Nita Sweeney is a lot of things to a lot of people. On top of the important and varied hats she wears, including wife, writer, author, coach, mentor, mental health advocate, marathoner, devoted dog ma, (decaf) coffee addict, and one-time attorney, she is also a meditator.
As it happens, she met the love of her life before she realized her love of meditation. It is endearingly sweet how Ed Sweeney, her husband of 29 years, not only stole Nita’s heart but also introduced her to an ancient ritual that has become central to her life, both personally and professionally.
“There was this guy,” she recalls, a slight blush rising on her cheeks nearly three decades later, of her early days with Ed. One day, her then-boyfriend asked if she would like to “sit.” He was actually inviting her to meditate. Because she liked the guy, she went along with his request. He set the microwave timer for five minutes.
“Try not to fidget,” he instructed.
But Nita is a fidgeter, and simply could not sit still the entire five minutes.
While he may not have been impressed with her meditation skills at the time, Ed both married that writer and introduced her to an activity that served as a mental lifeline for decades to come.
Her newest book, Make Every Move a Meditation, is aimed at readers both new to meditation and those with experience in the exercise. “While I give specific, detailed instructions a beginner can follow, some of the techniques might also be unfamiliar to people who have practiced before,” says Nita. While most meditation techniques suggest sitting or walking while practicing, Nita focuses on movement meditation.
Although movement meditation is not new, it is not commonly taught, says Nita. “There is an assumption you must sit still in order to develop the calm and concentration necessary for effective meditation practice. I agree that a still body can create conditions to help the mind calm on its own, but stillness is not necessary.”
While she had been exposed to the concept of meditation prior to meeting Ed, Nita admits she viewed it as “bold” and “exotic.” However, as she continued to practice meditation alongside “that guy,” Nita eventually experienced the calm and concentration that can result from meditation.
Nita’s interest in mental health grew as she became more endeared to meditation and the soothing benefits she enjoyed from it. Penning Make Every Move a Meditation is a culmination of her years pursuing mental and physical health for herself coupled with her desire to share with others what she has learned along with way.
Writing about mental health “helps me process my life,” says Nita.
She says, “I enjoy writing about mental health and meditation based on my own experience because putting words on a page is a way to digest what happens to me. It helps me understand life on a deeper level.” She says writing a book combining her loves of meditation, exercise, and mental health has been a long-term goal, but it took years for the idea to percolate in her mind.
Nita is excited to embark on an abbreviated book tour that will take her to several locations in the coming months including Columbus and Cincinnati. She will participate in virtual events around the book, too. Check our calendar for further information.
Beyond promoting her book, blogging, running, meditating, and sharing adventures with Ed, Nita is also looking ahead. “I’m nagged by an unfinished novel about a unicorn barista who unknowingly joins a troop of homeless forest people trying to save some ancient trees. There are also memoirs about some family members. And, poetry beckons.”
“I want to write it all.”
(c)Tami Kamin Meyer, 2022, all rights reserved
National Novel Writing Month – You’ve Begun! How Do You Keep Going?
Fourteen-time NaNoWriMo winner Nita Sweeney offers motivation for your National Novel Writing Month adventure.
Congratulations! You’ve taken the huge step of signing up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and you’re in the throes of writing your novel. But what happens if (when?) the exuberant exhilaration wears off? How do you keep going?
Don’t panic! Whether it’s your first Nano or your fifteenth, time-tested methods will help you keep going once that initial excitement wanes.
For the uninitiated, National Novel Writing Month is an annual challenge in which writers all over the world attempt to write 50,000 words of fiction (1,667 words a day) during the 30 days of November. Other writers (like me) aka “rebels,” write in other genres, revise, or add to existing works.
Regardless of which challenge you have chosen, the following tips can help you keep up your momentum and cross that finish line strong.
Candy Bar Scenes
Coined by author and writing teacher Holly Lisle, the term “candy bar scene” refers to any scene you are eager to write. Writing such a scene is a reward. You get words down and you enjoy it.
If you feel stuck, take a few minutes to make a list of scenes you know must happen in the story. Bonus points if these scenes excite you and make you eager to write, i.e. candy bar scenes. Don’t worry if any of these scenes occur late in the book or even at what you believe to be the end of the story. Don’t worry about writing out of order. Especially if you use writing software like Scrivener or yWriter, but even with word, you can cut and paste or drag and drop scenes into the correct order later. Organization is what December is for!
