Author: Tena Rebernjak

1. Awareness

2. Acceptance of what is present

3. Adopting a compassionate attitude

4. Doing something


In the first step of Mindfulness meditation, we work on awareness. This means becoming aware of what is present in our attention and where our attention is, knowing what is currently here and what is happening.

Only when we know where our attention is we can change something, we can act and meditate, without knowing where we are, there are no instructions and no meditation.

That’s why awareness and being aware are the first steps.

We practice awareness by setting ourselves the task of keeping our attention on one simple object such as the movement of breath in the body or present physical sensations. If attention is not on the breath, as soon as we realize that we have “wandered,” we calmly return to the breath. The practice of returning attention to the breath serves precisely to release the importance of anything else, to release the power of emotions or thoughts that have led us astray. When we get lost in a flurry of thoughts, we don’t know where we are and we can’t change anything until we become aware.

The moment we become aware and see: “aha, my attention was not on the breath” is a moment of wakefulness in which we can choose again and then choose to return to the breath.

In meditation, we observe natural breathing, we do not try to change, add, or upgrade anything. We observe the sensations of breath in the body: expansion – contraction, rising – falling, the length of breath, and so on. If we start to narrow our attention too much and “look for” the breath, we can broaden the field a bit, the body that breathes, the movement of breath in the periphery, or the body position. When we catch ourselves in wandering thoughts, we can notice if the face has also frowned a bit or if the shoulders have lifted, so when we return to the breath, we relax the body.

We return to the quality of the relaxed observer who is aware of the breathing process. We practice patiently and as many times as necessary, we return until we establish a continuity of attention.


In the second step, we work on accepting what is in our attention, what distracts us, or what is currently present. Acceptance means that we are not in aversion.

This step is crucial for knowing how to meditate.

Without genuine acceptance of the present state, there is no progress because if we have a thought or emotion and have not acknowledged it, it means we are struggling with it, fleeing from it, or ignoring it, which is non-acceptance or aversion.

I will best explain with examples:

My baby wakes me up at night several times and needs breastfeeding. Ten times a night, it wakes me up from deep sleep – it’s really frustrating. I wake up, and every time, I patiently go to him and stay with him until he falls asleep again. I really want to be a patient, grateful mother, but as long as I want that, and I am frustrated, desperate, and tired, I do not respect those true, currently present emotions, but out of aversion to them, I try to summon my patience. Acceptance means allowing myself to feel the thoughts and emotions that are truly present now. After I sincerely allow myself to feel difficulty and give space to experience the weight of fatigue and despair, they pass on their own, and then I can return to gratitude and patience.

Another example:

I truly believe that people are not evil but simply confused, I believe that malice stems from confusion and unconsciousness. I don’t want to have a negative opinion of anyone, gossip, or say anything negative. There is a relationship in my life that is difficult for me. That person annoys me.

As long as I convince myself that this is a good person who is just confused, I cannot stand up to her and set a healthy boundary. I need to allow myself to be annoyed by her, to have ugly thoughts about her, and for my first reaction to be that I want to get away from her. Until I allow myself to do this, I have aversion to having aversion to her.

There is a reason I feel what I feel because that person does not have a healthy boundary towards me, and only when I allow myself to feel what is true for me can I say NO. I can find an intelligent strategy to deal with what challenges me without hurting her. Without accepting my true emotions in conflict, I am alone with myself because I want to see the beauty of that person but only see my anger.

Of course, I need to allow the emotion of anger to be there with “its head above water,” so that I allow myself to feel anger but with the intention of letting it pass, not to simmer and build it up because ultimately, I do not want to have a negative opinion of that person.

When I tell her NO and set my boundary, I am actually helping her because I no longer allow her to create those conflicting states of mind.

I hope these examples explain what accepting one’s thoughts, emotions, and states means. It’s the same in life as in formal meditation.

When we practice acceptance in formal meditation, we give space to what we have become aware of in the first step but still have more peace and stability capacity than the strength of what we need to accept.

This is very important! It means that we calmly look at the unrest, if we start to look at the unrest with restless eyes, we need to stop doing it immediately. For example, if my anger is too strong and I want to look at the sensations of anger angrily, I will burn out and really want to react angrily, which is not constructive. In meditation practice, we work on accepting what is here as if we “breathe out and surrender,” open up to the emotion to understand it and allow ourselves to feel it.

We try to create a wider space than the emotion itself, in which the emotion can be as it is currently without us pushing it away or identifying with it.

The quality of accepting the present state is the ability to see it as if we were a little outside, not immersed, our awareness is wider, we are witnesses who calmly observe what is happening. In the body, this feels like relaxing the muscles that have been activated. When we react to a thought, we often automatically make a facial expression, clench our teeth or raise our shoulders, so when we become aware, we notice how we feel in the body and relax the tension. When the intensity of that state subsides, and attention is again “free,” we can return it to the breath or body as in the first step.

Breath is the best object of meditation because we do not need to accept it, it is assumed, we do not want it to be there, nor do we have aversion to it because it is there.

We are simply aware that we breathe naturally and calmly. Remember, meditation is not about following the breath but acknowledging current processes and adopting the right attitude toward them.


This step is closely related to the previous one because it teaches us HOW to accept, more precisely it teaches us what attitude to adopt to accept it in the healthiest way.

