How to Reaffirm Your Meditation Practice and Get Back Up When You Fail

How to Reaffirm Your Meditation Practice and Get Back Up When You Fail

When you commit to meditation practice, you begin on the path towards self-discovery.

And along this path you'll experience dozens of "little defeats" or adversities. Anyone that's ever worked to do something (anything) has encountered them. It's simply part of the process towards personal and spiritual growth.

Those little defeats don't point to your own inability, though. In fact, they serve as guideposts indicating that you're about to push beyond your current state to something "greater".

Your meditation practice, as well as your goals in the practice, will be unique to you. However, everyone encounters essentially the same types of adversities, or little defeats, along the way that threaten to undermine your efforts: the psychological barrier that convinces us we're being unproductive if we choose to meditate instead of work, the constant busyness that clouds our mind and leaves us asking, "what happened?" at the end of each day, and the fear that we're not practicing properly.

No matter which applies to you, eventually, you're going to lose focus. These adversities and the resulting loss of focus are a natural part of the process (of doing anything, really), so you'll need to know how to get passed them to be able to maintain a consistent practice that brings you calm and clarity.

A loss of focus could last a few hours, days, even months or worst of all if left untreated could lead you to quit on your meditation practice altogether. It's because of this that when these little defeats occur, it's important to treat them with a great sense of urgency.

5 Easy Meditation Techniques for Beginners (and How to Know Where to Start)

5 Easy Meditation Techniques for Beginners (and How to Know Where to Start)

Years ago, meditation and mindfulness practice changed my life in ways I had never imagined were possible.

I'm not talking about increased productivity, the ability to make more money in my business, or some sort of mind-altering evolution, though. These are all things we chase in hopes of feeding our ego so that we can solve the "real" problem- that we feel a "void" within ourselves and we think we need something to "fill it up".

What mindfulness and meditation did do for me was:

  • Teach me how to become friends with myself and handle the inner dialogue that brings us down
  • Show me how to more skillfully manage the challenges of everyday life including my once heavy stress and anxiety
  • Give me the ability to tap into a deep sense of joy through cultivating a sense of gratitude and appreciation for life
  • And come in touch with a basic sense of peace that's beyond the ebbs and flows of daily life.

Mindfulness is the first form of meditation I suggest someone start with because it's the most fundamental of meditation practices and easy to learn (although not always easy to practice, particularly in the beginning).

In a basic sense, it's really just us becoming more aware, more present, in our daily life. However, when done with a sense of intent focus in a ritualized manner, any discursive mindfulness practice can become a deeply nourishing form of meditation.

You can do anything in mindfulness. And it's because you can do anything in mindfulness that it’s those things which we do most often, each and every day, that make up the core mindfulness practices: breathing, walking, eating, and really anything else to do with the body.

However, there’s more to it than that. These foundational exercises also happen to be some of the best mindfulness and meditation techniques for beginners as well. They're simple, straightforward and relatively easy to learn and each has its own unique property which means there is a practice that fits essentially every type of beginner.

How to Practice Mindfulness: The Quick and Easy Guide to Learning Mindfulness Meditation


What if you’re not interested in the “what” and the “why” and just want to know how to practice mindfulness meditation? The cool thing is, you don’t need to know anything else to practice mindfulness.

The what and the why are valuable and worth learning about, but mindfulness practice is a deeply personal experience and something you can only truly understand having practiced for yourself.

Well, I’ve got good news. If you want to know how to practice mindfulness in simple, clear, and straightforward language with no extra fluff- this is the only guide you need.

And if you want to learn more and really delve deeper into the practice? I’ll provide a whole suite of guides, resources, and guided meditations which you can utilize, all for free, at the end of this post as well.

How to Practice Mindfulness of Breath

Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something, so the instructions below will be on the most basic and fundamental of mindfulness practices: mindful breathing.

In the practice of mindfulness, you're very lightly and loosely concentrating on something while being mindful of everything which arises within your field of awareness (think: being clearly aware in an open and all-inclusive way).

Of course, that sounds nice, but the practice rarely looks so pretty in the beginning. It really looks like this:

Focused on the breath → 3 seconds later, lose concentration → "wake up" 2 minutes later ("what the heck happened?", return to the breath → 3 seconds later, lose concentration → wake up 1 minute later, return to the breath

Just know this is perfectly normal and that, with time, your mind will begin to quiet and become quite clear.

How to practice mindfulness: Mindful breathing

Mindful breathing can be done as a form of sitting meditation or just standing in your home, office, or outside in nature and for even a few seconds.

There are really no restrictions to the practice, but it's most often done as a form of sitting meditation for at least a few minutes at a time. That's how I suggest you do your first few mindfulness practice sessions.

Start by finding a quiet place, somewhere with the least possible distractions. Nowhere will be perfect, just find a decent spot.