Make the list. Then, whenever you feel blocked, grab one of those scenes and dive in. Often we’re only fighting inertia. Use one of these “delicious” scenes to entice you back into the work.
Community for NaNoWriMo Motivation
I’m writing this during the pandemic. For safety issues, NaNoWriMo cannot allow in-person events this year. In the before times (and hopefully in the very soon after times), write-ins allowed wrimos (people participating in NaNoWriMo) to gather and write side-by-side in small groups. The pandemic prevents that fun, but it can’t keep us from gathering online!
Be sure to join your local region. Municipal Liaisons (regional leaders) and other wrimos host activities on Discord and Zoom or other chat rooms and video conferencing platforms. Word wars and word sprints or just camaraderie to write together will help you meet your daily goal.
The NaNoWriMo forums may also help you get the work done. Stumped with your plot? Go to the borrow a plot thread. Trouble naming your character? Let someone else name her for you. Don’t know what the name of that thingie your villian uses to kill people? Head to the experts forum. Someone there surely knows.
A word of warning, however. Time you spend in any of these communities takes away from the time you have to write. Beware of time sucks and rabbit holes. Perhaps set a timer to limit how long you spend scrolling through the interesting forum threads. You have words to write!
I hope you’re already well stocked with writing “fuel” (books and snacks). Chocolate and meditation books are my favorites right now and I also need coffee and tea. But we also need to eat healthy foods. Remember to eat a vegetable once in awhile and some protein too.
Friends and family can help here. If they want to support your efforts, invite them to bring you snacks! Promise them you’ll help with the dishes . . . in December. Boundaries are your friends in November (and always).
Maintaining Your Writing “Machine”
In addition to eating a few vitamin-rich foods (or taking some vitamin tablets) during November, don’t miss out on other ways of keeping your writing “machine” in top shape. By “machine” I mean your body.
If you exercise regularly, do your best to keep that up. Exercise benefits mood and mind health and great character arc ideas might pop into your head when you’re out jogging with the pupperina.
If you don’t have a fitness routine, add a walk around the block or a stretching session between writing bursts. Who knows! The habit might stick beyond November.
Your emotions can use a strength session too. Five minutes of meditation or a ten-minute writing practice session can refresh you during the month. No need to complicate it. The simplest thing can have a great benefit.
Structure is Your Friend
Those write-ins I mentioned? That’s a structure. A ten-minute timer, another structure. Word sprints and word wars, yet another way to structure your time and get the words down.
Make It Your Own
Some people write best first thing in the morning. Others are night owls. Another group loves to sneak in a writing session on a lunch break. And you’ll find still another bunch writing in their cars in the parking lot while waiting for their kids to get out of school.
Find the time and the place and the mode that works best for you. Make no apologies. Part of the lure of NaNoWriMo is experimentation. It’s a safe space to figure out your best writing practices. Lean into those, and don’t let anyone dissuade you.
Share Your Tips
I’ve offered some of my best motivation tips. I’d love to hear yours. Comment here or buddy me on the website. I’m willwrite4chocolate. And check out my other NaNoWriMo blog posts. I’ll see you around the forums!
Author Interview: Sherry Richert Belul
I interview wellness authors to find out what makes them tick, and why they write the books they do.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Sherry Richert Belul, founder of Simply Celebrate and author of Say It Now, along with Brenda Knight, Associate Publisher of Mango Publishing Group, created the Heart Wisdom weekly author panels. Sherry and Brenda felt people needed “Heart Wisdom” to help us all get through. Sherry’s vibrant presence, smart questions, and playful personality makes these Wednesday panels glow. I knew you would want to meet her.
Nita Sweeney (NS): What inspired you to write Say It Now?
Sherry Richert Belul (SRB): All my life I’ve attended funerals where people tell loving stories, show photos, and express their appreciation to the person who has died. It is beautiful and moving. I love those tributes. However, inevitably, loved ones would always express regret that that hadn’t said those things to the person when they were still alive.
I would always nod and say, “We need to say it now.”
I decided to do something about this. I decided to make it easy for people to express love and appreciation NOW. I decided to offer people creative, fun, simple, and inexpensive ways to show their love. That’s why I wrote the book!
NS: What message do you hope readers take away?
SRB: The main message, of course, is: Say it Now!
