Attitudes of Mind
The attitude of mind with which one practises Mindfulness is crucial in whether it works or not. It is a process that requires the commitment of our whole being. There are certain important attitudes of mind to cultivate:
Non-judging – Mindfulness is about stepping back from the flow of our mental experience and becoming an impartial witness. We step out of the war zone of conflicting emotions and observe the constant stream of judging and reacting that is going on. We are constantly judging experience in terms of what we like, what we do not like and what we are not interested in. This stops us experiencing peace. When practising Mindfulness we do not try to stop the judging and reacting - instead we watch it and do not fuel it.
Patience – This is the wisdom of knowing that things will unfold in their own time – change cannot be rushed. In the beginning we can be impatient with ourselves because we are constantly carried away by thoughts. But we simply apply the method and stay with what is happening right now confident that change will happen in its own way.
Beginners’ Mind – We see everything as if for the first time. There is a sense of freshness and aliveness and immediacy to life as it unfolds. There is a sense of wonderment in life. It is not a dull routine that we are repeating over and over again. If we practice Mindfulness in this way then we see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Simple things become sacred. Often we think we ‘know’ and don’t see things as they really are.
Trust – As we develop our Mindfulness practice, we gain basic trust in ourselves and our bodies. We learn to trust 'gut feelings', so that when something does not feel right, we trust that it is there and we can take a moment to explore that feeling from a non-judgmental standpoint.
Non-Striving – Almost everything we do is for a purpose: to get something or to go somewhere. Mindfulness is different. It is a paradoxical process because it requires focus and commitment, but we are not going anywhere or trying to achieve anything – we are simply entering fully into the present moment. It does not involve striving and becoming; it is about non-doing and simply being. It is important not to introduce ideas into meditation like: ‘I want to become relaxed and peaceful’, because this creates conflict with what is happening now.
Acceptance – This means to see things as they are in the present. Mindfulness accepts what is happening as it is happening. We cannot see something clearly if we are rejecting its existence. This also wastes time and energy. Many different states of mind can arise. Reactivity and aversion lock us more strongly into these states, whereas acceptance takes the power out of them. What causes us trouble is not what arises but how we react to what arises. Acceptance is also the wisdom of knowing that things will change anyway. It is not about being passive and resigned to one’s fate. Out of acceptance comes clarity to act in the appropriate way. Acceptance is the wisdom of knowing that things will unfold in the appropriate way if we stop judging and interfering.
Letting Go – Mindfulness is about noticing how we are holding on and realising that we have a choice to let go. When we start practising Mindfulness we notice that there are certain experiences we hold onto and others we push away. We intentionally decide not to engage in grasping and aversion, but simply accept our experience as it is. When we find ourselves judging and reacting we let go of these attitudes and don’t pursue them. If something has a strong hold on our mind and we cannot let go, then we direct our attention to what holding on feels like and just rest in this experience. We cultivate the non-grasping mind.
With grateful thanks to: Karma Choden, Charlotte Procter, Neil Rothwell and Alistair Wilson.