The 7 Essential Attitudes of Mindfulness
The following “attitudes” are at the core of mindfulness practice and living. Learning to notice, cultivate and apply these attitudes, moment by moment and day by day, is what improves our ability to face fear, anxiety, panic and depression; decrease our suffering; and nurture our sense of peace and well-being.
Although addressed, they are interconnected and practicing one leads to increased awareness and understanding of the others.
1. NON-JUDGING: Mindfulness is compassionate, openhearted, choice-less awareness. It is cultivated by witnessing your own experience, without judgement, as the present moment unfolds. Categorising and judging experiences is no more than a habit, but it locks you into automatic, reactive patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving that perpetuate problems rather than helping. Often we aren’t even aware that these patterns exist!
Judging separates us from direct experience of the unfolding of our lives in each moment. In practicing mindfulness, it’s important to recognise the judging quality of mind and identify the judgemental thinking as it arises. It is equally important to not judge the judging! Simply notice when it is present.
Remember – the goal is to simply notice, not to rid yourself of judging thoughts. That is an unrealistic goal. By noticing that judgement is present, we then have the opportunity to learn new ways to relate to it, choosing a response rather than reacting unconsciously.
2. PATIENCE: Patience is the ability to bear difficulty with calm and self-control. It requires connection with your core, faith and courage. It also requires kindness and compassion for yourself as you bear the upset of a situation. Impatience often arises when ego, the self centred part of self, rails against reality, wanting things to be different than they actually are.
In contrast, the wise self recognises the truth that things have a life cycle of their own, separate from your own wants. As you learn to accept this truth, your patience grows. To build patience, you must learn to recognise impatience and the urge to rush through one moment to get to the next.
3. BEGINNER’S MIND: When you begin to observe the present moment, the thinking mind tends to believe it knows all about what is happening or tries to “control” by desperately seeking more information. The activity of thinking forms a filter or barrier between you and direct experience of life – it is in the unfolding of life moment by moment that holds the full richness of life.
To practice beginner’s mind means to open to the experience of each moment as if meeting it for the first time. Remember and imaging your experience as a child – the first smell of a flower, the first drop of rain, the first taste of an orange. In truth, each moment in life is unique.
You may have experienced the sunset a thousand times, but this particular sunset is different from the rest and will never be again. In practicing mindfulness, you are asked to cultivate this quality of direct experience, receiving whatever arises as a unique and precious experience. Practicing beginner’s mind cultivates our ability to experience life in this way.
4. TRUST: A basic part of learning mindfulness is learning to trust yourself and your feelings. You learn to trust that you can see clearly what is actually happening to you. Practicing mindfulness deepens your awareness of, sensitivity to and accuracy in discerning what is here now, what is happening in your own body, and what is happening around you. You learn to trust your own knowing, your own authority, and don’t need someone else to tell you what you feel and need. In this process, you discover what it really means to be your own person and to live life with authenticity.
5. NON-STRIVING: The bulk of human activity is spent “doing” and trying to change things. This “habit” frequently shows up in meditation. The ego mind wants more of what it likes and wants to get rid of what it doesn’t like, and when it decides that you aren’t the way you “should” be, it even pressures you to change yourself!
This pressure is felt as striving, or straining to be different, go somewhere else, or do something else. Since mindfulness involves simply paying attention, without judgement, to whatever is happening, it is different from this more typical activity of doing – it is about “non-doing,” about learning to “be” instead of do. As you are practicing or living mindfulness and feel a sense of striving or trying to change things, simply notice that without judging yourself.
Mindfulness is about truly relaxing into your experience and allowing whatever is happening to happen, bringing clear, compassionate awareness to it as it happens. The paradox of meditation is that the best way to achieve your goal is to let go of striving and, instead, focus carefully on seeing and accepting things as they are, moment to moment.
6. ACCEPTANCE: The process of acceptance begins with the willingness to see things exactly as they are rather than the way that you think they should be. You have to see things as they are and yourself as you are – truly – in this moment if you wish to change, heal, or transform yourself or your life. Often to be able to accept what comes into awareness, you must pass through periods of intense feelings such as anger, fear, or grief. These feelings themselves require acceptance.
Acceptance does not mean you have to like everything or take a passive attitude. It does not mean you have to be satisfied with things as they are, or that you have to stop trying to change things for the better. Rather acceptance simply means willingness to see things as they are, deeply, truthfully, and completely.
This attitude sets the stage for acting in the moment in the most potent and healthy way, no matter what is happening. You are more likely to know what to do when you have a clear picture of what is actually happening than when your vision is clouded by your mind’s self-serving judgements and desires or its fears and prejudices.
7. LETTING GO: Letting go, or non-attachment is another key attitude of mindfulness. Much of the time, we are practicing the opposite attitude, clinging to the way we want things to be, without even knowing it. Often, what you cling to most strongly are ideas and views about yourself, others and situations. These ideas that we cling to often shape our moment-to-moment experience in profound ways. When we start paying attention to
our experience through mindfulness, we can discover which thoughts, feelings and sensations we are trying to hold onto. And we will also notice other things that we want desperately to get rid of. Clinging is driven by our likes and dislikes and our judgements. It is important to just let your experience be what it is, moment by moment. This letting be is actually a way of letting go. By not interfering, by just letting things be, you have a better chance to let go.
Adapted from Full Catastrophe Living
©1990. 2013 Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D