Life is busy. Here’s a selection of quick meditations to work with emotional distress and foster mindfulness when time is scarce.
Meditation is about relaxing with the truth. When we sit in that vulnerability, we can get in touch with our thoughts, emotions, and body. However, even the most experienced meditators can get uncomfortable or find themselves short on time. And that’s okay. The goal in meditation isn’t to “fix” ourselves, but rather to see ourselves as we are. Ponlop Rinpoche has written:
“If we have only five minutes to meditate, we tell ourselves, ‘Oh, five minutes is nothing. It is not enough to change my life. I need to practice for at least an hour.’ … That is a very convincing logic at the time. However… If you take that five minutes to meditate… then you are acclimating yourself to the practice of bringing mindfulness and awareness into ordinary moments of your life.”
Below you’ll find a sampling of short meditation instructions to help you cultivate moments of awareness in everyday life. Click on each one to read a full instruction. And, if you’re looking for something deeper, see our more in-depth guides to meditation or retreat practice.
“Goodwill is so often the best place to start,” says Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
We can start each day with a sense of goodness and kindness for ourselves and others. To do this, Thanissaro Bhikkhu suggests offering thoughts of goodwill to yourself, then spreading your thoughts outward to people you love, people you like, people you feel neutral toward, and finally people you don’t like.
May you be happy.
May you be free from stress and pain.
May you be free from animosity, free from trouble, free from oppression.
May you look after yourself with ease.
The late Ken Jones said, “The essence of emotional awareness practice is to become intimately aware of how the pain feels in the body.”
As a Buddhist activist, Jones shared a practice that shines light on difficulty, affliction, and pain. He suggests that we think of something difficult, hold it close, and then ask the following questions:
How have I responded to this affliction?
How has my response brought suffering?
What does this affliction ask me to let go of?
Why am I having difficulties becoming aware of my emotional response to this affliction?
Coming Back to Now
“The mind can go and go without us noticing how fast it’s going, or what direction it’s headed in,” says Buddhist practitioner Leslie Davis.
To calm monkey mind, Davis asks these three questions to re-establish herself in the present:
Where am I? (Stop moving and look around)
What am I doing? (Observe your actions with no judgment)
Who am I with? (Notice who is with you and re-establish the connection)
Charles Suhor practices connectedness meditation with a prayer.
It’s a litany he extends to sentient beings, plant life, inanimate beings, and all unknown forms. Here are a few lines:
I am connected with those I see casually and in passing.
May we be at peace.
I am connected with those who have angered me and I have angered.
May we be at peace.
I am connected with all humanity, dead and living and unborn.
May we be at peace.
Pema Chödrön offers a simple technique we can use anytime we need a break from our habitual patterns.
Pause practice creates an opportunity for the mind to relax and drop the storyline it works so hard to maintain. Pema says it can help us step outside of our cocoon to receive the magic of our surroundings and be with the immediacy of our experience.
Take three conscious breaths.
Let it be like popping a bubble.
Let it be a contrast to being caught up, and then go on.
Compassion for Others
Thupten Jinpa starts this meditation by contemplating the various ways we benefit from others.
By reflecting on the deeply interconnected nature of all things, he says we can remember that others’ presence gives meaning to our existence.
Allow your heart to open.
Abide in a state of appreciation and gratitude.
Acknowledge that everyone feels happy when others wish them well.
Rejoice in others’ happiness. Feel concern for their pain and sorrow.
Once again, rejoice with others’ happiness and connect with their pain.
Susan Piver shares a practice for loving all of your imperfections and contradictions.
Piver focuses on all of the fascinating, beautiful, and difficult pieces of herself, offering loving-kindness to every aspect of her being.
Offer loving-kindness to the “you” in the mirror.
Imagine yourself as a beloved. See the parts of you that you love. Offer loving-kindness.
Imagine yourself as your most important teacher. See the parts of you that are wise. Offer loving-kindness.
Imagine yourself as a stranger. Acknowledge the parts of you that you can’t see. Offer loving-kindness.
Imagine yourself as an enemy. See the parts of you that are fragile and wounded. Offer loving-kindness.
Kristin Neff suggests a three-step contemplation to sow kindness for ourselves.
This can be a useful tool to soothe and calm the mind. To get started, Neff places both hands on her heart to feel their warmth, breathes deeply, and then speaks these words in a caring tone:
This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is a part of life.
May I be kind to myself in this moment.
May I give myself the compassion I need.
“Your body is part of the world happening, and the world is part of your body continuing,” says Sylvia Boorstein.
Boorstein uses this meditation to remember that her body is part of the world and her life is part of all life. There is no separate and enduring self.
Close your eyes.
Allow your breath to come and go on its own.
Acknowledge that while you cannot feel the carbon dioxide you exhale or the oxygen you inhale, they are both present.
Acknowledge that the green life in the world is breathing your carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.
The green world and your lungs keep each other alive.
To cultivate clarity and calm, Tsoknyi Rinpoche suggests the practice of dropping into our feelings.
This can be a useful tool to reconnect with whatever is arising in the mind and body.
Relax deeply. Don’t hold onto anything.
Raise your arms to shoulder height, then drop them to your knees.
Wherever you land, just let it be.
Feel what sensations arise and be aware of them.