7 Attitudes to Mindfulness

“Full Catastrophic Living” by Jon Kabat Zinn is so frequently described as landmark or classic or masterpiece that there is almost an obligation to have it on your shelf if you are at all interested in secular mindfulness. But then it’s size at 600+ pages means it can be left untouched. So maybe, like a brief history of time, it becomes a book that more often than not we feel is mocking us it gathers dust on the shelf.

However, it is worth it and although I never read it in the order the chapters I laid out, I keep coming back to it again and again. Out of all the sections, the part on “The attitudinal foundations of mindfulness” is my favourite, even if their name is somewhat of a mouthful. As a taster, to tempt you to buy it (or take it down from the shelf) hear they are summed up in three ways:

Firstly a simple list of the 7 attitudes Jon Kabat-Zinn recommends to adopt:

  • Non judging
  • Patience
  • Beginners mind
  • Trust
  • Non striving
  • Acceptance
  • Letting go

Secondly, (and the best option even if they are called the 9 attitudes for some reason ) is this excellent video of the man himself outlining and describing them.

Finally the 3rd option is some brief notes and ideas I have written for each one. All the good ideas themselves come from the book or from an excellent discussion at the Salisbury Jamyang Buddhist group. I have just jotted them down here.

Non judging

Oh! the constant stream of judgment, labeling and categorising that goes on in our heads; everyone of our thoughts and emotions that arise come with a blind reaction which then leads to an automatic stream of thoughts, which often end up having very little basis at all in actual fact. So we should step back and, as best we can, suspend judgment and simply observe whatever comes up.

Patience

“Patience is a kind of wisdom” is a lovely phrase from Jon Kabat-Zinn. We try to give ourselves the room to be with whatever comes up – after all, whatever is happening right now  is all that there can possibly be in this present moment. And impatience for something else cannot change it one iota . There’s no point wishing away this moment for a better one in the future, which is why patience is a good counter balance for an over active or easily bored mind.

Beginner’s Mind

Try to see things as if for the first time. Mark Williams talks about ‘habit releasers’. Having a freshness to what happens can help us avoid old negative habits that maybe we weren’t fully aware of. This of course is easier said than done, but making simple changes in our daily life like sitting in a different seat on the bus or walking a different road to work can help us have a brief insight into the power of beginner’s mind. Try it.

Trust

All this teaching, the books we read, the videos we click on, only show us the way. We need to have faith in how things feel for us. Try it out and if it doesn’t work then fair do’s. Once we can trust ourselves more and own basic goodness more we will not only “enhance the loveliness within ourselves” (Christina Feldman), but we will also find we are able to the same with other people.

Non Striving

Striving means a rejection of the present. And so there is no aim in meditation or mindfulness except to be who we already are and where we already are, which of course we are doing anyway. If we are angry we pay attention to being angry, if we are judging we pay attention to our judgements, if we are happy we pay attention to that. This non striving allied with patience will work. Trust it.

Acceptance

There is a lot of debate over this word. I know a mindfulness teacher who works with cancer patients who avoids using it at all and I can understand why. However, I think acceptance is more of a willingness to see things as they really are rather than a passive resignation to the bad and unfair stuff in our lives. On the cushion we do this by not trying to be something else, somewhere else or someone else in each moment.

Letting Go

If we can go to sleep we already know how to let go. Each night we let go of our body and mind before falling asleep. See that angry thought? Let it go. See that desire? What happens when we let it go?

If we find it difficult to let something go then we can instead focus on its opposite; what does it feel like to grasp onto something?

Books mentioned above:

Full Catastrophe Livingby Jon Kabat Zinn

Buddhist Path to Simplicityby Christina Feldman

 Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman

Mark williams website here

A longer list of books on Mindfulness and Meditation with brief reviews can be found here

Starting Mindfulness

First things first, you don’t have to have a mindfulness teacher because all you need to know is

Breathe in and know you are breathing in; breathe out and know you are breathing out.

That is it. So yes, you could say anyone who is a mindfulness teacher is a fraud because as far as I can see all the guidance you need is in that phrase. Yet nearly every mindfulness teacher you meet or can listen to will openly state they are unable to follow that instruction the whole time or probably even half the time.

So attending a class or following a course will help you see that mindfulness is also ‘present moment recollection’ as Christine Feldman described it. Just this breath and this moment…. but then this breath has passed and this moment is gone and you have to start again or, if you are fortunate, carry on. Within “breathe in and know you are breathing in; breathe out and know you are breathing out.” is a lifetime’s experience and wisdom. Mindfulness whilst simple and clear is also not to be summed up in a pretty meme or statement. Those are just the start.

So being in a class or following a course allows you to practice mindfulness in many moments and the practice is made that much easier by having a teacher who can help you help yourself and being with other participants to let you know you aren’t the only one feeling these things and thinking those thoughts.

The mindfulness teacher can only be a guide, it is the mindfulness that will teach you again and again in each and every moment you are aware of.