Seven Attitudes For Mindfulness (Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn)
I think this is very important, and key to effective mindfulness based meditation practice. It may sound simple. Maybe it is simple. But realize that simple does not mean easy. Most life lessons, after all is said and done, are simple. But, I am not sure that any are easy. Usually, far from it. And, most, are life long lessons that are on-going, and get repeated over and over, in other words, they have to be practiced. How many of us like to practice anything?
The basic meditation is simple. You keep returning to focusing on your breathing as your mind tries to attach to thoughts, the four hundred things you have to do today, what you did not do from yesterday or the day before, the event coming up in two days or tomorrow or next month, the holidays, your friends, family, and on and on and on and on. Keep returning to your breathing and don’t judge how you are doing or how distracted you are just keep coming back to your breath. Simple. Right? Sounds simple. Is simple. NOT EASY.
Most of this information was provided by my instructor as part of the initial once a week for six weeks course that was held at The Graduate Institute in Bethany, Connecticut. I have added some comments of my own here and there.
Use this as a reference guide, even if you do not get a copy of the book. But, it may pique your interest into wanting to read the book, or at least learn the meditation from an instructor. There is something about meditating with a group, even after you have been doing it for some time, that feels powerful.
Maybe it is like group prayer. Strength in numbers, or something like that. But, I am finding it beneficial. Maybe it is comforting knowing that others are also seeking to…what? Find more peace in their lives? To manage their stress more effectively? To manage their emotions and their internal or external criticisms? To be more accepting and less judgemental? To just be more authentic as a person in this world? To just come together for individual and maybe common good?
For whatever reason, there is something that takes your journey out of isolation and makes you feel like a part of something. For me anyway. I am, or at least I have been till now, a loner most of my life. I could stay home the one night a week but I get something out of going, so I go even when I don’t feel like it.
In standard notation, the reference would be at the bottom of the page, but I am listing it both here and at the bottom.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2004 edition), Full Catastrophe Living: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation, London: Piatkus
Seven Attitudes for Mindfulness (Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn)
Our minds are conditioned to put internal experience and feelings into categories. Good/Bad, Right/Wrong, Like/Dislike, etc.. “These judgments of mind tend to dominate our minds and make it hard for us ever to find any peace” (p. 33). By becoming an impartial witness to our experience we become aware of our habitual judgments and reactions. Knowing what we do can allows space for a new response. The practice is to simply notice the mind is judging and bring attention back to present moment awareness (or object of attention, like the breath).
“Being with” whatever arises requires patience, gentleness and kindness.
We are often rushing from one thing to the next; impatiently awaiting a future event or ruminating the past. “To be patient is simply to be completely in each moment, accepting it in its fullness” (p. 35). Bringing the mind back again to the breath, or body sensations is the true magic of meditation. It builds a wisdom muscle that gives time and space to our lives and allows for a more quality experience. It also allows life to unfold naturally without forcing an outcome.
“Too often we let our thinking and our beliefs about what we ‘know’ prevent us from seeing things as they really are” (p. 35). Having “fresh eyes” means we see things openly and without expectations. We can remove the veil of past experience and thoughts to have a direct understanding of reality…allowing all of life and people (those we know and don’t know) to surprise us with what is truly there instead of allowing our assumptions about a person or situation to deceive us. We can be scientists at every moment, experimenting with reality and our assumptions about it.
Learning to trust one’s own experience, feelings and intuition — loosening oneself from the tyranny of authority and inner harsh judgment allows for deep self-awareness and acceptance.
“Almost everything we do, we do for a purpose, to get something or somewhere. But in meditation, this attitude can be a real obstacle” (p. 37). We are taught to be doers. There should always be a goal and a “driven-ness” to get there. While this may bring temporary relief and security, it can also result in stress and dissatisfaction. Nothing is ever done (totally completed) or good enough. With the attitude of “non-striving” we don’t need to force a result. We can learn to see and accept things as they are right now from moment to moment.
“You have to accept yourself as you are, before you can really change” (p. 38). This attitude is about seeing one’s experience with clarity and kindness, letting go of denial, suppression, rejection or resignation. We can learn to accept the present moment as if we had invited it.
Realize that in these several brief previous sentences I have mentioned concepts that often take years to fully work through in therapy. So, it is called a meditation “practice” for a reason. You don’t just get it all in one big AHAH moment. You become more aware over time. But, as you come to accept yourself as you are at the moment, you welcome the process of being open to changing.
To me, in some ways, this is one of the paradoxes. You give up being impatient with “getting there”, and say, okay, I will accept myself where I am right this moment. That release of all the pressure to do better and be better and get “there” already, somehow allows you to embrace a metamorphosis for changing what you have always done and always been frustrated with. I said I thought it to be paradoxical, and to me, it is. You give up trying, and this helps to move you to more understanding and ability to change. By saying, I am okay where I am right now, it is like it opens up space for you to grow into something more. I find this fascinating.
“Cultivating the attitude of letting go, or non-attachment, is fundamental to the practice of mindfulness” (p. 39). The tendency to want to hold on to what is pleasant in our experience and to reject what is unpleasant is a conditioned human response sometime known as being on autopilot. We practice just letting our experience be what it is and observe it carefully. When we find we can’t just “let go”, we can gently examine how it feels to “hold on”. This brings us more deeply into relationship with ourselves and opens space for new responses.
The book goes more into depth on all of these attitudes.
The scientific evidence accumulated on the benefits of mindfulness meditation I have not listed here for references. Suffice it to say, that if you do a little research, you will find an abundance of documented health benefits. Why don’t we all do it then? I don’t know. Why don’t we all work out at the gym or get some kind of cardio exercise every day? Yes, but it is good for us. So? Since when does that get us motivated to do something???
My instructor had us meditate two minutes a day to start. Sort of hard to wiggle out of that huge, overwhelming task, right? The following week, it was three minutes. I am currently at five to ten minutes. I am finding that I want more, so that is a good thing.
I hope that in my sharing here, maybe I have caught your curiosity enough to have you investigate if you have not already. I think it can honestly be life-changing. And I don’t mean that in some overly dramatic, sudden, WHAM, your life is different. I mean that it starts to have a subtle but significant effect in how you live day to day. In the moment to moment living. And, that, to me, IS life-changing.
And, if you are someone with a chronic illness as a person with cancer (pain, anxiety, depression), or a survivor, or a caretaker, or someone who has lost a loved one, there is a lot on your plate. This tool can help manage it a little better. That is priceless, is it not???
Life After Emilee, on the loss of my wife to pancreatic cancer. I’m not accepting comments right now but please feel free to get in touch via my Contact page (firstname.lastname@example.org)