ATTITUDES THAT SUPPORT US IN MINDFULNESS
The cultivation of mindful awareness is a gradual and subtle process and one that is not easily measured. Mindfulness in essence is a state of awareness and can only be experienced in any given moment. However, there are certain shifts in attitude and perspective that may begin to develop and in return support this process. Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the pioneers in bringing mindfulness practice to the Western world, describes a number of attitudes that he sees as fundamental in supporting mindful awareness.
It is natural that we make judgements about ourselves and the world around us. With mindfulness we can begin to become aware of this process of ‘judging mind’ and rather than becoming caught up or further fuelling these judgements, instead we take on the role of impartial observer. We can practise this as we walk, first by noticing how judgement shows up for us, maybe how fit we feel or if we find what we see around us pleasant or not, if there are ‘too many’ other people on our walk, etc. These kinds of judgements are natural, so there is no need to further judge yourself for having them; simply notice them. The act of awareness in itself gives us space and freedom. By noticing and letting go of judgement we allow ourselves to experience fully the moment as it actually is.
An attitude of patience helps us be with each moment as it arrives rather than trying to rush through certain moments that we consider to be less important in order to get to better ones. We allow things to unfold in their own time and give our attention to each moment. When out on a walk in the mountains, we may be rushing to get to the top as we think the view will be better. The act of rushing will not make the view any better when we get there, and in the process it prevents us from appreciating what is available to us each step of the way. The attitude of patience can also be turned towards ourselves and our mindfulness practice, allowing ourselves to be who and where we are. When out walking we may notice when we become impatient and how this makes us feel. If we observe nature it does not seem to be in a rush; it has its own natural rhythms with day and night and the seasons. Perhaps observing this can support us in developing our own patience.
3. BEGINNER’S MIND
The attitude of beginner’s mind is one of curiosity towards our experience, trying to see things with fresh eyes as they really are in the moment rather than letting our beliefs, opinions and judgements shape our experience. It is a reminder that each moment is unique. We allow things to be alive, to change, to be fresh in each moment. We are open to the extraordinariness of life rather than sinking into the ruts of our knowledge or expertise. You can explore bringing this attitude of beginner’s mind to people, places and the things you see around you, and notice how this may change your experience of them. The same walk can be different every time if we are open in this way.
The practice of mindfulness is not about trying to become a ‘better’ person, or more like somebody else, but rather to become more fully who we already are. An attitude of trust in our own experience, intuition, goodness and wisdom supports us in this, regardless of whether we have made mistakes. It also emphasises taking on responsibility for our own well-being; only we can live our own lives.
The practice of mindfulness is not goal-oriented, although at first this may seem counterintuitive. The process is not one of trying to achieve some other state or of changing ourselves, but of letting go of this struggle. Paradoxically this shift in orientation seems to allow for changes to happen but not through striving. Striving to make our experience or ourselves different or better often causes us struggle and frustration. A helpful analogy with mindfulness is that the best way of getting from A to B is to first be fully with A.
The attitude of acceptance is not a resignation but the ability to be with the reality of our experience in the moment, rather than getting caught up in the struggle, tension and mental effort of wanting things to be different, or denying how they are. Acceptance allows us to settle into the moment and be with what is. This does not mean we have to be passive or just submit to things; we can still make decisions, take action or make changes, but they come from a place of seeing how things really are. When out walking, if it begins to rain we may habitually hunch our shoulders, speed up and focus on getting to a dry, warm place out of the ‘unpleasant’ rain. In contrast, how might it be to accept that it is raining and to experience it for what it is, straighten up, allow the raindrops to fall on us, feel the sensation of the coolness of the water on our skin and hear the sound of raindrops? We may find that this radically changes our experience and, rather than resisting the situation, we accept, embrace and even enjoy it.
7. LETTING GO
We can expend a great deal of mental effort holding on to or attaching ourselves to things, whether these are our opinions, ideas, desires, situations or events, or people that we want or don’t want in our lives. Letting go involves recognizing when the mind is gripping or tightening around these things and intentionally allowing ourselves to put them aside. The seven attitudes described here have a lot of crossover and are mutually supportive. Imagine them as the fertile soil from which mindfulness can grow and in turn mindfulness will help to deepen these attitudes.
Extracted from Walk by Sholto Radford (Quadrille, £7.99); Available to purchase, here.