Next, find a comfortable sitting position. To keep it simple, for now just sit on the floor in a cross-legged position or in a chair. Straighten your back and neck, place your hand in your lap, and look down 3-4 feet in front of you.

Now, either close your eyes or let your eyelids naturally fall so that they remain about 1/2 open. Keep in mind that eyes closed can make you more likely to fall asleep while meditating (a common problem), while eyes half-open may feel odd at first and distract you. For now, either is fine.

Then, follow these 4 simple steps to practice mindful breathing:

1. Become aware of your breath

Simply turn your attention to your breathing. Follow each in-breath and out-breath from beginning to end. Place a firm but soft focus on the breath.

Do not attempt to control your breath, simply observe it silently. Your silent observation will slowly begin to calm your breathing naturally. This may be easier said than done in the beginning but make your best effort.

2. Count each in-breath and out-breath

Inhale…one. Exhale….two. Count to 10 like this. If a thought distracts you, start the 10 count over from 1. When you get to 10, start over and attempt to count to 10 again. If you never do, don't worry,

Do this for as many weeks or months as it takes until you can count to 10 with little to no effort. Then count each inhale + exhale as one. Then, when that becomes easy, stop counting and simply follow your breath. Don’t rush this step, progress slowly.

3. Acknowledge thoughts, feelings, and sensations that arise

Understand in advance that various thoughts, feelings, and sensations will arise while being mindful and make you lose your concentration on the breath.

In the beginning, you'll likely be interrupted constantly and feel like you're doing something wrong. You're not and it really is that difficult for everyone, in the beginning, to stay concentrated on the breath.

4. Return to being mindful of the breath

This will be difficult at first, you’ll lose focus on your breath constantly. Stay focused, after a while your mind will begin to grow quieter.

That's it! That's all there is to it. The practice of mindfulness, in this case specifically mindful breathing, is simple and straightforward.

Just keep in mind that while the practice won't necessarily feel easy in the beginning, it will get better typically in a very short period of time (in a few weeks you should start noticing a calmer and quieter mind).

A Few Important Tips

Here are a few tips for getting off on the right foot:

  • In the beginning, it's about making meditation a daily habit. That means don't worry about how long you're practicing for. Practice mindful breathing for 1-3 minutes for the first 1, 2, even 3 weeks. Really, in the beginning, nothing more is necessary and even with that you'll notice a big difference in how you feel. After a while, you'll feel gradually able to sit down for longer and longer periods.
  • Practice x2 a day. To further develop your mindfulness meditation practice into a strong daily practice, sit twice a day (preferably morning + afternoon or night). Remember, you're meditating for just 1-3 minutes so there should be no reason you can't do it.
  • Your mind will feel like a jungle. Don't sweat it. I said this earlier, but I feel it's important enough to mention again. People often feel like they're doing something wrong, or like something's wrong with them. Nothing is wrong at all. It's perfectly natural to feel like you're jumping out of your skin, unable to focus on one point for more than even 3 seconds. This will quickly begin to change if you stick to a consistent daily practice.
  • Be gentle with yourself throughout the process. Don't go into mindfulness meditation thinking that it's easy. It often isn't. In the beginning, you're likely to not be able to notice clearly what is arising. You'll just know you've lost your mindfulness. At best, you'll know you were thinking about "something" but not know exactly what. But there is the possibility that some uncomfortable thoughts and feelings can arise while meditating. Be kind to yourself and know that whatever happens is totally natural and not a sign of any personal shortcoming.

Additional Resources

Whether you're interested in learning to develop a daily meditation practice or bringing the practice of mindfulness into your everyday life, I've got you covered:

Creating a home meditation practice:

  1. How to Meditate for Beginners
  2. ZfEL Ep. 8: How to Create a Home Meditation Practice
  3. 5 Steps to Making Meditation a Daily Habit
  4. 5 Tools to Help You Start Your Home Meditation Practice
  5. How to Create a Zen Space: Finding Peace by Creating a Personal Space That Nourishes Your Mind and Bod

Bringing mindfulness into your everyday life:

  1. ZfEL Ep. 6: How to Make Mindfulness a Way of Life: 7 Keys to Living a More Mindful Life
  2. How to Create a Mindful Morning Routine
  3. ZfEL Ep. 4: How to Design a Nightly Ritual that Nourishes and Brings Rest to the Mind and Body (Plus Mindfulness of Body Guided Meditation)
  4. 7 Ways to Live More Mindfully in the Busy, Fast-Paced, and Plugged In Modern World
  5. 5 Powerful Ways Mindful Eating Will Transform Your Relationship With Foo

Free guided meditations:

If you're really interested in learning how to practice mindfulness, text instruction isn't complete without an accompanying guided meditation. Luckily, I've got you covered there too:

Free Guided Meditations for Greater Peace and Clarity

Keep in mind that the above list is constantly growing. Each week I future a new guided meditation on the Zen for Everyday Life podcast. You can listen to the podcast on the blog here or on iTunes here.

