Techniques for Cultivating Mindfulness
In the vipassana tradition, we usually start by practicing mindfulness of the body, such as noting body sensations. You can use any activity--like washing dishes or walking down the street--to observe actual sensations, like the feeling of moving through space or of your hands in water. By observing those sensations and staying with them, you connect with the moment, with the direct experience. Of course, it's hard to keep the mind from running ahead. You may feel one thing, such as a pain, and then the mind leaps into the future, saying, "I will always have pain." By observing the sensation and your reaction to it, little by little you begin to discern the space between the direct experience and your conception.

Another technique is mindfulness of the breath. Watching the breath is a good way of training the mind to be in the moment. But it's surprisingly hard to be mindful of each and every breath [not sure we could have just one breath]. You start imagining the perfect breath, and then chastise yourself for not having it. Then you're leaning forward into the future, getting ready for the next five breaths. But by coming back to the breath over and over again, you can begin just to observe it, without bringing opinions, anticipation, and judgment.

By observing the sensations in the body and staying with them, you connect with the moment, with the direct experience.

Another way of practicing mindfulness is to make a mental label of sensations. If you feel sleepy, you might say to yourself, "sleepy." If you have a thought, you say "thinking." When I was first practicing in India, I was given the instruction to try to make a mental note all the time. Whether I was sitting or doing walking meditation, I was trying to make a mental note. I began to notice that the single most common note I made was "waiting!" I was waiting for something more exciting, important, or spiritually significant to happen. I realized I was living like a tape recorder with the pause button on.

When I paid attention to that note, to the "waiting," I could begin to let the waiting go and be connected with what was. I could feel the breeze and taste the mango--because in India, there's no shortage of mangos, as it were. As one of my teachers, a Bengali meditation master named Munindra, once said, "I practice mindfulness so I can see the little purple flowers that are growing along the roadside."