Mindfulness is the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. I then sometimes add, in the service of self-understanding and wisdom.
Chapter 1: What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an interesting phenomenon that came about in 1979 when Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, an American professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. The purpose behind this program was to proceed with a new way to treat the chronically ill.
Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s program paved the way for the application of mindfulness practices and ideas in medicine to treat all kinds of people, as in both healthy and unhealthy people. These applications also sparked a wave of mindfulness through meditation as a vehicle towards wellness for those outside of the medical community as well as for individuals not necessarily seeking medical wellness.
In other words, the practice of mindfulness became a wellness trend. That trend is very much alive and well today.
However, the very concept of mindfulness is as old as time—it wasn’t actually created by Dr. Zabat-Zinn, only the MBSR program was. The Dr.’s program based on mindfulness is actually deeply rooted in the significant elements of Sati Buddhist traditions that are connected to Zen, Vipassanā, and Tibetan meditation techniques. Mindfulness is also rooted in Hinduism, Taoism, and Stoicism; in some cases for religious purposes.
When we talk about practicing mindfulness, we’re essentially talking about a type of meditation in which a patient—or practitioner—focuses on becoming intensely aware of what they’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without judgment or interpretation.
They are learning to free themselves of their everyday stresses and the very things that cause them to feel anxiety and pain. The Buddhists actually believe that if you are anxious, it’s because you’re metaphorically living in the future by simply worrying about it. Therefore mindfulness is the way individuals can return to the present and learn to be present, by focusing on their breath.
It is through mindfulness that we learn to become one with not just the moment, but ourselves. It’s the first step to our journey on the path of illumination, where we can become truly enlightened, and by the simplest definition—free of all of life’s half-truths, or, its B.S.!
Chapter 2: The 9 Attitudes of Mindfulness
According to Dr. Kabat-Zin, the act of awareness or, being aware is one of the hardest things that we as human beings can do. If you’ve ever attempted meditation and failed miserably, then you’re likely familiar with the level of difficulty it takes to bring your focus to your breath and nothing else.
Dr. Kabat-Zin maintains that there are “9 attitudes of mindfulness,” as there are certain qualities that we as humans possess which disrupt our path to enlightenment. Therefore, there are certain qualities, or attitudes that one must adopt if they want to reap the benefits of mindfulness and, of course, if they want their journey to be successful.
The 9 attitudes of mindfulness are the very fundamentals of the practice. They are as follows:
- Beginner’s mind
- Letting Go
In practicing mindfulness, each individual must master these attitudes. Let’s take a more in-depth look at each attitude to be mastered:
Judgment tends to be the attitude that first arises when we begin our journey towards mindfulness. As Dr. Kabat-Zinn mentions in his explanation of judgment, it’s as simple as your mind saying something like “this is boring,” or “this isn’t working,” or something to that effect.
When these judgments appear in our minds, it’s crucial that we recognize them and give ourselves a reminder that practicing mindfulness means to suspend our judgments—no matter what arises.
And that goes for our meditation practice as well as our daily lives.
The attitude and practice of non-judging are meant to wake us up to reality. That reality is that naturally, we as human beings are quick to pass judgment. We judge ourselves, we judge others, and we judge situations—and we do this as easily as we breathe.
More often than not, we are passing our judgments based on our own poorly-defined perspective on reality. This usually stems from something we feel about ourselves or have experienced. There is actually a rather large list of cognitive biases that would prove most of our preconceptions as half-truths rather than reality.
In fact, our perceptions are often 100% false.
So, what we want to do here, is learn how to suspend our judgment. Even if it’s only for the duration of our mindfulness training, it’ll give us an opportunity to look closer at our judgments. From there we can assess them from a distance, gaining insight and learning to reject them so we are no longer slaves to them.
Dr. Kabat-Zinn would describe the attitude of acceptance as a very active process. Rather than being an act of resignation, acceptance is an act of recognition—that things are the way they are.
It’s about courage and not a passive concept at all. To accept things as they are is to let them be what they are, and not force them to be as they are not. Therefore, it takes courage to look objectively at a situation and say, “okay, this is my problem.”
Acceptance is similar to admission, much like an addict must recognize and admit they have a problem before they can really do anything about it. We too must accept and admit our shortcomings and issues to ourselves in order to grow and continue on our path of enlightenment.
Once again, it takes courage to be honest with yourself (and others). It also takes strength to not try and cover up these issues we have, and by covering up we don’t mean hiding away your flaws for others. We mean breaking the chains of self-imposed denial.