Seriously, life is fleeting and we never know how much time we have here on this planet. We never know when someone we love might suddenly pass away. I don’t say this to be morbid, but rather to ignite the part of us that wants to be more expressive, but is waiting for a special occasion, waiting to have more free time, or waiting to feel inspired before we step out of our comfort zone and let someone know how much they mean to us.
Life is challenging and uncertain. Many people we love are struggling to find more joy. Our love and attention are essential … RIGHT NOW.
Dear reader, please stop worrying about buying the perfect gift or finding tangible items to celebrate someone you love. What people want most in the world is to be seen and loved for exactly who they are. People want to know that they matter and that they’ve made a difference. The world stresses the importance of accolades, awards, and promotions. The world stresses material gifts. Those joys are fleeting. The best way you can celebrate someone is to show them how much of an impact they’ve had on you. You can let them know why you are so darned glad they are alive and in your life.
NS: Tell us about your company.
SRB: My company is called Simply Celebrate. My work is all about helping people find creative, intentional, and impactful ways to celebrate life and to express love for family and friends.
All too often, we’re taught to focus on goals we want to attain or tangible successes.
But most people at the end of life realize that what really matters is the relationships we’ve had and the moments of our lives when we’ve been present to the simple joys of life.
In the end, we hold dearly in our memories the family dinners when we laughed together over small stories of the day. We recall sitting in a café with a close friend, sharing books we love. We savor the memory of grandma’s apple strudel, mom’s beehive hairdo, the camping road trips in the rain, the scrawled-in-crayon love note from our child, kind words whispered to us on the phone.
We can get lulled into thinking that it is the “big events” that matter most — weddings, graduations, milestone birthdays. Sure, those are great to celebrate. But most of our life is about our day-to-day experiences and connections.
So why not cherish those moments now?
Our life moments are gifts. We can choose to be present to them and to celebrate them as they are happening. We can also choose to create magical moments as gifts to others. Celebration is not about some result we’ve earned or a state we’ve reached or a special occasion. Celebration is a practice. It is a way of life. Celebration is here, waiting for you, right now.
Don’t wait. Celebrate now. Say it now.
NS: What led you to this path?
SRB: Often when people hear the name of my company, Simply Celebrate, they think it’s all about confetti and balloons. They think I’m the sort of happy-go-lucky person who jumps out of bed in the morning, a grin on my face and a sparkle in my step.
Nope. Not true.
My work grew out of darkness, depression, and anxiety.
What led me to this path is that self-hate and extreme anxiety nearly killed me when I was a young woman. I was so tormented by thoughts in my head constantly telling me that I wasn’t living up to my potential, I wasn’t living the right life, I wasn’t doing or saying the right things, I wasn’t the right person. Basically, all my thoughts were always about what was wrong or missing in my life — and in me.
All I could think about was a way to get myself off this planet and out of all that pain. It felt like an iron wall was closing in on me.
By grace, I was led to a meditation class. During that class, I remember taking one deep breath in, and for a split second, I had a sense of okay-ness. I remember thinking, “I don’t want to kill myself.” That moment of relief was like a tiny pinprick of light in that heavy iron wall around me. (If you’ve ever been in the dark, you know that a tiny light makes all the difference.)
That moment made me realize that depression and anxiety are not solid. That my life is not one big thing. That it is comprised of tiny moments. And that I could see each moment as separate from the others.
I started practicing finding well-being in tiny moments.
Holding my cats and feeling them purr. Tasting the blueberry jam on my toast. Wrapping myself in the quilt Grandma made. Feeling the sun on my face. Hearing a bird chirp. Watching a butterfly flit by. Smelling the taste of lime.
Each of those moments I would think, “I’m okay. I don’t want to kill myself. Everything is okay right now.” After many months of practicing that, those moments became, “This is nice. I feel good. This is joy.”
After enough time passed, I realized that I didn’t have to wait for those moments of well-being or joy to land on me, I could create them. I started intentionally bringing more love and light into my life.
I scheduled artist dates for myself where I got dressed up, went to the art museum, and treated myself to a chocolate popsicle fashioned after a sculpture on the rooftop garden. I bought myself bubble bath and candles and read great fiction while soaking in the tub. I took myself to the beach and created uplifting audio recordings for my future self to listen to. I went on walks and promised myself I’d find at least ten beautiful things.
