Mindfulness

Mindfulness

Mindfulness refers to the practice of purposely and without judgment bringing one’s awareness or attention to the present moment. It was created by Jon Kabat-Zinn who was inspired by Buddhist principles after studying with renowned teachers such as Philip Kapleau, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Seung Sahn.

Why Mindfulness?

Why do we need or would benefit from focusing our attention on the present moment? Because we sometimes forget that life is happening right here, right now. We tend to live in the future wondering what to do next, trying to control what could go wrong (which tends to create tension and extra stress); or in the past hunted by regrets, grudges, pain, or sadness. Sometimes we do not like our present and long for what we had, what we could have had, or wish for a better future in which we could be happier.

We sometimes forget that each day and moment offers an opportunity to create the life that we want. We might have been hurt; our situation might be complicated; our childhood might have been difficult, there are so many factors that may lead us to believe we can’t have what we want, but in reality, we can. How? By proactively and consciously deciding to take control of our own lives in the present moment.

The Nine Attitudes of Mindfulness

Mindfulness, as taught by Kabat-Zinn, is based on 9 attitudes:  

1. Non-judging. In Mindfulness we are invited to be impartial witnesses of our own experiences, becoming aware of the constant stream of judgment and reactions to inner and outer experiences. We do not need to engage, judge, or react. We can just notice and observe.

2. Patience. We sometimes tend to create extra tension by wanting to force our will onto the development of things. Mindfulness invites us to remember that everything on Earth has its own time, and so do we. When we accept that things have a certain flow and timing, we release our need to control, which is releasing in itself.   

3. Beginner’s mind. Children have an amazing capacity to see the world through a new set of eyes. They are able to enjoy and explore the world more freely because they approach their experiences with curiosity, from a beginner’s mind perspective. Over time, we tend to lose this ability. Keeping a beginner’s mind means letting go of our preconceived ideas about how things are or should be, to see our experiences with curiosity, with a new set of eyes. When we show curiosity and let go of our preconceptions, we open ourselves to a completely new world of opportunities and possibilities.

4. Trust. Being mindful requires a basic trust in ourselves. Certain situations or messages might have taught us to mistrust ourselves and rely on the external world for guidance and validation. Although it is good to check in with our external world and others, it is also important to honor and trust our own experiences. A basic trust in ourselves can only lead us to becoming more authentic.

5. Non-striving. Mindfulness is not about making things happen (get relaxed, control our pain, have fewer thoughts), but rather about noticing the unfolding of our experiences as they are happening in the present moment. Jon Kabat-Zinn also refers to this attitude as “not-doing”. Non-striving can be very liberating as we release our need to resist and control, to just observe and let go.  

6. Acceptance. Sometimes, before changing anything, we need to accept things just as they are. When we take the time to accept, we are better able to understand, and therefore to respond rather than to react.  

7. Letting go. When we start paying attention to our inner experience, we rapidly discover that there are certain thoughts, feelings, and situations that the mind wants to hold on to. Similarly, there might be others that we might want to resist (cravings, intrusive thoughts). In mindfulness, we let our experiences be what they are. Letting go is a way of letting things be, without grasping or pushing away. I equate this to “letting flow.” Sometimes we just need to allow things to flow.

8. Gratitude. Because of different life experiences, we sometimes focus too much on what we don’t have or what we wish could be different. We forget to show gratitude for what we do have and appreciate it in the present moment. When we invite gratitude in the present moment, we open our hearts to receive.  

9. Generosity. There is power in giving, Jon Kabat-Zinn says, and not giving “with the intention to get a pat on the back”, but because of the joy it creates in others. We humans are wired to give. Giving attention to something else than ourselves (our pain, sadness, etc.) can be healing.

Mindfulness and Self-compassion

Mindfulness and self-compassion go hand in hand. Self-compassion means being able to accept our humanness, with love and kindness.

Self-compassion is different from self-pity. Self-pity is feeling sorry for ourselves. It tends to feed that inner critic that makes us strive, be impatient, want to control, mistrust, and avoid. Self-compassion instead invites us to open space to fully embrace and honor our experiences as they happen in the present moment with love and kindness, reminding ourselves that we are only trying to do the best that we can, and that that is ok. This in return, helps our nervous system regulate better, and our brains respond better to the stresses of our everyday lives.              

Activity

  1. How would you integrate Mindfulness in your day-to-day activities?
  • How would you integrate the 9 attitudes into your relationships?
  • How would these attitudes help you navigate a difficult situation or challenge in your life?  

To learn more about Jon Kabat-Zinn’s 9 attitudes of Mindfulness, visit this video on YouTube:

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