In previous blogs, I’ve outlined how certain attitudes can be helpful as we enter into mindfulness training. By cultivating qualities such as commitment, courage, and cheerfulness, we can incline our minds toward living more wisely. Here are 3 more approaches of mind we can train in, and some suggestions for how to discover them.
A wise teacher was asked: “What’s the secret to your happiness?” The reply came back: “A wholehearted cooperation with the unavoidable.” When the present moment is boring, irritating, frightening, or painful, we may not want to co-operate. We may fear it will feel like resignation or self-betrayal, or that we’ll be overwhelmed. But when we can’t change much about our situation, we can change our approach to it.
The word co-operate means “to work with,” and this requires alignment. We can stop trying to fix things by battling: with pain, depression, anxiety, or whatever else ails us. We can let go of chasing future pleasures in a way that blinds us to present-moment joy. Ceasing our striving to get somewhere else, we gently drop into feeling where we are. We can start to relax. Releasing our tension, we’re no longer in a state of war, with ourselves or the world. Aligned with reality, we may then be ready to “operate,” to begin to explore some activity. Continuing to check in with our senses, the action we take is more likely to flow. We’re starting to ride the waves of life.
Suggestion: Notice are you tuned in with what’s happening, or are you trying to fight or run from it? If you notice you’re not in tune, can you let go of fighting or running from that realization too?
Many millions of people have practiced mindfulness over many centuries. Just because something has endured through the ages doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing, but experienced practitioners often say they feel happier, kinder and lighter than when they began. Scientific research points to the same thing: mindfulness brings more contentment, more compassion, more choice.
Confidence doesn’t mean expectation, which tries to transport us to an imagined future. If you practise mindfulness with the expectation of results (or if you’re sceptical, the expectation of no results), you’ve already moved out of the moment and into a fantasy of what you think or hope might happen. Confidence here is meant more as a kind of trust, giving you the impetus to stay on the mindfulness road. In time, once your practice has had a chance to flower, you can make your own assessment about whether it’s helping.
Suggestion: Talk to others who meditate. If you don’t know anyone, and there’s nowhere near you where people meet to train, look online for community resources. Sites like Everyday Mindfulness have forums where you can discuss your practice, while mindful.org offers a range of articles on the art, science, and practice of mindfulness.
Most of us aren’t constantly courageous and committed. We don’t always feel compassionate. Sometimes we experience doubt, not confidence. We get bored more than curious, and we don’t feel like co-operating. Cheerful? Forget it. This is okay. We don’t have to strive for perfection. We can allow ourselves to be who we are, where we are. Just noticing this is itself an act of co-operation, and of compassion. It’s more than good enough. The wonderful thing is, as soon as we’ve noticed what’s going on for us, we’re already back in mindfulness. When we see with eyes of awareness that we’re bored, fearful, distracted, or depressed, we’re no longer caught up in those things. We don’t have to cajole, force or struggle our way back to mindfulness—coming back happens simply by our willingness to acknowledge our minds have wandered.
Suggestion: Bring awareness to patterns of distraction. Ask yourself at intervals: “Am I here or elsewhere? Am I awake or on autopilot?” If you find yourself forgetting to ask, set an alarm on your phone to ring a few times a day, or post reminders around your house. Make the reminders friendly rather than hectoring: “Hello—are you at home right now?”
Adapted from Mindfulness: How To Live Well By Paying Attention, by Ed Halliwell, Hay House Basics