No matter what brought you to the practice of mindfulness, I hope you discover the beauty of the practice and that it helps do for you what it did for me so many years ago.

9 Essential Keys to Living More Fully and Freely in the Present Moment


It's now New Years as of the day I'm writing this, and throughout much of the world, people are making resolutions to change or improve some aspect of their life.

Most of us make simple resolutions like "eat healthy", "get in shape", or "get my finances in order". The fact that these goals lack any detail or a specific plan for accomplishment aside, the biggest problem with making resolutions or setting goals in this way is that they don't seek to handle the real issue from the source.

What is the real issue? It always originates from the mind. What that actually means varies from person to person, but it's always some form of resistance to the present moment- to reality and our life as it is. This doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't seek to change our physical (or outward) circumstances, but this does mean that before doing so we need to get our "mental house" in order. Without having done this, we're moving in the dark, never really knowing if we're taking one step forward, sideways, or backward (or if we really even care to move at all).

It's mindfulness practice and the ability to look deeply into our everyday experiences which allow us to see with clarity, and that clarity brings greater freedom and a sense of meaning where there was once a lack-there-of. That feeling of "voidness", of something being missing, disappears and we're left feeling whole and fulfilled doing and experiencing even the simplest of things.

Truthfully, I've found this to be the single most difficult effort I've ever made in my life. But, I've also benefitted more from dedicating myself to living more mindfully and fully in this moment, the present moment, than anything else in my life by far as well.

And the great thing is, we all have it in us. No matter who you are you can make an effort to live more mindfully, more fully in the present moment. And while it can be a difficult effort, the reality is you don't need to live 24 hours a day in mindfulness. Even living your life 5% or 10% more mindful will make a tremendous difference in your life in so many different ways.

Last week on the Zen for Everyday Life podcast, I talked about how to make mindfulness a way of life through my 7 keys for living more mindfully. Those are the keys I've found through my own practice and experimentation to be most critical in making a more mindful life a reality.

But there's more to living fully and freely in the present moment than just being mindful. When you become mindful you often come face-to-face with resistance and are still posed with certain critical questions and issues which can be hard to surmount. These issues will keep you from realizing the fullness and freedom which living mindfully can bring you.

To help with that here are 9 essential keys I've found to living more fully and freely in the present moment.

9 Essential Keys to Living More Fully and Freely in Everyday Life

Below you'll find what I've discovered to be 9 essential keys to living both with greater freedom as well as with greater meaning and fulfillment in everyday life.

These points vary widely and many are lifelong efforts, but they all have a simple and to-the-point quality to them which makes them easy to understand and begin to apply in your everyday life.

I hope these 9 essential keys help serve you in your effort to live a more free and meaningful life.


1. Open yourself fully to this moment

"The pain that you create now is always some form of nonacceptance, some form of unconscious resistance to what is."

- Eckhart Tolle

Resistance is a principle I've talked about before on the blog. It's been described many ways before, but I prefer resistance because it gives you what I feel is an accurate visual of what the real effort, or thing happening, is in each moment.

We're resisting what is, to put it simply. There's really nothing more to it. But of course, that's hardly enough explanation to know how to actually apply this in your own life.

To better understand this and see clearly how you can apply it in your own life, I'll give some personal examples.

In episode number five of the Zen for Everyday Life podcastHow Mindfulness Helps Us Overcome Difficult Everyday Challenges, I talked about how before my first son was born I experienced paralyzing anxiety due to my money troubles.

Any time I'd think about my money troubles I'd go into a sort of shock and freeze up completely. This wasn't just stressful and a source of anxiety, but it was the most unproductive thing I could possibly do to actually get out of my situation in the first place.

It took some time, but after a while, I was able to step away from the issue and separate myself from it due to the clarity I had found through my meditation and mindfulness practice. At times, I still experienced challenges due to a lack of money, but it no longer affected me the way that it once did.

Ultimately, this was because my mindfulness practice didn't allow me to run from my issue. It forced me to face up to it and observe it more closely and at length. And after a while, that paralyzing and anxiety-causing quality to it just dropped away as I gained more and more clarity.

Another clear example from my own life is when I found out I was going to be a father...for the third time. I talked about it in Zen and the Art of Adapting to Life's Curveballs. That post stands as one of my personal favorites and a favorite of many of the Buddhaimonia community at the time it was published.

In the post, I talked about how I initially resisted the idea of being a father for the third time and found myself feeling resentment and anger towards the unborn child. Luckily, this is after I had been practicing for some time, and quickly shifted my mindset to one of appreciation, understanding, and love and welcomed the child with open arms.

Letting go of the resistance I had felt opened up a new possibility- that of this new child being a source of joy and meaning for me and my family (which my little girl absolutely became).