Time passed. I kept practicing. My whole life changed.
From there, the best part of all happened: I got to a place in my life in which I could look up, look around, and see that there are a lot of people in the world who are in the dark and in need of a pinprick of light. People are grieving deaths, divorces, illness, and loss of all kinds. People are scared. People are anxious or worried.
I realized that I could offer pinpricks of light to people to help them in their own moments of darkness.
I sent surprise notes to friends, and tucked in funny photos to make them smile. I started writing love letters to strangers who were grieving or ill. I made dozens of lists of reasons why I love people and gave them to those people. I intentionally smiled at people I passed on the street. I hid money with kind notes for people to find in public parks or restrooms. I became a better listener and used my whole body and heart to be present with people during their hardest times.
That’s where my true work began. And today, I still need to practice finding pinpricks of light for myself.
Fortunately, often the best place to find that light is when I intentionally give it away.
NS: Writing (and life) can be stressful. How do you take care of yourself?
SRB: One of the best things I do for myself is to take myself on silent retreats. Back before the pandemic, I would go quarterly to a little cabin with no phone service or internet. I have to be more creative now, but I still prioritize finding ways to get off the grid, get off social media, get out of other people’s conversations and get quiet and still.
On a daily basis I give myself that stillness through formal meditation and also audio guided meditations.
I also make sure to start my day with quiet and with movement. I don’t look at emails, news, or social media for the first couple hours of the day. Instead, I dance, do yoga, write, meditate, read inspirational books, and practice gratitude.
For me, the best self-care is when I connect deeply to myself and listen as if I were my own best friend.
NS: Do you have a motto or slogan you find helpful? If so, how did you arrive at that?
SRB: “Never underestimate the power of a single pinpoint of light in the darkness.”
When I live by that motto, which was born out of necessity when I was deeply depressed, I can see that it is possible to drop fear, disappointment, and distress and take just a single moment to feel or offer love. Just one tiny moment of turning my attention to love and light sets me off in a new direction, if only for that moment!
Every moment is a chance to feel successful. Every moment is a chance to notice the color orange or see the hummingbird or hear the breeze through the trees. Every moment is a new chance to reach out to someone I’ve neglected or to start writing the next book.
I do not have to carry any stories from the past or future into this moment. When it stands on its own, it feels fresh. I feel new. Life feels possible.
Rinse and repeat!
NS: What’s the worst wellness (mental health, self-care) advice you’ve ever heard?
SRB: “Turn that frown upside down” can be the worst possible advice, depending on the circumstance. Sure, there are times when we may be suffering over made-up stories in our heads or because we are re-telling stories that don’t support us, however, there are plenty of times in life when what is called for is to let ourselves feel the grief, sadness, disappointment, or fear.
When well-meaning people try to “cheer us up” it can often be because they feel inadequate to sit with us in the pain. It has to do with them, not us.
We are human beings who feel a whole range of emotions. Cutting ourselves off from our feelings is not the path to happiness. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I’ve practiced finding joy within the hard times, within the sorrow. I call it “celebrating in the dark.”
Instead of trying to smile when I feel bad, I ask myself, “Honey, what do you need?” I try to be my own best friend. I might draw a hot bath, put in some eucalyptus oils, and set out a cozy robe. Or, I might call a good friend with whom I can be authentic and vulnerable. There is a quiet joy in being loved this way.
Being human is a complex and multi-layered experience. Each of us is the only person who knows in any given moment whether it serves us best to dive into the pain we feel or to try to move into another state of being. There is no one-size-fits-all for how to be in life! Letting yourself frown may be what moves you into an authentic smile after time. Or “faking it til you make it” might be the trick. Life happens in moments, remember! We can pay attention and act from there.
NS: What is one thing about coping you wish you’d learned earlier?
SRB: I wish I’d learned to ask for help earlier. I never want to be the person to bring other people down. I didn’t want to be the dark rain cloud overhead. But as I’ve grown older, I understand more and more what a gift it is when people ask for help and we get to show up for them. It feels good to be strong for someone else. When I ask for help, I give someone else the gift of strength. I never saw that aspect of coping before.
NS: Has your life turned out differently than you expected? If so, how?
SRB: Funny thing is, the content of my life looks very much like what I would have wanted it to look like if you’d asked me 40 years ago. I longed to be someone who wore hats and whimsical clothing, to live a creative life, filled with quirky events, art, music, bubbles, and dance.