Through acceptance, we’re able to conserve all the energy we would normally expel trying to lie to ourselves or fight with ourselves. Once you master the attitude of acceptance, your energy is free to tackle your problems with a new insight. Then you can begin changing your situation for the better.
You can begin to heal.
Dr. Kabatz-Zinn firmly believes that patience is a form of wisdom. It’s a near-physical way of demonstrating that we understand and accept that everything happens in its own time, such as the time metamorphosis takes for a caterpillar to become a butterfly.
In other words, we must accept that everything takes time, including our own growth and healing. There’s no such thing as rushing the process because we know that the results will reveal themselves when it’s time, and by rushing things, all we do is waste time and abandon our mindfulness.
Therefore, patience is not just an attitude of the mindfulness practice, but the very foundation of it.
Mindfulness doesn’t present all of its benefits at once. You won’t “be mindful” overnight or even after a few sessions of meditations. The process of becoming mindful and calming your mind to achieve balance, as we’ve stated, is a journey. The path to enlightenment and illumination will unfold before you in its own time; it doesn’t matter if you walk or run.
However, surely as we learn to walk and talk and do other things well, we can learn patience, and later mindfulness. Patience is the process of continuance, even if we don’t see progress. As we’ve mentioned, the goal is to become present and be mindful. Once we can achieve this, we’ve found a milestone in our journey.
The present moment that we are trying to focus on is a rich experience, according to the good doctor. It’s all too often that we let our own way of thinking and accustomed beliefs about what we “know” keep us from seeing things as they are.
As we mentioned earlier, we come with our own cognitive biases, which stand in the way of achieving mindfulness. Of course, we now know that for the most part, we’re wrong—but we’ve accepted this!
One thing we need to do in our practice and our daily lives is to stop taking the ordinary for granted. We must find the extraordinary in the very things that have become ordinary to us, such as our everyday experiences. This is achieved simply by being mindful and in the present moment.
However, to bring ourselves into the present, we must cultivate what Sr. Kabatz-Zinn calls the “beginner’s mind.” In other words, a mind that is willing and able to see everything as it is for the first time—no matter how many times we’ve seen it before.
The cultivation of this mindset is no easy feat. Our realities are continuously shifting, and we’re definitely not the same person as when we were children—or even six months ago. Yet we tend to treat our reality as if it’s a fixed structure.
Within this fixed structure, we judge ourselves and others based on what we think we know—about ourselves and their past. As you can see, each fundamental of the practice tries into each other.
However, reality is different from the things we think we know. We’re always changing, and sometimes it’s as simple as having a good day and having a bad day. By recognizing this in ourselves and others, we can bring a lot of peace into our worlds.
The beginner’s mind is about being in tune with a rhythm of which we have no control over. It passes no judgment and it accepts what is in front of it. There is no past and there is no future. There is only the present moment.
We’re simply here to observe and witness each phenomenon as it comes and appreciate what we’ve learned about ourselves from it as it goes.
Trust is an essential part of meditation and mindfulness training. Dr. Kabatz-Zinn believes that it’s far better to trust in your intuition and your own authority, even if it causes you to make a few mistakes. Developing trust within yourself is what will guide you throughout your mindfulness journey.
The most important thing you can do in your practice and in life is to honor your feelings. If something feels off, why would you discount it?
Most likely because someone else, a peer, and more likely an authoritative figure, caused you to doubt yourself at some point in time. However, much like patience, trust is a form of wisdom.
Think of it this way—there are so many things happening harmoniously in our body right now. We breathe without thinking about it, our heart just knows to beat, and our metabolism affords us the energy we need to keep going. In this same way, we need to trust in our own selves and our own minds, in that we can heal once given the opportunity to do so.
In essence, if we can get out of our own way and learn to quiet our minds, we can become healthy again just as easily as our hearts know to go on beating.
We are all capable of the basic capacity of trust. We all have intuition, and we’re capable of learning how to let it guide us. For many people, meditation is nothing more than a leap of faith, but it’s a good start.
It may sound counterintuitive, but one of the fundamental attitudes is to not strive for specific results. At the risk of sounding redundant, the goal is being present in the given moment. Do you have goals that you want to achieve in terms of mindfulness, your mental health, and your quality of life? Yes, of course, you do—we all do.
The point is not to focus on those future moments in which we will have achieved our goals. Instead, we must focus on seeing and accepting things as they are in each moment. This non-striving attitude is something we can only achieve with patience and regular practice.
The movement towards your goals will happen in its own time, which is something that also requires trust. Dr. Zabatz-Zinn would say that you are inviting these moments to happen with you as you practice mindfulness.
