I know, it’s practically sacrilege to work in the personal development and wellness sphere and not be an advocate for meditation.
Allow me to explain why, please.
I suck at sitting in a half-lotus let alone a full lotus.
I suck at sitting still.
I suck at having a quiet mind.
I’m pretty stress-free (98% of the time, the other 2% is no-holds-barred, DEFCON 1) so don’t really need it.
In a nutshell, I suck at meditation.
But you know what I’m slowly getting good at?
Aren’t they the same thing, you ask?
No, actually they’re not.
Turns out, that meditation is merely one route to mindfulness.
Meditation is a practice whereas mindfulness is, according to Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn an
awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally
Intentionally, at any given moment, giving your full attention to yourself or your environment without judgment.
Too often, we are lost in thoughts of either the past or the future, never really focusing on the here and now.
And when we do focus, it’s often with a critical eye.
When we operate from that perspective, we often miss how things really are and see instead our own interpretation of situations or circumstances.
The constant stress on our minds and physiology caused by that perspective can often lead to or exacerbate chronic illness.
By applying mindfulness, we can begin to shift that perspective and arrive at a place of acceptance for things as they really are. In other words, a place of maturity and wisdom.
In his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (developed back in 1979, it’s almost as old as I am!) he outlines nine inter-connected core attitudes required for mindfulness.
I’d like you to stop reading this for a minute and rub the pads of the first finger and thumb of your right hand together for ten seconds.
Now, what went through your mind when I asked you to do that?
If you’re anything like most people, you had an internal monologue that went along the lines of “What? Why? How long? What for? That’s stupid/boring/unnecessary/weird/fun/exciting…”
That dear friend is judgment. When we assign a mental label, whether good or bad, to an experience.
We all do it. We judge ourselves, we judge other people and we judge situations.
Non-judgment on the other hand is our attempt to experience things without labelling them at all. Simply accepting them for what they are.
Calling ourselves when we’re being judgmental, examining what bias is causing the judgment, and then gently letting it go.
I’m sure you’ve heard this one before but it’s one of my favourite illustrations, so please indulge me (Kabat-Zinn used it, so I won’t be taking credit!)
If a child came across a chrysalis and could sense the butterfly inside trying to break free, they’d probably try to help by breaking the chrysalis open.
What they don’t realise is that by doing so, they’ve taken away the butterfly’s chance to strengthen itself through the struggle, and now it may not survive.
An adult, on the other hand, generally speaking, should understand that the process is crucial for the butterfly and not intervene if tempted.
Patience is being okay with things happening in their own time.
Knowing that this is truly the case and accepting it.
Not being tied to any internal or external timelines.
One of my favourite things about children is their ability to truly immerse themselves in experiencing things. Even the most random of things like seeing their toes when they are babies or going to the grocery store seems like such an adventure.
Somewhere along the way we lose that sense of awe and wonder and become blasé about most things. Too cool for school. We filter everything we do and see through the lens of our past experiences.
Having a beginner’s mind takes us back to that childlike place where we get rid of all our preconceived ideas or expectations and see the world around us with fresh eyes — as if we’ve never seen it before.
How often do you second guess yourself once you’ve made a decision? Or start something like an exercise program or new diet and think “I know it’s worked for other people but I’m not sure it’ll work for me” or even “I feel like I’m beyond the point where coaching or therapy will work”.
That’s us not trusting. Not trusting our capacity for change, not trusting that our bodies and minds are designed to actually support themselves and heal themselves.
This attitude is about reversing that thought process and learning to trust.
Trust that everything will work as it should in support of the right things in our life, including our bodies and minds.
For the record, this one is probably the hardest attitude for me. I’m historically somewhat of an overachiever who measures my worth by my output or contributions. The more I achieve, the more validated I feel in my existence.
Non-striving turns that on its head. There is no fixation on goals, there is no desired way to achieve the outcome you want. There’s simply being and doing your best at any given moment.
No chanting, special dance moves, medals. Nothing.
Just you and your awareness.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t have goals, what it does mean is that once you’ve set your goal, you don’t fixate on it and you don’t second guess it. You work on the process to get you there. Gently. No striving.
I find this one trips up a lot of people. They hear acceptance and they translate that as meaning being passive in your life and succumbing to whatever comes your way.
It’s not that.
Acceptance in this case is being brave enough to look at yourself and your circumstances and say “This is what this is. Right now”
It’s about not wishing away the reality and spending time longing for things to be different.
This is how things are. Even if we would want them to be different.
In that way, we can put to better use the energy we would typically use to fight a situation or lie to ourselves.
Have you ever noticed how we mentally hoard experiences, good or bad? We like to hold on to pleasant experiences and thoughts so we can revisit them and re-experience that sense of pleasure.
For negative thoughts or situations, when we don’t deal with them head-on, we’re actually holding on to them whether we accept it or not.
This is another attitude that I struggle with. I get letting go of negative or bad experiences, but the pleasant ones too?!
Apparently, yes. It’s the acceptance that the pleasant or unpleasant things have come to an end and being okay with that.
This attitude is probably the one that people think of most often when they think of mindfulness.
Appreciating everything. Not just the big, out-of-the-ordinary things but the smallest of things that we often take for granted.
The ability to read or listen to this article, the fact that our bodies work at a basic level without us having to manually do anything. The sun on our face, the rain that nourishes the earth.
The obstacles that we get to overcome that help make us stronger.
All of it.
The final attitude is all about sharing what you have with other people in a way that will bring them joy, happiness, or ease.
We often think of this in financial terms but that’s not the only way.
Be generous with your smiles, generous with your compliments, generous with your knowledge and wisdom, generous with your time.
The things that you don’t even think about that make a positive impact when you gift them to someone else.
That’s also generosity.
So there you have it, the attitudes that make up the framework for mindfulness.
While I do struggle with some of the attitudes and definitely don’t exhibit all of them all the time, I find that knowing what they are helps me be mindful in a way that meditation never did.
And just so you know, I’m aware meditation isn’t any of the things I said it was — but that’s a different article!
Which of these, if any do you embody or struggle with in your own life?