How to Relax in Mindfulness

Sometimes our mindfulness becomes too focused, too squeezed. Squeezed attention, right? When you focus too much on mindfulness, actually that can sometimes be counterproductive.

When you think too much about not making a mistake, that’s when you make more mistakes, right? Do you remember writing with pen and paper in the old days? Or on the typewriter? Now we can just hit Delete on our keyboard and it’s easy, but back then it was a lot of trouble to correct your handwritten, or typed, mistake.

The more we think, “Oh, I need to be mindful!” the more we focus narrowly and tightly. And when you squeeze your attention and try so hard, sometimes that is counterproductive.

Mindfulness calls for a sense of relaxation. There needs to be some sense of balance in our mindfulness practice.

Some meditation traditions, such as the Tibetan tradition, even say that the one and only thing you really need is relaxation. They say that if you can relax, that’s enough. But can you imagine totally relaxing? Relaxing 100% is almost not possible, right?

We think we can’t be mindful

When somebody tells you to be mindful you feel, “No, I can’t be mindful! I need to relax right now.” On the other hand, when somebody tells you to relax, you think, “No, I can’t relax, I have to focus!” Our mind always needs to focus on something.

So you see, the shift, the balance between focusing and relaxing is already right there in your mind’s makeup. It’s nothing new you need to find from outside. It’s already there.

When someone tells you to one-pointedly focus, we feel, “I can’t do that,” and our mind opens out into some kind of spacious state. But when someone tells us to completely relax and don’t focus at all, we can’t do that either. Our mind goes right away to some object––a flower, a person or a thought.

So these two qualities of focus and relaxation are already there as natural parts of your mind’s makeup. We just need to find a balance between the two, between mindfulness and relaxation. Focused, yet relaxed. Relaxing, but not distracted.

So finding that balance is the key. And that’s the hardest part here. Just to do one or the other is easy. But to have a balance between the two is not quite so easy. That takes practice.

Taking a mindful pause before expressing your emotions

One of the biggest problems we see in American culture is that we always try to express everything. And expression is good, it’s not bad. But maybe that expression can take place just a little bit later.

So this way of relaxing with mindfulness can be very helpful to us. We can breathe and settle with whatever emotions are right there in our heart and mind. And we can relax with that a little bit.

Learning to take a few moments before expressing your emotions can save you a lot of trouble. And money. If we take a minute to look at our own experience of emotions, before we try to share our experience with someone else –– whether it’s a positive or a negative experience –– then we have given ourselves a little bit of space. In that space, we can learn a lot.

Over time, as we continue this practice of taking a gentle pause to look at and feel our experience, we begin to understand more and more about how our mind works, and how our emotions work. As we look at our experience, we begin to find the balance between focused mindfulness and spacious relaxation. Then little by little, we can also look at the one who is looking.

A Short Practice: Relaxing in Mindfulness, with Emotions

Here’s a simple practice you can try at home.

1. Choose a time and place where you will have a reasonable level of quiet and solitude, and minimal distractions. It is suggested to turn off your phone, set it aside, or at least turn off notifications while you’re doing this short practice.

2. When you do meditation, you’re usually working with the breath. Breathing in, breathing out. You’re trying to relax your mind through breathing and through one-pointed focus and through relaxation.

3. From time to time, look at the looker . . . Inwardly. Not always looking at the breath or whatever meditative techniques you may be using from any kind of wisdom tradition. Instead, you can look at the observing mind itself, the observer.

4. As you do this practice, if emotions come up, take a gentle pause. Instead of looking at the object of your emotions or whatever you’re thinking about them, look at the experience of the energy of the emotion itself. Look at what you are feeling, inside your heart. See that energy, connect with the energy, and pause. Right there.

This practice of giving yourself space to feel the energy of any emotions that arise, can be very helpful to you in finding this key balance between mindfulness and relaxation.


This is an excerpt from teachings by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche originally given during a presentation at Google headquarters in San Francisco, California in 2016.