Interestingly enough, one of the reasons we become so restless with mediation is because it’s difficult to grasp the concept that by doing nothing, you can fix a lot of issues. However, the truth is, you are doing something—you’re accepting and observing the issue with an objective eye, and you’re patiently allowing it to unfold.
It’s very similar in how we jump to conclusions before understanding all the variables of a situation. It’s better to wait and get all the facts before you can figure out the next steps. Therefore, we must be non-striving as to focus more on allowing the moments to unfold and present us with the necessary information we need to solve our problems with greater clarity.
Letting-go can be thought of as an extension of acceptance, however, it’s arguably the hardest fundamental attitude to master. One way we survive as humans is by forming attachments. We become attached to people, feelings, experiences, or situations, and we allow them to run on an endless loop within our minds.
While there’s nothing wrong with forming healthy attachments or keeping fond memories close to heart, we also tend to hold onto the negatives in our lives. We also like to block out certain negative thoughts and feelings to protect ourselves from feeling pain or fear.
Additionally, we also have a tendency to want more and more of what we like and less of what we don’t like. This causes us to reject certain experiences and relationships without realizing the attachments we’re holding that skew our perceptions of reality.
Therefore, when we come to our practice, we must focus on letting go of our attachments by allowing each experience to be precisely what it is and practice observing each moment.
By letting go, we are also embracing the fact that we simply cannot control everything. It’s not about giving up, but recognizing the reality of the situation and that sometimes there’s just nothing you can do.
Once you master the attitude of letting go, you invite spaciousness, calmness, and acceptance into your life. That’s not to say that you should stand back and do nothing in every situation. It simply means that you are no longer trying to control situations that cannot be changed, which also takes strength and courage—and patience.
Gratitude and Generosity
You’ve probably heard pretty often that it’s a good idea to take a moment and practice gratitude each day. It’s something that can help you calm your anxiety, make you feel better when having a bout of depression, and it’s also said to attract more abundance in your life.
Guess what? It’s all true. There’s scientific evidence that positive thinking via gratitude can have a positive impact on not just our minds, but our lives.
With gratitude comes generosity. Typically when an individual practices gratitude daily they are more likely to help someone else with a personal problem or offer emotional support.
When you talk about or write about what you’re grateful for in your life, you’re bringing attention to the present. What you’re grateful for are the things you have in this present moment, whether it be a working car or the words of wisdom of your mother that you carry with you and apply to certain situations.
You feel better about your life as a whole and in turn, you become more alert, enthusiast, determined, attentive, energetic, and even experience more peaceful sleep. Once again, this is because practicing gratitude pulls you into focus on the present. It also keeps you from focusing on the negative, such as the stressors in your life, because it helps you realize that sometimes things are bad and sometimes they’re good—it brings you to acceptance.
Gratitude is probably the easiest attitude to master in mindfulness. All it takes is keeping a journal and listing at least five things you’re grateful for each morning or night—or both.
If you’re just starting out in your mindfulness training, we would suggest beginning with gratitude.
Chapter 3: How to Practice Mindfulness
The best thing about practicing mindfulness is that it doesn’t require you to buy anything, attend a class or seminar, or even go anywhere. There are tons of helpful mindfulness techniques out there for free, and we’ll provide you with plenty to get you started.
The most important thing to remember when you begin to practice mindfulness is that at its most basic level, it’s about bringing awareness to what you’re doing without becoming reactive. Once you grasp this concept, as well as the concept of each fundamental attitude needed for a successful journey, you’ll be able to practice mindfulness at any time and in any place.
It’s also important to note that the practice of mindfulness is, in fact, meditation. For reference, mindfulness is the quality while mediation is the practice, and throughout this practice, you develop several different qualities which we’ll expand on later.
Here are the basics on how to get started:
Decide on a Time Limit
Mindfulness takes time, but if you’re just beginning it’s best to start with shorter time increments. For your first time, we’d suggest between five and ten minutes. As you further your practice you can extend that time as you see fit.
Take a Seat
Next, you’ll need to find a place to sit that feels calm and quiet. I can be on your bed, on the floor, outside in the garden—anywhere that brings you peace is an ideal place to begin your mindfulness practice.
Eventually, you’ll be able to practice just about anywhere, but for now, it’s critical that you limit as many distractions as possible.
Take Notice of Your Body
As you take your seat you’ll want to become aware of your body. Whether you’re sitting on the floor cross-legged or in a chair, you’ll want to make sure you’re stable and comfortable enough to remain in this position for a while.
