In my last post, we began to explore a common definition of mindfulness that is found in the writings of Jon Kabat-Zinn: “paying attention, in a particular way, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” In my opinion, Kabat-Zinn’s definition reveals the paradox of simultaneous simplicity and complexity in the practice of mindfulness.
Let’s take a closer look at Feldman’s definition, which brings us to another set of observations.
- Mindfulness is something you get intentional about. We are all more or less mindful in certain situations. Some of us have a natural talent for not getting lost in our thoughts, while others of us are often hijacked by fear and anxiety. When you decide to purposefully bring more mindfulness into your life, you take the most important step.
- Mindfulness is a skill. It is actually a skill that all humans have, a natural capacity that we may not use because of our habits and environment, but that can be developed. We can choose to be mindful at any moment. With training, it gets easier to focus our attention on the present moment.
- Mindfulness is equanimity. Equanimity is the ability to accept things as they happen, surfing on the waves of life instead of being tossed about. We often want to savor moments of joy, but we start to squirm and try to escape or hide when something doesn’t go right. Who wants to be totally present for an event that is painful? And yet the wisdom of equanimity teaches us that it is just as important to pay attention to our own suffering, and that learning to do so gives us access to a wealth of valuable information about ourselves, our needs and our desires.
- Mindfulness depends on discernment, not judgment. When we judge, we use a lower part of our brain that needs to divide things into simple categories of right and wrong. But with discernment, we engage our creative capacities to understand the complexity of a situation. Many times when something happens, there are several mini-events going on within the greater event. For example, when we get angry, there are all kinds of layers of history, feelings and relationships that interact with each other. The emotion is just the tip of the iceberg. So we see that mindfulness allows us to bring depth and hope to any situation.
- Mindfulness helps you lighten up. When you no longer come down on yourself with a heavy hand, you are free to discover the very complex being that you are. This curiosity brings you into a more playful relationship with yourself. You don’t need to take everything so seriously. You see things unfolding as they happen, and you become, for example, more apt to laugh at yourself or keep a conversation from derailing.
- Mindfulness helps you grow a bigger heart. Mindfulness leads directly to kindness by giving us more compassion for ourselves and for others. When we see our own complexity, we understand better what is happening inside other people. We slow time down to ask ourselves the most useful questions and become more sensitive to others’ needs. Kindness is about being here now with others, with heightened sensitivity to the tiny signals that are only perceptible when your own inner voice stops barking.
Exercise – Get to know yourself:
Which of these ideas speaks to you the loudest? In your journal, write a few words down describing and analyzing three events of your day. How could mindfulness have helped you? How can you be more aware when those same situations come up again?
For each event, write a kind message to yourself and encourage yourself to put into practice a new strategy.