I wanted to live in a city and feel like “That Girl” when she twirled in the street and threw her hat in the air.
(Sorry, you have to be over 50 to get that reference!)
Astonishingly, I somehow landed right where I longed to be.
However, the process of getting here was completely different than I’d imagined. I never would have guessed that depression and anxiety would be my life’s guides.
I thought I would effort my way to being who I wanted to be in the world. Instead, it took complete surrender.
I thought I’d write down my goals and feel happy when I checked things off the list and got to the end. Instead, I found the happiness in the tiny moments along the way. The process of becoming who I dreamed of was where the real riches live.
NS: Is there anything you would change about your journey?
SRB: Not a thing. I’ve practiced Zen for long enough to truly understand from an experiential place that everything in my life has supported and served me in getting to this moment. Every “failure,” every “humiliation,” every “misstep,” every “wrong turn,” every “waste of time,” helped me to know myself better and to recalibrate so that I could turn my face toward the light.
NS: What are you currently reading for inspiration?
SRB: I’m re-reading Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown for the third time. I am constantly honing in more deeply on the impact I want to have during my short time on this planet. This book is the perfect guide for that process.
On my morning and evening walks, I also listen to inspirational books. I just started Twla Tharp’s audio book, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. I’m ready for the next stage of my creative life to emerge and I suspect this book will help!
NS: Is there a wellness or inspirational book you couldn’t finish? Why?
SRB: One of the most popular books for pregnant women is called, What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I hated this beloved-by-so-many book. I read part of it and then donated it to Goodwill!
To me, this book seemed to be selling people on the idea that certain things might —or are likely to —happen to us on our journey. (And most of them were painful, scary or bad, if I recall correctly!)
I remember thinking, “I want to have my own experience of pregnancy. I don’t want to have it in my head that at a certain stage my ankles are likely to swell. Then, I’ll be examining my ankles, thinking, “Ouch, yes, I think they are swelling, just when they’re supposed to according to my book of how my life is going to unfold.” (My ankles never got swollen when I was pregnant!)
I know that book is super popular, but it seems dangerous to me for any of us to offer a blueprint of any kind to another human being. Once someone has it in their head that something is likely to go a certain way, it is really hard for that person to have their own experience.
NS: What wellness book could you not put down?
SRB: Oh, goodness! Hundreds of them! My shelves are well stocked with wellness books that have been lifesavers at just the perfect time.
Two books started me on my personal growth journey, so I will give an appreciative nod to them. The first is The Tao of Pooh. This book was recommended to me by a stranger late one night when I was in college and feeling completely lost in my life. I was straddling trying to be like everyone else (unsuccessfully!) and trying to find the “real” me.
Reading The Tao of Pooh started me on my now lifetime commitment to Eastern thought and meditation.
The second book was one that I was given during that suicidal period I talked about previously. This is the book that literally led me to that meditation class in which I had the “pinprick of light in the iron wall” moment. It is a book by Cheri Huber called That Which You are Seeking is Causing You to Seek. Cheri is a bit of a renegade Zen teacher and she has a wonderful sense of humor. She focuses on helping people get it that there is truly nothing wrong with them.
(Can I repeat that? THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU!)
That book, her meditation class, and her guidance over the past 30 years have literally transformed my life.
NS: What’s next for you writing wise?
SRB: I’m starting work this week on a newfangled gratitude journal. This is a gratitude journal like no other! I’ve developed more than a dozen practices that go way beyond the “write three things you’re grateful for each day” philosophy. I think the planet needs some fresh, creative ideas for bringing more appreciation and practical gratitude into people’s daily lives. This isn’t just listing things we’re grateful for, it is about putting gratitude into action. You’ll see!
NS: Do you have any other tips for how to cope with depression or sadness or a sense of failure/regret?
SRB: Nita, thank you for asking that! I do!
At one of my low, low points in life, when I was feeling like a failure as a writer (pile of rejection slips on my desk!), a failure in my marriage (splitting up with hubby when our son was only two years old), a failure as a friend (I felt like that dark rain cloud I mentioned up above), and just an overall a big loser … I took myself to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and just sat and sobbed and sobbed.
However, I LOVE all of the smell of boardwalks — the cotton candy and apple fritters and pretzels and popcorn! And I LOVE all the colors of the boardwalk and the sounds of the boardwalk. I LOVE Laughing Sal with her hearty guffaws and fancy apron.