There are many ways this can manifest as the garden of our consciousness holds many seeds- seeds of anger, resentment, fear, jealousy, and more. But it all comes down to the same one thing- resistance to the present moment.

It will take time before you can spot this resistance yourself, but over time, you'll be able to see it more clearly. Furthermore, with dedication to your practice, you'll begin to let go of it and live with greater peace and freedom.


2.  Live harmoniously

“As a bee gathering nectar does not harm or disturb the color & fragrance of the flower; so do the wise move through the world.”

- Buddha

Mindfulness gives us unrivaled access to our own thoughts, words, and actions and the intentions which lie hidden beneath them. Because of this, with time, we can begin to see that what we think, say, and do has a real effect on not just ourselves but the word around us.

This can mean many things, but it all comes down to one central idea: to live harmoniously with the world around us. Whether that's with other people, animals, plants, or the Earth and life itself in a general sense, to live harmoniously with these various parts of life is to water seeds of peace, freedom, and meaning within ourselves.

This is something I've found has come about as a natural byproduct of my practice combined with opening myself up to the natural world, two things which go together like peanut butter and jelly (and I really like peanut butter and jelly).

But don't make the mistake of thinking that this is restricted to what we call nature and nothing else. Try not to draw imaginary lines, or at least, notice where you have drawn them.

Nature, people, animals, thoughts, words, actions- everything is connected. To live harmoniously is to live in a way that you don't disturb the natural order of things. Much is included within that, but if you remember that basic tenet it's easy to keep from being led astray.

To keep this natural order is to keep the peace, both within your mind and in the world outside. This point runs pretty deep, but for now, I think it's important to leave it at that.


3. Stop searching for meaning outside yourself

“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”

- Alan Watts

There's a deep current that runs throughout this world, but most of us have become unconnected to it. That current is love, but unfortunately, most of us have floated off into a place of fear, lack, or as I often refer to it: the feeling that "something" is missing.

We search for meaning outside ourselves in many different ways:

  • We seek to feel "complete" through intimate relationships.
  • We seek to feel fulfilled through big accomplishments.
  • We seek to feel loved through sex.
  • And we seek to feel content through harmful, unhealthy, or generally neutral repetitive activities (this takes shape in many ways).

Whatever it is, it's all towards the same purpose of making ourselves feel "full", to fill that sense of voidness within us and, unknowingly, get back to the current of love. Unfortunately, most of us go about it the wrong way and end up hurting ourselves more than anything else.

To make this a reality, more is necessary than just mindfulness, although mindfulness can help us to cultivate positive qualities such as compassion and understanding, the foundations of love.

Stop searching for meaning outside of yourself. Stop thinking you need something outside of yourself, even "the one" (for the record, I believe an intimate relationship can be very nourishing and a beautiful addition to life. Something to look forward to for sure, but like so many other enjoyable things, in no way necessary for peace or happiness).

Along with your mindfulness practice, the resources below can help you to begin cultivating more understanding, compassion, and finally love in your life:

  1. Cultivating compassion and understanding: Healing Through Understanding: How a Simple Meditation Can Transform Your Mind and How You Relate to Others
  2. Culivating love: How to Practice Loving-Kindness Meditation
  3. Understanding the power of love: Love is the Way: The Universal Path to Peace, Happiness, and Enlightenment
  4. Seeing through the illusion of intimate love: 3 Ways Intimate Love Keeps Us from Peace and Happiness and How to Transcend Through Self-Love

When you begin to work on this, you'll find that this empty feeling you had was never really there. You were full along, you had just lost the current.


4. Shift from "me" to "us"

"Only keep the question, 'What is the best way of helping other people?'"

- Seung Sahn

This isn't an easy effort for anyone, but some cultures have an easier time with this than others. It just so happens, if you live in the West, this is particularly more difficult.

In the West, more so than in some parts of the East, the ego is a stamp of our individuality, without which we'd wither away and become like drones. But this is a misunderstanding more than anything else.

The shift from "me" to "us" coincides with the shift from fear (or lack) to love in the last point. It's an altogether opening up of our state of mind to a place where all things are precious and beautiful and equal.

It doesn't mean we lose ourselves or our sense of identity, it simply means we gain a clearer understanding. A clearer understanding of our interconnectedness and interbeing nature.

Our mindfulness practice helps us begin to make this shift, most particularly the practice of deep sitting meditation, as do certain exercises which the Buddha suggested in his many talks, among those the practice of loving-kindness meditation which I linked to in the last point.


5. See your interbeing nature

“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.”

- Thich Nhat Hanh

Moving on from the last point, realizing the interbeing nature of all things is about the same idea of "awakening from our illusion of separateness" as Thich Nhat Hanh refers to it in the quote above.