You’ll also want to take into account your posture. It won’t do you any good to be hunched over with your head resting in your palms—you should remain sitting upright and alert, with good posture.
Feel Your Breath
Now take into account your breath. This is what you want to focus on—nothing else. Breathe in and out slowly, focusing on the sensation on it entering and exiting your lungs. It’s best to breathe in and out through your nose or in through your nose and out through your mouth, making sure each breath is controlled.
Keep Your Mind in Check
Your mind is going to want to wander, and it’ll likely get what it wants. It’s inevitable that your attention will wander from your breath to other places in the beginning—and that’s okay because you understand the fundamentals of this practice now and you know that all you have is time.
However, each time you notice your mind wandering, simply redirect your attention to your breath.
Be Kind to Yourself
Just as a reminder, that mindfulness in practice is not an easy thing to master. If it were, the entire world would be zen and peaceful and reasonable. So, don’t be so hard on yourself or your wandering mind.
More importantly, don’t dwell on the thoughts that do come into your mind as you practice. They’ll only bring you down. Just continue to return to your breath, and be patient as you work on becoming the master of your mind and being in the present moment.
Chapter 4: What Is Meditation?
Now let’s define mediation, as it is the practice in which mindfulness is acquired. Mediation, in general, is a practice where an individual uses a specific technique to train their attention span and awareness in order to achieve mental clarity, emotional stability, and overall calmness.
There are actually several different types of mediation, including:
● Mindfulness meditation
● Spiritual meditation
● Focused meditation
● Movement meditation
● Mantra meditation
● Transcendental meditation
● Progressive relaxation
● Loving-kindness meditation
● Visualization meditation
Each has its own purpose, and more often than not, people tend to combine different techniques. In all honesty, there’s really no wrong way to meditate as the goal for each type of mediation is the same.
Additionally, meditation has roots that branch out beyond Asian and Indian cultures in its history. It suffices to say that we as human beings were meant to meditate and practice mindfulness.
It’s also important to note that there are several differences between mindfulness and meditation. The two words are often used interchangeably, however, there’s more to them than simply a practice and a quality. You can read more about those differences here.
Chapter 5: How to Start Meditating
While learning to meditate is quite similar to learning how to practice mindfulness, there are some distinctions in how to go about it.
Here’s a basic introduction to meditation exercises to get you started:
Sit or Lie Down Comfortably
Just as you would look for a peaceful area to begin your practice with mindfulness, do the same for your meditation practice. You can sit cross-legged on a cushion or a yoga mat, and you can lie down.
Close Your Eyes
Once you’re in position and ready to begin, close your eyes. Some meditation practitioners will simply soften their gaze rather than close their eyes, however, we feel that by closing your eyes you can minimize distractions much easier.
Don’t Try and Control Your Breath Right Away
As you engage in your practice, don’t attempt to control your breathing right away. Let it just flow naturally. You’ll be focusing on your breath eventually, especially when you’re looking to be mindful, but for now, just let it ride.
Observe Your Body
Keep your breathing steady but begin to focus on your body—your posture and how your body moves with each inhale and exhale. Take notice of your shoulders, chest, rib cage, belly, legs, and arms as your breath moves in and out.
Any time you begin to lose focus while meditating, redirect your attention back to your breath, and then your body. You also don’t necessarily need to time your sessions at first, but it’s suggested that you begin with three to five-minute increments.
Chapter 6: Helpful Mindfulness Techniques
Since mindfulness is something you’ll be practicing throughout your day—not just during your meditation sessions—here are a few tips and techniques to try out:
Begin Your Day with a Purpose
Don’t wake up and rush through your morning routine. Instead, establish a short pre-morning routine. Once you’re ready to get out of bed, simply sit up at the edge of your bed or in a chair, straighten your spine, and with your eyes closed take three deep breaths.
Assess your intentions for the day by addressing your needs and goals.
Enjoy Every Mouthful of Food
We often bulldoze through our food without tasting it. From now on, focus on enjoying every last bite of what you’re eating. Take a few deep breaths before each meal, and take your time in between bites.
Take notice of the sensations your body feels as you eat, and pay close attention to the flavors as you chew. Most of all, listen to your body—it’ll let you know what it needs in terms of fuel and when it’s had enough.
Pause Throughout the Day
We tend to allow our brains to run on autopilot throughout the day. Every so often, take a break from whatever it is you’re doing to practice mindfulness. Push away from your desk, step outside, close your eyes for a moment, and check-in with yourself.
Take these moments to remind yourself of the intentions you had set for the day, and be honest about whether or not you’ve followed through with them. Think of something you’re grateful for, and breathe.