MINDFULNESS: An Intro Series Part 3 - Mindful Attitudes
THREE: MINDFUL ATTITUDES
In section two we looked at what we might pay attention to when practicing mindfulness. Alongside practicing to become more aware of our senses, and our thoughts and feelings, we also need to cultivate some helpful attitudes - and we focus on that here in section three.
When it comes to psychological health, self-compassion may play more of a role than present-moment awareness (Van Dam et al, 2011). Research suggests people higher in self-compassion are less likely to experience depression and anxiety, and more likely to be satisfied in their lives (Neff, 2003a; 2003b). This is one example of how mindful attitudes may amplify the benefits of present moment attention. Compassion is also an important part of the original source of mindfulness practices: Buddhism.
The mindful attitudes help us to remember that we aren’t practicing mindfulness to experience anything in particular. As mentioned earlier, expectations are important, and while mindful practices may help these things, we shouldn’t be striving to relax, be calmer, or make any emotion ‘go away’. Instead we focus on noticing what is going on — within us and around us. After this we might feel calmer, but sometimes it might be difficult; we may slow down enough to notice something really important. We may realise we need to make a difficult choice, change our behaviour in some way, or take a challenging action such as confronting injustice.
The following mindful attitudes help to shape our expectations of the practice. They can help us to allow all of our thoughts, feelings and experiences to be noticed, and to make room for them all. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn there are seven key mindful attitudes (Kabat-Zinn, 2013, p.21–30).
“…paying close attention to your moment-to-moment experience while, as best you can, not getting caught up in your ideas and opinions, likes and dislikes”. (Kabat-Zinn, 2013, p. 21)
In life it helps to be discerning — to be able to make judgement calls. However, sometimes judgements run amuck. We can habitually judge ourselves, our lives or other people. We can also judge our experiences — our thoughts, feelings, wants and needs, and by doing so make it all more complicated. For example we might get angry about being sad, scared of being angry, or ashamed of having certain needs. Non-judging is the practice of stepping back and noticing all of those judgements. While it is called “non-judging” it might be easier to think of it as getting better at noticing our habitual judgements, discerning which are useful, and those that are simply automatic reactions we can let come and go.
“… we cultivate patience toward our own minds and bodies when practicing mindfulness” (Kabat-Zinn, 2013, p. 23)
Our minds work faster than the speed of life. We might have an idea, but it will take time for that idea to be realised. We might want things to happen faster than they could ever realistically occur. Do you become impatient easily? Does being impatient help? If you get impatient, and it causes you agitation or stress or anger, try to cultivate this mindful attitude.
“….a mind that is willing to see everything as if for the first time” (Kabat-Zinn, 2013, p. 24)
When we go to new places it is easy to experience beginner’s mind. This is because we are seeing everything for the first time. This is harder when we walk down the the same streets every day. However, we can walk down a familiar road while trying to view it through the eyes of a tourist. This is beginner’s mind; seeing things with fresh eyes. We can try this with the landmarks or objects around us, people we have known for years, and our own senses, thoughts and emotions. We can cultivate beginner’s mind by taking the time to slow down and deeply observe those things we take for granted.
“It is far better to trust in your own intuition and your own authority, even if you make some “mistakes” along the way, than always to look outside yourself for guidance” (Kabat-Zinn, 2013, p. 25)
When it comes to learning new skills, from mathematics to piano to understanding ourselves, we develop through trial and error. Mindfulness can help us to notice our thoughts, feelings, needs and wants, and to trust that we can take it slowly and come up with a good decision before acting (or not acting). We can then reflect on what happened and learn. The more we learn, the more we can trust ourselves.
“…trying less and being more” (Kabat-Zinn, 2013, p. 26)
As mentioned earlier, when we practice mindfulness we want to let go of the need to change anything other than where we focus our attention, and the attitudes we take. This is often the most useful way to actually make positive change. Trying to stop feeling sad often keeps the sadness hanging around. Simply feeling the sadness, noticing it, can allow it to come and go. Non-striving describes this process; not trying to achieve anything in particular. When we sit down to be mindful, we try not to try too much. For a change we simply try to be.
“… seeing things as they are in the present moment” (Kabat-Zinn, 2013, p. 27)
Suffering often stems from struggling against what is. Acceptance helps us to see things as they are. By accepting we can see things clearly, and decide if there is anything we can do about it. It does not mean doing nothing. It means seeing clearly. If I have hurt someone I can try to think my way out of it, or I can accept that happened, be open to feeling the feelings I have about it, and decide to do something about it. If I feel emotional pain I can fight it all day long and wear myself out. If I have negative thoughts about myself, I can go to battle with them — sometimes winning and sometimes losing. Or, I can step back, notice all this, and accept it, being present, seeing the bigger picture, saving time and energy and freeing up my attention to be here and now, and if I want to, plan my next step.
“… let our experience be what it is, and practice observing it from moment to moment” (Kabat-Zinn, 2013, p. 29)
Letting go is the process of not becoming attached to pleasant thoughts or feelings, or trying to run from difficult thoughts or feelings. Instead, we let it all come and go. This attitude helps us to simply notice things as they are.
While these attitudes are not all the attitudes we can cultivate, or that may come from, mindfulness practice, they cover some good ground. You will have noticed there is a lot of crossover between the different attitudes, for example letting go of thoughts and feelings is closely related to acceptance, or not striving to think or feel a certain way. This is good, as focusing on any one will help to develop the others. When you practice the upcoming skills, keep these attitudes in mind.