You can practice this simply and easily within your everyday life (it's one of my personal favorite exercises). Specifically, through Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh's practice of looking deeply. Here's how to practice it:

  1. Pick an object. This could be a flower, tree, a piece of food, or even a person (although that's a bit of an advanced form of the practice). Whatever it is, pick one object and focus on that.
  2. Work backwards. Take a flower for instance. Start with where you got it- the store, flower shop, outside in your garden, at the park or wherever. Then imagine, or find out if you don’t know, how it got to the flower shop, how it was transported, how it was maintained for freshness, how it was cared for and picked, and how it grew from a seed in the ground into a flower. Lastly, think about the soil and all the things that make up the soil that would eventually provide the seed the nutrients to grow into the flower as it sits in front of you now.
  3. Realize interbeing. Lastly, think of how if you were to take away even one of those elements: the grower, the garden, the soil, the seed, or the facility that packaged and delivered it, the flower would cease to exist.

This is a simple and easy meditation which you can do on just about anything, you just may have to stop to do a little searching to find out exactly where that thing comes from. But that can be an exciting and insightful exercise in itself (and something easily done nowadays with the internet).

After practicing this a few times on a few different objects, do this on yourself and see the many different conditions which you do and have depended on to exist as you are today and see that even we don't escape this great truth of impermanence.


6. Don't waste this life - Realize the impermanent nature of all things

“Great is the matter of birth and death. All is impermanent, quickly passing. Wake up! Wake up, each one! Don’t waste this life.”

- Dogen Zenji

The above quote from Zen master Dogen clearly exemplifies the importance of this point. Because of the impermanent nature of all things, we, as well as everything around us has a finite amount of time available to us in this life.

It's because of this that we shouldn't waste a single moment of it. To be mindful, fully present for this moment is to be fully alive and making the most of each moment available to us. This is the power of mindfulness. The power to truly live fully in each moment.

With mindfulness and the practice of looking deeply (see the last point), we can see into the impermanent nature of things and cultivate a sense of gratitude and appreciation for our lives and the little moments.

Smelling a flower, touching a tree, being with a loved one. In each of these moments, we can see clearly the impermanent nature of all things- both the moment and the things- and fully appreciate it for all its beauty. Get out there and live mindfully and more deeply and cultivate that sense of appreciation for yourself.


7. Decide what's important to you, simplify your life, and give yourself to those things

"Since there is never a time when worldly activities come to an end, limit your activities."

- Atisa

You can only give your time and attention to so many things. As I mentioned in the last point, we have a finite amount of time in this life and in each individual moment, so you need to:

  1. Decide what's important to you
  2. Simplify your life (cut down on the nonessentials)
  3. And give yourself to those important things

It's only in doing this that you'll be able to live a full life, one where you felt that you gave it your all and attained the peace you were searching for.

Simplicity may only be a container- the practice of mindful living, looking and seeing deeply, and cultivating love being the contents- but without the container, we'd have no effective capacity to create the right environment for peace and freedom to arise in the first place.

This can be something as simple as cutting down on your physical possessions, which have the ability to crowd our life and distract us. But more importantly, it includes things such as limiting your commitments and responsibilities, both of which crowd our mental activity.

For more information on how to make this a reality, see ZfEL podcast episode #5: How to Cleanse the Mind and Create an Environment Conducive to Greater Peace and Freedom.


8. Be fully of this moment

"Treat every moment as your last. It is not preparation for something else.”

- Shunryu Suzuki

Shunryu Suzuki has two of my favorite quotes pertaining to this point, the second is this:

"You should not have any remains after you do something. But this does not mean to forget all about it. In order not to leave any traces, when you do something, you should do it with your whole body and mind; you should be concentrated on what you do. You should do it completely, like a good bonfire.

You should not be a smoky fire. You should burn yourself completely. If you do not burn yourself completely, a trace of yourself will be left in what you do."

To be fully of this moment means to give your full being to this moment. It means you leave nothing on the table, reserve no part of yourself, hold nothing back and regret nothing. You act as one unstoppable force in that moment.

The way most of us live our lives, we're usually doing something now in preparation for something later. In each moment, we're more concentrated on the next moment than we are the present moment. Because of this, in a very real way we're never fully present to our lives and almost always living in our heads half asleep.

To live mindfully, deeply, fully engaged in this moment is to let go of the future and be fully of this moment- the present moment.

It doesn't necessarily mean you cease planning for the future, as some planning is necessary. How would a monk or nun get anything done at a monastery (and there's a lot to get done) if he or she never planned anything? So some degree of planning is necessary, but the focus should be on living fully in the present moment.

The most important things to pay attention to are fear of the future and aversion to the present. Fear of the future makes us either focus constantly on planning for the future and avoiding the present or mindlessly distracting ourselves and doing neither. Aversion to the present makes us hate being present and rather constantly planning to improve things or daydreaming in the future.

This can take time as future moments are always trying to pull us along. But with practice, we can begin to more clearly see when we're acting mindfully and when we're just eating our future plans.


