"Mindfulness in 2 Minutes" by Chade-Meng Tan
17 March 2010
Most evenings, before we sleep, my young daughter and I sit in Mindfulness together for two minutes. I like to joke that two minutes is optimal for us because that is the attention span of a child and an engineer. For two minutes a day, we quietly enjoy being alive and being together. More fundamentally, for two minutes a day, we enjoy being. Just being. To "just be" is simultaneously the most ordinary and the most precious experience in life.
As usual, I let my experience with a child inform how I teach adults. This daily two-minutes experience is the basis of how I introduce the practice of Mindfulness in an introductory class for adults.
In learning and teaching Mindfulness, the good news is that Mindfulness is embarrassingly easy. It is easy because we all already know what it is like and it is something we all already experience from time to time. My friend and personal hero, Jon Kabat-Zinn, skilfully defined Mindfulness as, "Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally". Thich Nhat Hanh, perhaps the greatest Zen Master of our time, refers to Mindfulness poetically as, "keeping one's consciousness alive to the present reality". Simply put, I think Mindfulness is the mind of "just being". All you really need to do is to pay attention moment-to-moment without judging. It's that simple.
The hard part in Mindfulness practice is deepening, strengthening and sustaining it, especially in times of difficulty. To have a quality of Mindfulness so strong that every moment in life, even in trying times, is infused with a deep calmness and a vivid presence, is very hard and takes a lot of practice. But Mindfulness per se is easy. It is easy to understand and easy to arise in oneself. That ease is what I capitalize on as an instructor.
In some of my classes, after explaining some of the theory and brain science behind Mindfulness, I offer two ways to experience a taste of Mindfulness, the "Easy Way", and the "Easier Way".
The creatively-named "Easy Way" is to simply bring gentle and consistent attention to one's breath for two minutes. That's it. Start by becoming aware that you are breathing, and then paying attention to the process of breathing. Everytime your attention wanders away, just bring it back very gently.
The "Easier Way" is, as its name may subtly suggest, even easier. All you have to do is to sit without agenda for two minutes. Life really cannot get much simpler than that. The idea here is to shift from "doing" to "being", whatever that means to you, for just two minutes. Just be.
To make it even easier, you're free to switch between the Easy Way and the Easier Way anytime during these two minutes. Anytime you feel like you want to bring awareness to breathing, just switch to Easy. And anytime you then decide you rather just sit without agenda, just switch to Easier. No questions asked.
This simple exercise is Mindfulness practice. Practiced often enough, and it deepens the inherent calmness and clarity in the mind. It opens up the possibility of fully appreciating each moment in one's life, every one of which is precious. It is for many people, including myself, a life-changing practice. Imagine, something as simple as learning to "just be", can change your life.
Best of all, it is something even a child knows how to do. Oh, and an engineer too.
Originally published on The Huffington Post.
Chade-Meng Tan is Google's Jolly Good Fellow. He was one of Google's earliest engineers. After a successful 8-year stint in Engineering, he now serves with GoogleEDU (formerly Google University) as the Head of Personal Growth. Outside of Google, Meng is a Founding Patron of Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE). Meng's personal blog is http://www.mengstupiditis.com/.