In this step, we learn true compassion. It is sincere acceptance of discomfort in which we do not try to pretend it is not there or that it is not challenging; to truly feel pain and open up to it is the intelligence of compassion. The word itself means “to feel what is felt” – to empathize. To empathize is a verb that calls us to action because when we see pain, we have a sincere desire to alleviate it. But I repeat, only after we have felt and accepted it.

The best example to understand a compassionate attitude is a mother holding her crying child in her arms. The mother has complete presence for the child’s pain, holds the child, and tries to ease the pain with her touch and kisses. She has unconditional, unwavering compassion and patience. The child will cry as long as it needs to, and the mother will be a secure, awake space of understanding the entire time and will do everything she can to alleviate the pain or solve the problem. This is how we hold our pain.

In the practice of meditation, in this step, we practice the relationship with what is present.

We decide that we want to develop compassion, not to be a victim and fall into despair. When we make that decision, we change our thoughts from those that it is difficult now and that it should not be like this to thoughts that encourage us and look at what is present now, because we know it will pass and that only now, when it is present, we can open up and feel this emotion as energy in the body. We say to ourselves, let me understand that pain (discomfort or state). Let me accept, be patient, and relax with it and around it. Let me be free from aversion to pain and discomfort.

Also, related to the previous step, here we express our compassion by relaxing the body and muscles that have tightened. We put a little internal smile that is not meant to push away the present state but to express that friendly attitude. An inner smile that fills that wider space and gives us faith that we are there until it passes.

If we want something to pass and pretend to accept it, but have hidden aversion, it is not sincere acceptance or compassion and will probably only increase aversion. With acceptance and compassion, there is no bargaining or cheating.

There are two thoughts that can sober us up and put us in the right, compassionate place.


If we have a problem that we can solve, we start solving it. If there is something we cannot change, then it is not a problem; we need to learn to accept it (like the nature of impermanence and everything that comes with it). In short, we either act or accept; if we complain and lament, it is time to awaken our compassion.


We are free if we want to be here and in prison (which we do to ourselves) if we do not want to be here (with what is present now). So let’s make an effort to want to be here with ourselves because only then are we free.

We ask ourselves, “what can I do to help myself in this situation, to take a good stance, and have a healthy relationship with what I feel”?


When something is present that we cannot accept or need help with (what we cannot look at with calm eyes), we need to do something. If we are restless and have too many thoughts to calmly follow natural breathing, we start with a slightly deeper breath that is easier to follow, we can work on establishing the same length of inhale and exhale or add a simple movement connected with breathing, for example, raising our hands on inhale and lowering them on exhale.

After we breathe and regulate the nervous system with our breath, we can try to return to observing natural breathing or continue breathing extended, emphasized breath for this hour of meditation. Emphasizing inhales helps when the mind is tired, and emphasizing exhales helps with an overactive, restless mind.

Then we repeat the same return formula:

Notice – relax around it – stay with our breath and body and be a wide space. If we don’t know where we are at all and have no peace in the body, maybe it’s not time for meditation; it’s better to start with conscious movement or take a walk.

As in the steps before, if aversion creeps in that we don’t want to feel what we feel and we get into a struggle, this step is also ineffective. Only with sincere attitudes from the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd steps can we work on changing the current state.

Let’s sincerely become aware, accept, ignite compassion, and act – breathe and stretch.


In Mindfulness meditation, we train a wakeful and compassionate attitude toward all the states we feel (thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations) that lead to carefully considered and wisely implemented action. Aversion, non-acceptance, condemnation, and the desire for things to be different than they currently are are synonymous.

We need to recognize them and stop thinking because by believing those thoughts, we keep ourselves imprisoned that now is not good enough and we are not where we should be.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do I need to be thoughtless in mindfulness meditation?

Thoughts are a natural process; we do not meditate to be in a state where there are none. We meditate to know what we think and feel and to catch ourselves in the reaction we have to thoughts and feelings.

2. When I have a very restless mind, with many thoughts, what do I do?

If it’s hard to observe and calm down, we move on to the 4th step, which is to do something with full attention. Body movement through yoga or similar practices can be a great movement meditation. Then the mind has more space and larger sensations on which to base its mindfulness.

3. I want to meditate, but my attention is distracted by the current problem I have, how do I get back to observing the breath?

It’s okay to deal with what is most intense or most present at that moment. If we want peace, and a pink elephant comes to us, we need to acknowledge that it’s there. The pink elephant is what is currently distracting us, and it’s too big for us to ignore. As long as our nervous system “grinds” (some conflict, problem, emotion), we need to let it talk because otherwise, in meditation, we are just struggling with breath, and we actually need to acknowledge and accept what is now present.

4. I want to deal with anxiety through meditation, but when I observe anxiety, I become even more restless, what am I doing wrong?

There is probably a quiet and unnoticed aversion to anxiety. If we start meditation with the idea that we will solve something, it means we do not accept it as it is now. Through meditation, we do not solve or “clean” a certain state but learn to become aware of and accept it and then act from that attitude. Let’s go back to steps 2 and 3 and accept and build genuine compassion.

For private consultations and meditation mentorship, contact Tena at Learn more about what Tena does at: