This meditation exercise I think of as a game was recommended to me when I first began my meditation practice years ago when I had been avoiding meditating because of the terrifying prospect of just being with my mind. Like many I was immersed in the busyness of everyday life working a full-time stressful job, experiencing a lot of anxiety and depression, only having been clean and sober for a few years. I had an unhealthy relationship with technology, mass media and food that led me to be easily distracted, stressed out, overwhelmed and prevent me from easily falling asleep. But I hit a point where I knew I wanted to try meditating and that it would benefit me, but anytime I had tried before it was too much, my mind was too full of thoughts.
This meditation is great for individuals with a busy mind because it gives it something to do!
Here are the instructions for The Mindfulness Game meditation:
To begin, sit in a chair or on a sofa in a comfortable position with your back straight. Stick out your chin a few times like a chicken to adjust your head posture. You can close your eyes, or if it leads you to feel too sleepy, open them but keep them softly rested on a place in front of you that’s not distracting.
Breathe in and out through your nose a few times normally. There’s no need to do deep, long breaths, but also don’t breathe too fast. Just breathe normally. On the in breath, count 1. On the out breath, count 1. On the in breath, count 2. On the out breath, count 2. On in the in breath, count 3. On the out breath, count 3. On the in breath, count 4. On the out breath count 4. On in the breath count 5. On the out breath count 5.
Once you have completed that cycle, do it once again. But this time, instead of going back to 1 after counting up to 5, on the in breath count 6 and on the out breath count 6. Then go back to 1. Then do the cycle again but up to 7 and then go back to one. Do the cycle again, but go back up to 8. Then do it again up to 9 and again up to 10.
The challenge to this meditation is that if you lose track of where you are in your counting because you got distracted by your thinking, you must start the process all over again, counting up to 5 and then going back to 1. This meditation not only allows your mind to do something while you are meditating, but allows you to notice when you have been distracted by thinking in your mind.
You know you are ready to move on and try other forms of meditation, like those where you just sit with your thoughts, when you are able to do three of these cycles counting to 10 without losing your place. But even after you have developed other forms of meditation, this one is still very useful and one I use when my mind is really busy or I’m too likely to get sleepy when I try other practices.
This practice drives home the point that the goal of meditation is to notice and observe your mind and the thoughts that run through it,, not to try and stop it. It is the nature of your mind to think. To try to force it to stop thinking is akin to trying to make the rain falling from the sky not be wet. Short of possessing sophisticated weather modification technology or magical powers, you cannot keep the rain from falling, turning it into dust or keeping it frozen in the clouds. if you do possess the latter, you probably already have developed a much more sophisticated meditation practice or you are Storm from the X-Men in which case Professor X is already your mindfulness teacher and I probably need to start running because something major is about to go down.
The key to this game is though to also notice how frustrated you can get with yourself when you lose track of your breath. This helps you to notice how perfectionist our untamed minds can be, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but not helpful in us finding inner peace or stress relief. So try to practice patience with yourself, see it as a challenge, and like any game, try to have fun with it!