At one point I stopped crying, looked around, and said to myself, “You know what? You don’t have to be a successful anything.
You could get a job here at the Boardwalk at the Apple Fritter stand and ride a rusted, orange, fat-tired bike to work. Shery, you could wear flowers and plaids and not care that they don’t match. Or, you could wear whimsical hats and spend your days trying to make people laugh. You could hear people’s stories all day long and listen intently. And at night, you’d go home to piles of great books and two purring cats.
That day my alter ego was born: The Apple Fritter Lady.
And whenever the voices in my head start to clamor and clatter about how not this and how not that I am — i.e what a loser I am — I remember that I could just quit everything and move to the Boardwalk to become the Apple Fritter Lady.
Here’s the real secret: I don’t really have to quit everything and I don’t really have to move. I just have to change my perspective and align with the spirit and values of the Apple Fritter Lady. Then, I feel better! My definition of “success” gets recalibrated to who I really am and what I really want.
So my tip is, find yourself an alter ego! (I’m serious. Really. Make that happen for yourself!)
NS: Mermaids or Goddesses? (Superheroes or Gods?)
SRB: Neither! Hummingbirds please.
NS: Toast or bagels?
SRB: Both! Yum! Jam, too, please.
NS: Ocean, mountains, or forest?
SRB: Oceans enchant and entrance me. Oh, yes, please, let me walk on the sandy beach beside one or on the cliffs that tower above the waves.
NS: Leggings or jeans? (Jeans or slacks or sweatpants?)
SRB: Dresses every day! Or maybe some funky, wide-legged capris.
NS: Dogs, cats, fish, guinea pigs, or horses?
SRB: I love the mystery and independence of cats. Though I have had several very dog-like cats who love to be petted and tummy-rubbed.
About Sherry Richert Belul
Sherry Richert Belul, founder of Simply Celebrate, helps people find creative, intentional and impactful ways to celebrate life and to express love for family and friends. As a certified high performance coach, Sherry supports people in living their best lives, full of joy, success, engagement, and meaningful relationships. She is the author of Say it Now: 33 Creative Ways to Say I Love You to the Most Important People in Your Life. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Town + Country, and The Wall Street Journal.
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No Time to Meditate? Try a “Microhit” of Mindfulness
Research shows the power of mindfulness meditation. But many people believe they don’t have time to meditate. Could brief periods of mindfulness be an effective solution?
How much mindfulness meditation is “enough?”
As part of the 200-hour meditation leader training I recently completed with Sage Institute for Creativity and Consciousness, I researched brief periods of mindfulness to find an answer.
This question has long intrigued me.
At the very first meditation retreat I attended, several decades ago, the teacher directed us to sense our thoughts and body sensations. We slowed our movements and maintained silence to focus on how thoughts and body sensations arose and passed away. She also invited us to practice equanimity. We attempted to allow whatever came into awareness to ebb and flow without pushing or pulling on the experience.
That weekend taught concrete, workable tools to help keep my head where my feet were. I was learning to “stay in the moment.” My husband, Ed, and I continued a near-daily meditation practice, but I found myself dropping into states of awareness during the day.
I wondered if these tiny “doses” of mindfulness might be helpful.
A few years later, after hearing others lament their inability to meditate (I don’t have time. I can’t concentrate. It’s boring. My mind won’t still.) I began to write a mindfulness meditation book. Every page of this not-yet-published book ends with a “Daily Practice,” a small “dose” of mindfulness.
“Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.”-Bruce Lee
I once worked work with a man who never wore an overcoat, even if it was ten below with a stiff wind. One day as we struggled to cross an icy parking lot against a strong breeze, I asked if he wasn’t cold. “A little,” he replied. “But if you don’t brace yourself against the cold, you don’t feel it.” He said he relaxed into the cold instead. “Don’t make yourself rigid against it.”
I tried it and found he was right. I still wear a coat on cold days, but when I remember to relax and not grit my teeth or stiffen my body, the weather isn’t as challenging.
The next time you’re in inclement weather or a room that feels too hot or too cold, notice any tension in your body. Where do you sense it? Let your shoulders drop. Soften your jaw. What do you feel? How far can you sink into these sensations? Instead of bracing yourself, can you feel the sensations? What happens?