9.  Know that the sacred is ordinary, the ordinary is sacred

"If you live the sacred and despise the ordinary, you are still bobbing in the ocean of delusion.”

- Linji Yixuan

I left this point for last because I feel that it's one of the most important points on this list.

So many search for meaning and purpose through a type of spiritual practice which is so far removed from their everyday lives that they begin to feel as though their daily lives are empty and devoid of any real meaning and that it's only through their separate practice in which they can be "filled up".

Unfortunately, this is just another form of confusion. To live in this way is to be utterly confused about what life, reality, and spirituality (all of the above) is and is about.

This is unfortunate because a true understanding leads to seeing clearly that everything in this world is precious and beautiful. This misunderstanding keeps you from experiencing the beauty that exists all around you at all times.

And in many cases, it keeps you from realizing the interbeing nature of all things, which despite a supposedly deep spiritual practice keeps us acting hostile and defensive towards the world around us. The opposite of what's necessary for peace to occur.

Also unfortunate is that while I can clearly convey the importance of realizing this point, I can't tell you anything that will help you realize it immediately. That's because it must be experienced first-hand, through a daily practice of mindfulness and deep looking.

You need to dedicate yourself to living deeply and mindfully in each and every moment. And even if you fail at this 95% of the time, that 5% where you're successful will radically transform your everyday experiences and cultivate a greater sense of peace, freedom, and meaning in your life for as long as you continue to practice.

So my best advice? Get out there and live mindfully. Look deeply into your everyday experiences. Into the flowers outside your window, into the food that you eat, and into the people you meet.

Make this a priority in your life and give your best effort. It may take time, but it will be enough.

For more information on making mindfulness a way of life, check out ZfEL podcast episode #6: How to Make Mindfulness a Way of Life: 7 Keys to Living a More Mindful Life.

And for a complete guide to both making mindfulness a way of life as well as looking deeply, my first full-length book Zen for Everyday Life is available for purchase here.

This Moment: How to Live Fully and Freely in the Present Moment

This post covered many of the central points of my latest book, This Moment, and I couldn't be more excited to bring it to you

Living simply, mindfully, naturally, and with great love. Those are the 4 core principles of the book and they together cover what I believe to be the most important efforts in life.

Whether it's peace, happiness, freedom, or meaning, these 4 principles, and the many sub-topics within them, encompass a complete moment-to-moment guide to living a deeply nourishing, easeful, and joy-filled life even amidst the most difficult everyday challenges.

To get more information and purchase a copy, click below:

The Buddha's Guide to Mindfulness Practice


Mindfulness, at its roots an originally Buddhist meditation technique, has exploded in popularity over the past decade. What was once exclusively a practice for Buddhists has now become a phenomenon in the West.

And while this is truly amazing, unfortunately, it’s been spread mostly disconnected from it’s original roots, so the accompanying wisdom that should guide the practice is unknown to many actively practicing it today.

This was necessary for it to spread to a larger audience, but unfortunate because without its supporting wisdom, while still beautiful and powerful, the practice is only a shadow of its true self.

There are so many beautiful and truly profound ways to expand your mindfulness practice. I’m talking about simple things we can all pay attention to at really every moment of our daily lives, so they have the potential to serve as sources of even greater insight into ourselves, which can bring about greater peace and happiness.

The following 4 points are what’s called the Buddha's "4 Foundations of Mindfulness”. Our modern-day knowledge of this originates from the Satipatthana sutta or "The Discourse on the Establishing of Mindfulness" (a sutta, or sutra, being a kind of Buddhist scripture).

The 4 Foundations of Mindfulness were said to have been laid down by the Buddha more than 2,500 years ago and serves as the quintessential guide to moment-to-moment mindfulness practice. These 4 establishments are the heart of most Buddhist meditation techniques.

Traditionally, the 4 Foundations of Mindfulness were each described as “mindfulness of [the thing] in [the thing]”, referring to the fact that we’re mindful of something while in the experience of the thing itself, but I’ve simplified the titles for ease of understanding.

Each of these points provides multiple unique opportunities for developing a deep and rich daily mindfulness practice which leads you towards greater peace, freedom, and happiness.

*A heads up:the 4 Establishments of Mindfulness are a deep and vast teaching. This post isn't intended to delve deeply into each point but rather give you a simple and straightforward explanation of each along with practical advice for practicing them in your day-to-day life.

1. Mindfulness of body, anatomy, and elements

Each of the 4 Foundations of Mindfulness flow in a very much step-by-step nature, and the Buddha’s “Mindfulness of the body in the body” is always the first stage.

Those of you familiar with mindfulness and Buddhist meditation techniques know the foundational practice is always mindfulness of breath. There’s also mindfulness of our steps in walking meditation, mindfulness of chewing in mindful eating, and so on.

