Many people resist exploring mindfulness practice because they assume that it means long periods of “formal” meditation practice. They think of this as sitting quietly on a yoga mat on the floor, eyes closed, mind clear, in perfect harmony with the universe. Often clients or prospective students tell me “I can’t meditate! I could never get my mind to stop racing.” These beliefs often stand in the way of people beginning a mindfulness practice – it feels unattainable.
Whenever I hear these reactions, I smile and gently explain that mindfulness practice is not about clearing your mind or about achieving cosmic harmony. Rather, it is about learning to bring attention to your moment-to-moment experience without judgment so that you can live more fully in your daily life. Of course, formal practices like sitting and walking meditation are one way to help “cultivate” mindfulness. But equally important are the mindful “attitudes” that one brings to everyday life.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his seminal book on mindfulness practice, Full Catastrophe Living, states that there are seven “attitudinal factors” that “constitute the major pillars of mindfulness practice.” I like to think of these as “qualities” that we intentionally bring to our daily lives that can help us to be fully present and to live with greater ease, joy, and peace.
Whether or not you have a “formal” meditation practice, you can bring mindfulness into your daily life by choosing a quality each week to focus on and trying to bring that quality to your moment-to-moment experience as often as you are can.
Jon Kabat-Zinn notes that judgments “tend to dominate our minds and make it hard for us ever to find any peace.” We judge constantly and, of course, some judgments serve an important purpose when we accurately assess that something is unsafe or likely to cause us harm.
But judgments often stand in our way of finding peace or of living the life we desire because so many of our judgments are directed inward, toward ourselves and our experiences. We constantly think that we “should” be, think, behave, or feel a certain way. This results in us holding ourselves to impossibly high and unattainable standards.
See if you can bring your awareness to these judgments and step back from them. Bring some curiosity to them. Do these judgments actually have a basis in objective reality? Or are they simply products of our incessant inner tape that is often so negative? Can you look through a lens that is less judgmental and more compassionate to yourself and others?
“You have to accept yourself as you are before you can really change,” says Jon Kabat-Zinn. In many ways, this quality goes hand-in-hand with non-judging. Acceptance of ourselves, others, and our present moment experience can be difficult to achieve. Acceptance does not mean passivity. It does not mean that you have to like things when you don’t. Neither does it mean that you need to be resigned to tolerating everything that bothers you, or give up your desire to make changes where they are needed.
But we spend a lot of energy denying reality or wishing things were not the way they are. We can only create change when we begin by accepting things the way that they are in the present moment. For example, if you feel tired, can you accept that you feel tired without judging the feeling or beating yourself up for not getting more sleep last night? If you can accept the present reality without judgment, then perhaps you will be more likely to make changes that can lead to you feeling less tired in the future.
Jon Kabat-Zinn emphasizes the importance of developing a basic trust in yourself, your feelings and your experience. So often, without awareness, we deny what we are actually experiencing because we believe that we “shouldn’t” feel a certain way or have a particular experience.
We avoid listening to our own inner voice because we are often bombarded with many external voices and have learned to doubt ourselves and our experiences. See if you can tune into your inner voice with greater frequency. We all have inherent wisdom that can be accessed by listening to this inner voice. With practice, we can learn to develop a greater trust in ourselves and our wisdom and strength.