Each “Daily Practice” is a tiny exercise. It takes only a few minutes, sometimes on the cushion, but more often, not.
Meditation teacher Shinzen Young specifically addresses this type of short-interval meditation practice. He calls it “Micro Practice” and refers to these bursts as “microhits.”
His instructions state:
Micro Practice: Attention: All attention on technique. Duration: Under 10 minutes, i.e., you give yourself “microhits” during the day; 30 seconds here, 3 minutes there (emphasis must be quality over quantity; if need be, use spoken labels to assure this).
“An Outline of Practice” by Shinzen Young, May 2014, updated August 2016.
Why might microhits be beneficial?
Tiny doses of meditation can serve as an entry point for beginning meditators. People put off or intimidated by Buddhist lingo and retreat settings can practice these on their own. Microhits might also introduce experienced meditators who have grown bored with their practice to something new. And, a different approach might bring back meditators who have fallen away from consistent practice.
Most importantly, the effectiveness of microhits removes the “I don’t have time” barrier.
During the Sage Institute training, I reread Altered Traits by Daniel Goleman & Richard J. Davidson. I came away concerned Goleman and Davidson wouldn’t think much of the “Daily Practices” in the book I was writing or of Shinzen’s “Micro Practice.”
Specifically, on pages 270 to 271 of Altered Traits, the authors list elements crucial to “altering traits” which they felt was the real purpose of meditation. The authors opine, based on their analysis of the research, that people who meditate “on a path to renewal—a kind of inner vacation—rather than a lifelong calling” will not achieve the “altered traits” that are the subject of their book. I worried that brief mindfulness practices might be ineffective, even discredited by scientific study.
I turned to “Google Scholar” to test my theory.
My search for “brief mindfulness” revealed 9,200 abstract entries. Limiting the search to dates between 2019 and 2021, narrowed the results to 3,560. Adding the words “5-minutes” to the search, brought the number down to 199 abstracts.
It turns out I’m not the only one interested in this topic!
I did not review each of the 9,200 abstracts. Within half an hour of reading the more recent results, I found enough support for my theory that brief sessions of mindfulness, even five minutes, can improve one’s life.
Many of the abstracts began in a similar way:
Although research has found that long-term mindfulness meditation practice promotes executive functioning and the ability to sustain attention, the effects of brief mindfulness meditation training have not been fully explored.
“Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: evidence of brief mental training,” Fadel, et al. Conscious Cognition, 2010, Jun;19(2): 597-605.
That abstract from 2010 opened the floodgates of research on this topic.
What did researchers measure?
Researchers used both “soft” and “hard” measurements. Among the “soft” measurements, they observed positive changes in empathy and compassion. They looked at stress levels, pain tolerance and relief. They documented accomplishment perception, self-awareness, time urgency, and emotional exhaustion. And they measured anxiety, attention, mood, memory, listening skills, emotional regulation and processing, mental state, and well-being.
In the “hard” measurement category, they looked for positive changes in brain hub, gray matter volume, brain plasticity, salivary oxytocin, electrophysiological markers, cortisol and a-amylase levels, prefrontal and hippocampal functioning, blood pressure, pulse, galvanic skin response, and skin surface temperature.
Who did they study?
The groups studied included palliative care patients and their family members, college level psychology students, high school students, veterinary medical students preparing to do surgery on live animals, hospital patients, teachers, nurses and patient care technicians in an emergency department, pediatric ICU nurses, otolaryngology residents, and members of the general population.
What techniques did they study?
The most reputable studies contained a control group. Some control groups were given no instruction at all. Others were offered affirmations, hypnosis, guided imagery, listening to a podcast, listening to an audiobook, psychological explanation, emotional regulation education, and active listening exercises.
What counts as a “brief” period of mindfulness?
In some studies, the “5-minutes” of mindfulness was offered one time while in other studies it was repeated daily for several weeks. Researchers found merit in any session of mindfulness meditation regardless of how often (or little) it was repeated. This was true even if the meditation practice instruction was delivered by a computer.
For citations to these abstracts, go here.
Goleman and Davidson might be right that these microhits alone won’t bring about the “altered traits” of which they speak. Ideally, we incorporate these short practices into a more comprehensive approach to meditation.
But a cursory review of “brief mindfulness” abstracts from scientific research, shows that as little as five minutes of mindfulness can have a positive impact.