Jon Kabat-Zinn (who set up the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Clinic in Massachusetts) says that, put simply, mindfulness is:
“paying attention to the present moment, in a particular way, without judgement.”
If we spend too much time thinking about the future, we are more prone to experience anxiety.
If we spend too much time having thoughts based in the past, we are more likely to suffer with symptoms of depression.
When we centre ourselves firmly in the present, experiencing all that that has to offer whether we perceive it as good or bad, we tend not to experience the symptoms of anxiety or depression. Instead, through simply having an awareness of what is going on right now - whether that be in our thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, or sensory perceptions such as sounds and smells - we come to realise that we are more in control of our own ‘now’, our own present moment, than anyone else or any external situation could ever possibly be.
There are 7 attitudes to mindfulness that underline the whole of our mindful practise whether that is during a formal meditation or during our everyday lives, for example while having a conversation, making a meal, having a shower, brushing our teeth, driving or whatever.
Whatever we find ourselves doing, these 7 attitudes can help to underline a more gentle acceptance - a gentle acceptance of ourselves, of others, and of situations.
1. Non-judgement – we constantly form judgements. Once you undertake a mindfulness practice you may start to recognise when and how often you form these judgements. This obviously seems fine when you judge something as good. But stress may ensue when you judge something as bad. When you accept that life is full of ups and downs… when you accept things as just being the way they are, stress tends to dissipate more easily. To quote Jon Kabat-Zinn once again, “you can’t stop the waves but you can learn how to surf”. Life happens and sometimes you just have to go with the flow.
2. Patience – allowing things to unfold in their own time… bringing patience to ourselves and to others. No amount of stress or anger will make the red light change any quicker to green. No amount of stress or anger or impatience will get any job done more quickly or more efficiently – so sit back and notice how things happen in their own good time. Or even simply notice the times when you are feeling impatient - and also notice how this feeling passes in its own good time. Take things easy-like and things tend to get done more easily.
3. Beginner’s Mind – this is simply seeing the world as a child would. When was the last time you really took time to notice the smell, texture and taste of a meal? When was the last time you really noticed what someone was saying to you instead of clouding a conversation with judgements or preconceived ideas? Our minds often tell us that they think they know more than they actually do. We let our beliefs about situations, about ourselves, and about others prevent us from seeing things as they truly are - in the present moment.
4. Trust – trust in ourselves and trust in our own basic wisdom. If something doesn’t feel right for you personally, then a basic premise of mindfulness is that you attend to it in whatever way does feel right for you. We can be responsible only for ourselves. Ultimately, it is us who have to live our lives. No-one else can do that for us.
5. Non-striving – goals, targets, and predicted achievements are all based in the future, introducing conditions that don’t allow you to be fully present with what is right now. In mindfulness practise, remember to allow anything and everything that you experience from moment to moment to simply be there - because it already is. If you are tense… pay attention to the tension. If you find yourself criticizing yourself, just observe the activity of the judging mind. Simply noticing what is really going on in any given moment – listening to the signals and messages your body is trying to convey all the time – helps you to make the right choices at the right time.
6. Acceptance – a simple openness to seeing and acknowledging things as they are. This does not mean approval or resignation. It simply means acceptance. One thing that is a true constant is change. Everything changes. We change. Other people change. Situations change. Accepting that things, people, situations, thoughts and emotions never stay the same helps us to live moment by moment.
7. Letting go – cultivating a non-attachment. Letting go is a way of letting things be. Let go of that hurtful conversation that took place years ago – it’s not happening now and hearing it over and over again in your mind never really helps. Let go of those ruminating thoughts that clutter up your mind at work and notice what is really going on. Simply noticing when you are attached to things, situations, people or emotions (whether they are perceived as good or bad) can help make you feel more in control. Just be aware of what you’re holding on to.
So mindfulness is not about clearing your mind. Instead, it’s about being more aware. Falling awake not falling asleep.
“Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment, in a particular way, without judgement.”