COVID-19 Guidance
In response to COVID-19, all courses are now online and employees are working remotely.

How to Be Mindful

Learn the four fundamental principles of mindfulness practice and how meditation plays a role. Try a 10-minute guided audio meditation with Nancy Waring, director of our Mindfulness Studies master's degree and certificate programs.

Nancy Waring, professor and founding director of Lesley’s Mindfulness Studies graduate programs, explains how this 2600-year-old practice can help toward the creation of greater harmony.

“Mindfulness is a form of intelligence that promotes well-being. It’s a way of being that can optimize happiness and reduce suffering in our lives. It is basically a prescription that was set forth by Siddhartha Gautama, now known as Buddha. The Buddha is often referred to as a physician, and his teachings are often referred to as medicine,” she explains.

Among the fundamental principles of mindfulness are being present to each moment, practicing compassion for ourselves and others, recognizing our interdependence, and gratitude. Meditating helps us develop these ways of being through forms of practice that all have to do with present moment awareness.


1. Being in the Present Moment

We, humans, tend to dwell in the past or tell ourselves stories about the future. These habits of mind often lead to unhappiness and anxiety. Our dissatisfaction also arises from trying to resist naturally occurring change.

Mindfulness practice addresses this dissatisfaction. "We train our minds to be increasingly aware of the present moment, just as it is unfolding, without trying to make it different and without judging whatever is happening,” Nancy says.

Through meditation practice, we learn to notice our thoughts, emotions, and what’s happening in our bodies. It’s not about pushing away unpleasant thoughts or emotions. It's about acknowledging them without dwelling on them or telling ourselves stories about them.


2. Practicing Compassion for Yourself and Others

Developing self-compassion is a necessary step toward developing compassion for other people. If we acknowledge that our self-judging thoughts are not productive, they’ll soften over time, Nancy explains. "So will our judgmental thoughts about others," she says.

The more we practice kindness toward others and ourselves, the more compassion will arise in us naturally. “We remember that everyone wants to be happy and everyone experiences suffering just like we do,” says Nancy, who has noticed her own attitudes shift over time. “I no longer get upset when I’m driving and someone cuts me off. I think, ‘Well, maybe that person is angry—which is a form of suffering—or has somewhere urgent to go.’”

mindfulness yoga stretch
Try a 10-minute guided audio meditation.

In mindfulness practice, we train our minds through meditation. Use this guided meditation to practice concentrating on the present moment. Listen to the meditation, or access the written transcript of the meditation at the bottom of this page.

3. Recognizing Our Interdependence

Mindfulness is all about relationships. So, according to the teachings, whatever we say and do is best said or done in the spirit of building connections, and not causing disconnections.

This includes being skillful in the face of differences of opinion. It’s all about listening and trying on another person’s perspective. "We need to regulate ourselves so we can hear and respond, rather than react," says Nancy. "What if I said to myself, ‘When my relative says something provocative, I won’t react with a zinger or fall into my usual habit of getting angry or feeling injured?'"

But this doesn’t mean we need to be doormats. “If we disagree and feel we must take a stance, we should own it as our own truth, rather than being oppositional toward the other person,” she says.


4. Gratitude

Mindfulness is about regularly acknowledging the good in our lives, and showing appreciation toward others who have helped us. But sometimes we forget to do this, even on Thanksgiving, a holiday built on the idea of gratitude.

In some families, it’s a tradition to have each person at the table say something that they are grateful for. This dose of medicine may be just what we all need.


Transcript of the Guided Meditation

  • Read the Transcript

    Mindfulness Meditation with Nancy Waring

    [sound of long bell ding]

    Welcome to this 10-minute guided sitting meditation. I’d like to ask for your attention please and suggest that each of you settle into a comfortable sitting position in a chair or supported on a cushion on the floor as you like, or if your body requires it lying down is also fine. So, settling into the body noticing the touch points where the body is in touch with itself, with the chair, with the cushion.

    If you’re sitting in a chair noticing the sensations with the feet on the floor, noticing where the hands are in relation to one another, and bringing relaxation to the face. Notice the jaw, the place where we often tend to hold a fair amount of tension. See if it’s possible to allow the jaw to be loose and comfortable. Notice the lips in contact with one another, if they are, and seeing if it’s possible to allow the tongue to rest gently, probably behind the teeth, that’s a comfortable position for the tongue.

    And noticing the region of the eyes, if you’re comfortable with the eyelids closed, noticing the lids resting gently on the eyes and seeing if it’s possible to let go of any squeezing or tightness around the eyes and also in the forehead. We have hundreds of tiny little muscles in our face and it’s possible to relax them such that the entirety of the face my drop ever so incrementally.

    So, have I established a sense of the body sitting, or lying down? Seeing if it’s possible to direct your attention to the region of the abdomen. And in so doing you can notice that the abdomen rises naturally on the in-breath and drops back down toward the spine on the out-breath. Is it possible to be with the sensation of each in-breath and each out-breath exactly as it’s occurring from moment to moment without trying to make anything happen…breath may be short, or long, or smooth, or choppy, variable. Not a problem, our task is simply to use our magnificent ability to direct our attention where we want it to go, and thereby bring about a sense of calm and centeredness, relaxation.

    Inevitably the attention will wander off the breath, see if it’s possible to simply notice where the attention has gone and bring it back to the breath. [sound of bird squawk] You may notice a sound, see if it’s possible to simply notice the sound without making a story out of it. Just pure sound, [sound of beeping of a truck backing up in background] pure non-conceptual sound. Physical sensations may arise in the body, say hello to them and return to the breath time and again.

    If you’re new to meditation you may find that placing the palm of your hand on the abdomen makes the breath more vivid, so feel free to do that. Again, if you’re new to meditation and find that the mind is hopping around a lot you might want to count, in-breath, out-breath one, in-breath, out-breath two, and so on.

    And each time the mind takes you away from the breath you can start over again at one without giving yourself a hard time at all. Knowing that in fact, each time you recognize that the mind is off the breath is a moment of wakefulness, a moment of awareness, a moment of mindfulness, not to be discounted.  Strong emotions may arise, our meditation practice is usually colored by our mood at any given time, or there may be some ongoing emotions that are up for you, if that’s so, again simply noting them. If they are very powerful, is it possible to find a place of refuge in the breath inside a big emotion. If sensations, emotions recur, it’s fine each time the same sensation or emotion arises, notice it, see if you can breathe into it.

    Similarly, with thoughts, thoughts will inevitably arise. One wonderful idea that we may not naturally have in our minds on a regular basis is that our thoughts are simply thoughts and we don’t necessarily have to believe them. They can be very persuasive but they’re not necessarily true…a very good thing to know. So, in the last few minutes of the sitting, doing your best to focus really quite impeccably on each in-breath and each out-breath, and even perhaps the little space between the in-breath and the out-breath. And when you hear the bell ring, see if it’s possible to listen to the sound of the bell from the moment it begins all the way until it has faded into silence. May all beings be safe, and peaceful. May all beings live with love, and with compassion. Thank you!

    [sound of long ding of bell]

Related Articles & Stories

Read more about our students, faculty and alumni.