Those are well-known examples of this first opportunity for mindfulness practice, which is really mindfulness of positions and movements, but it goes deeper than that.

More than just mindfulness of physical positions and movements, mindfulness of the body in the body is also mindfulness of our anatomy and the elements we're made up of.

Mindfulness of our anatomy includes mindfulness of the many intricacies of our body, including our internal organs and all the stuff we usually don’t like to talk about like saliva, skin, and urine.

It’s not a pretty topic, but the Buddha suggested we take the time to contemplate deeply on and be mindful of the body in its completeness to become more aware of its selfless, impermanent, and conditioned nature and begin the process of truly being able to let go.

Meditation: A simple meditation you can do for this is to go through each area of your body with mindfulness including your hair, skin, wrinkles even, heart, lungs, etc. and imagine yourself smiling at each area as you go.

The last area for practice is mindfulness of the “4 elements” in Indian spirituality: earth, fire, water, and air.

That might sound a bit cryptic, but there’s actually very concrete ways to practice here which are very nourishing:

  • Earth. This refers to mindfulness of the physical form of our body, which we largely already covered. Here, you could be mindful more so of the existence of your physical form standing or sitting rather than of a particular movement, though. Mindfulness of our internal organs or outer physical aspects of our body are examples of practice here.
  • Fire. This has to do with becoming mindful of heat in the body (or lack of). Being mindful of the general temperature of the body is a very simple practice which you can easily do anywhere.
  • Water. We’ve all heard the statistic: our bodies are made up of more than 57% water. That’s essentially what this element is about: mindfulness of body fluid. It might sound like an odd one, but there’s a number of occasions where this practice presents itself in a simple way.
  • Air. For each element, it’s important to be aware of how they play a part in making up the complete system that is our bodies, and that’s no different here. Air refers to the respiratory system and how air plays a direct part in our biology. This area is practiced simply through the foundational Buddhist meditation technique of mindful breathing.

Overall, it’s important to remember that we’re not mindful of these elements just because we can be. The purpose of being mindful of these elements is to notice the conditioned nature of the body.

That is, our body isn’t one single thing but made up of different elements which then give the appearance of one singular thing.

As usual with the Buddha’s teachings, he’s trying to get you to realize the selfless, conditioned, and impermanent nature of things so that you can let go and realize the "highest truth”. And this is one effective way to begin you on the path to doing just that.

2. Mindfulness of feelings

This is what the Buddha traditionally called “Mindfulness of feelings in feelings” and it’s perhaps easiest to understand as mindfulness of painful, pleasurable, and neutral feelings.

These painful, pleasurable, and neutral feelings are felt through the six sense organs of the eyes, ears, tongue, body, nose, and mind (in Buddhism the mind is considered the 6th sense).

This stage in mindfulness practice is very important because it directly deals with the "3 Unwholesome States of Mind" (or 3 poisons, as I talked about in 12 Pieces of Buddhist Wisdom That Will Transform Your Life) of greed, hatred, and delusion.

How does it involve them? Here's a simple breakdown:

  1. Pleasurable feelings lead to attachments such as greed and lust.
  2. Painful feelings lead to aversions such as hatred and fear.
  3. And neutral feelings lead to delusion because they often seem unimportant to us and are therefore ignored.

This is the biggest reason you refrain from acknowledging things in any way when practicing mindfulness.

To acknowledge in any way is to acknowledge something as painful, pleasurable, or neutral (in the case of our day-to-day lives, usually pleasurable or painful). And to do this is to potentially further confuse ourselves and perpetuate the chain of suffering we experience.

But don't misunderstand. It doesn't mean you can't experience joy while doing something, but it does mean that you need to be skillful to not attach yourself to any pleasurable feeling, otherwise that pleasure will then transform into suffering.

For a very concrete example, think of what it's like to fall in love.

What begins as pure joy without attachment quickly becomes something we feel we need, and when that person either leaves us or does something that doesn't align with the idea we have in our minds of who the person is we experience suffering.

But how do we actually deal with a situation like this? With mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the watchful eye which allows us to identify when we attach ourselves to pleasurable feelings, grow aversion to painful feelings, and which allows us to stop ignoring neutral feelings and truly begin observing everything with clarity to see reveal its true nature.

With mindfulness, it's possible to live in a way that you experience great peace and joy without attaching to or averting things. In fact, the greatest peace is experienced when we can be with a pleasurable feeling without attaching and openly accept painful feelings without growing aversion to them.

Of course, this is all easier said than done. But the effort is worth it. After all, isn't true peace and happiness for ourselves and our loved ones what life is all about?

3. Mindfulness of consciousness

Mindfulness of consciousness is traditionally called “Mindfulness of the mind in the mind”.

In Buddhism, it’s noted that there are 52 “mental formations”, mental formations being partly what we refer to as emotions and states of mind such as joy, fear, anger, frustration, excitement, and the like but it includes much more than just that.

