There are a number of different meditation techniques, and an amazing quantity of instructions available for free online and in apps like Insight Timer. It can be overwhelming working out what kind of meditation to try out. One of the traps of our modern culture is the demand for quick-fix methods, but finding a meditation practice that works for you is something worthy of your time and willingness to experiment. Finding the right meditation practice is not something someone else can tell you about – you need to tap into the wisdom of your body and your dedication to your spiritual path in order to find what is best for you. And even then, what works for your now might not be the best technique for you in a month from now!
Anchoring awareness, also called single-pointed awareness, is a type of meditation that, as it sounds, is the practice of choosing one particular object, sensation, or experience and focusing awareness on that particular object of awareness. It’s called anchoring awareness for a good reason as we are anchoring our awareness in something that is constant, familiar, and that we can access quite easily. If we can anchor our awareness on a neutral object or something that’s familiar or easy to focus on, then it can help to contain some of the energy that goes into chasing thoughts, identifying with emotions, and allowing our ego to run away with us. We choose one point of awareness rather than allowing our mind to follow the plethora of thoughts it will naturally go to when left to its own devices. Anchoring awareness can be like having a haven or safe place to come back to when the mind inevitably gets carried away with thoughts, ruminating about the past or projecting into the future. This is what we’re aiming to do with mindfulness: to be in the present moment as much as possible without judgment.
If you think you’ve landed the next great idea during your mind wandering, you might stop meditating for a moment and jot it down briefly if you find it excruciating to drag yourself away from your own brilliance and you’re worried you might forget your revelation 😉
As we anchor our awareness, we’re not trying to avidly exclude all other thoughts – there are types of meditation that ask us to do that, but those are not this! When we anchor our awareness, we are accepting that the mind will naturally wander, and we can notice when our mind has wandered. We can even acknowledge how the mind might prefer to be wandering, especially if it has gone to creativity and problem-solving, but the discipline is in gently, kindly and good-naturedly allowing those thoughts and emotions to come and go. If you think you’ve landed the next great idea during your mind wandering, you might stop meditating for a moment and jot it down briefly if you find it excruciating to drag yourself away from your own brilliance and you’re worried you might forget your revelation 😉
We anchor our awareness in anything we can sense – the breath, sound, sensation on our skin, sensation within our body. We can anchor awareness in all sound in our experience or in a particular sound (like the sound of a drum, or a very simple repeated one-word mantra). If the breath is our anchor, we might find the place where we notice the breath most obviously in our body and anchor on the movement we experience there. We might also anchor in the sensation of our whole body moving as we breathe. It’s important to anchor breath awareness in a place in our body that isn’t activating – I used to try anchoring in my diaphragm around my solar plexus, but felt I was just getting more and more anxious as I did this, so I chose a different place on my body to be aware of the breath. From that place I could more easefully notice the tension in my solar plexus and in fact the process of allowing myself to move my anchor helped that tension to ease.
You can use anchoring awareness practice for the rest of your life. It’s not a practice that grows old. It’s not a practice you need to graduate from.
We can also anchor our awareness with something visual like a candle flame, or something else that is simple and doesn’t have too much variation or too many parts. Make your anchor something very simple that you want to be with for a period of time. Practice being with it for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 50 minutes – whatever you’d like to experiment with. There’s no one way or one particular period of time that is “the” way to meditate. It’s more important to meditate regularly and to be kind to yourself when you don’t get the time or opportunity to meditate.
Here’s a list of some objects of awareness you might anchor in:
- The sensation of your breath just inside your nostrils;
- The sensation of your breath in the back of your throat;
- The rise and fall of your chest with the inbreath and outbreath;
- The expansion and contraction of your diaphragm with the inbreath and outbreath;
- The movement of your belly with each inbreath and outbreath.
- A recording of a simple sound in nature (crickets, birds, flowing water, waves on the beach);
- The sound of your overhead fan;
- A recording of a simple chant (eg “Ohm” repeated over and over).
- A candle flame;
- The carpet in front of you;
- Incense burning;
- A simple mandala.
- Your pulse at a place where you can feel your heartbeat easily.
- Repeating a word whose qualities you would like to invite into your awareness.
I’d encourage you to try anchoring awareness as a way to develop your practice. You can use anchoring awareness practice for the rest of your life. It’s not a practice that grows old. It’s not a practice you need to graduate from. Once you’ve developed an anchoring practice you might like to try some other kinds of practices, including some that might be more activating for you like Loving-kindness meditation (Metta) or some self-compassion meditations that ask you to get in touch with difficult emotions. Having an anchoring practice to come home to as you bring your courage to trying new meditations is a lovely act of self-compassion. You are being your own champion. If at any time you feel you’re out of that “window of tolerance” and you’re in that area of overwhelm, you can move back to your anchor.
You can try some practices to help anchor and ground you here. Give it a go. What do you notice? What do you feel? Be curious. Be dedicated to trying things out. You’re worth it! And come back for Part 2: Open Awareness Meditation…