfulness practice session, first thing upon waking. What is your minimum effective dose? What’s the shortest amount of time you can practice mindfulness for, in order to perceive a positive carry-over in to daily life?
Studies seem to vary between 14-17 minutes. I have played with 10, 20, currently 30, and previously 45 minute sessions in the past. Quality over quantity comes to mind, although objectively measuring the quality of a mindfulness practice is difficult.
Creating conditions for equanimity to prevail and making this the very first task of each day, seems like a sensible objective. From there, you have a place to operate from that is less chaotic and prone to unecessary disruption. One thing that I’ve noticed very clearly since beginning a non-negotiable morning mindfulness practice is just how much tension I must have been unconsciously holding in the past. Learning to consciously relax is a skill. Only when you have the skill can you get a grasp on how inefficient you were prior to learning it. I’m noticing that I’m prone to having a bank of built-up mental tension, which sits below the conscious surface; a state of contraction that could be said to build and compound day after day, especially if it is not consciously cleared.
Strangely, by practicing observation of oneself through mindfulness, this tension doesn’t seem to build up anymore. If anything, observing the tension gives it a path to dissipate through. And this dissipation seems to have a compounding effect, providing the skill of observation is practiced daily. I’m interested to continue the consistent application of a morning, non-negotiable mindfulness practice and see if the relaxation effect compounds, too.
Just how relaxed can one train themselves to become?
With these new discoveries around subconscious levels of tension, I’m learning that tension promotes impatience to prevail. On the other side, relaxation promotes patience to prevail. Patience is a quality I feel I should develop, as it appears to be of great use when friction escalates. When there’s relaxation, there’s patience, and so composure.
Previously, I would have started to answer the question, “How do I build patience?” with an answer that involved synthesising a trigger for impatient thoughts (for example, seeing a long line of people queuing outside the grocery store) swiftly followed by applying an enacatable response based around being patient (join the queue, take a deep breath, remind yourself to be patient.)
I think that’s quite a good way to build patience, but the trouble with the above example is we don’t know what state you’re in when you arrive and see the queue of people for the first time.
If you arrive tense, especially mentally tense, what are your chances of exercising patience in that moment? And even if you do exercise patience, how hard was it to accomplish and maintain? But what if you arrived to see the queue in a relaxed state, one where you’re mentally calm? What would be your chances of exercising patience now? I think your chances would be higher. A lot of desirable behaviours feel like they are closer within reach when you begin enacting the desired behaviour from a state of mental relaxation. The perceived workload of taking on the new behaviour feels like less of a struggle because you began from a place of composure.