It’s important to note that feelings are 1 of the 52 mental formations, but it’s separated and isolated as the second stage of mindfulness practice likely due to its unique practice method mentioned in the last point. This third stage of mindfulness practice includes all other 51 mental formations.

The mental formations have their own categories and a pretty vast teaching behind them, so they’re beyond the full scope of this article. But, for a list of all 52 mental formations (for use in day-to-day mindfulness practice) see here and a modified version by Thich Nhat Hanh here.

As I mentioned in the beginning of the post, going into detail on the 4 Establishments of Mindfulness could fill a book, so this post is simply intended to help you begin deepening your mindfulness practice in a few practical and "productive" ways, at which point you can delve further if you so choose.

A great place to start practicing mindfulness of consciousness is in noticing the coming and going of various emotions and states of mind such as joy, fear, anger, and even mindfulness itself.

By acknowledging "I am being mindful" when you're being mindful or "I am being mindless" when you catch yourself in a distracted or forgetful state of mind you're practicing mindfulness of consciousness.

4. Mindfulness of mental objects

This is traditionally called "Mindfulness of objects of mind in objects of mind". That might sound confusing, but objects of mind are really about our thoughts, ideas, and conceptions.

Here, it's important to understand what role perception plays in our life.

Think of your perception as a T.V. screen. There's something real and true being transmitted onto the screen, but it's not the image on the T.V. The image on the T.V. is an object of mind. It's simply an idea in our mind, or a thought, as opposed to the real thing.

Imagine a flower. When we perceive something like a flower it’s the image of that flower in our mind which is the object of mind.

That's not to say that the flower itself doesn't exist. It does, but we also create an image in our mind of that which we're experiencing.

That image, our perception (various thoughts, ideas, and concepts attached to that real thing), then has a way of "layering" itself over reality. And that almost always distorts- either positively or negatively, or both- our direct experience with the true flower.

That's the idea here. That is, to move beyond our perception to a place where we can see the true flower- beyond our distorting perception as well as identifying the actual thoughts, ideas, and concepts which distort our perception in the first place.

When we fall in love and become attached, we can clearly observe certain states such as greed, craving, or lust having arisen alongside that attachment. They're, in a way, the "quality" of our attachment. The way in which we're attaching.

In this example, it's the resulting effect of our attachment to this idea of the person. This is an example of the practice of mindfulness of the "5 Hindrances".

Noticing the 5 Hindrances, along with the 7 Factors of Awakening, are the core mindfulness practices within mindfulness of mental objects.

The 5 Hindrances are:

  1. Sensual desire (I feel this is better understood in English as lust)
  2. Ill will
  3. Dullness or drowsiness
  4. Restlessness and worry
  5. Doubt

The 5 Hindrances are things which can hold us back from realizing freedom and true happiness (to put it simply). These are things we want to do away with.

The 7 Factors of Awakening are:

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Investigation (of mental objects)
  3. Energy
  4. Joy
  5. Tranquility
  6. Concentration
  7. Equanimity

The 7 Factors of Awakening are the main qualities which the Buddha says should be cultivated to attain awakening and true happiness. The first factor, mindfulness, is supposed to begin a sort of chain effect where each factor leads to the cultivation of the next factor.

I don't want to say too much about this stage as it's a rather deep area of mindfulness practice which you may or may not be ready for, but it's important to keep it in mind because it completes the full scope of mindfulness practice.

For now, it's best to understand that the way to practice with mindfulness of mental objects is to acknowledge when they arise, investigate how they arose, how the 5 Hindrances can be removed and prevented, and for the 7 Factors of Awakening how they can be grown and cultivated.

If this last point sounded a little difficult to follow, don't worry. If you dedicate yourself to the first 3 stages of mindfulness practice you'll gradually cultivate your mindfulness to the point of being able to notice things in a more subtle way, at which point mindfulness of mental objects will be easier to practice.

The Buddha's mindfulness practice

These are the 4 major areas of mindfulness practice originally established by the Buddha more than 2,500 years ago.

When taken together, they include the totality of mindfulness practice and show how you can begin with something as simple as mindfulness of breath and expand to ever-deeper levels of oneself to cultivate greater peace, freedom, and happiness in everyday life.

Keep in mind that you don't ditch one point of mindfulness practice for another. There's a clear path from one establishment of mindfulness to the next, but each is practiced together, and often all at once. As you may have been able to tell, they have a good deal of overlap.

Take these 4 opportunities to be mindful in your everyday life and use them as a way to investigate yourself and discover important insights that can help you relieve suffering and realize true peace and happiness.

Further reading

For those looking to learn more, here are a few resources (the first being off-site):

  1. The Satipatthana sutta - Access to Insight
  2. How to Walk the Buddha's 8-Fold Path to True Peace and Happiness
  3. What is Mindfulness? A Guide to the Practice of Mindfulness