Key attitudes underpin and support our mindfulness practice. All these are cultivated through our “formal” meditation practice, but we can also encourage them in our daily life. Below are 5 attitudes you can cultivate that will help you to live more mindfully.
Curiosity is an important component of our practice. When we are curious about something we are interested in it, and when we are interested in something we want to explore it and find out more. This approach mode is the opposite of avoidance, and is crucial if we want to learn to be with difficulties in a different way. We can be curious about our own experience, our environment, and other people. Practice being curious and see what you discover.
Striving for a particular result is counterproductive in the practice of mindfulness, because we are learning to be with our experience right now, not something in the future. Striving has a driven quality to it—a harshness that suggests something is lacking, or that our situation (or ourselves) could be better. When we strive for something we focus on a single end, and constantly check to see how far we are from where we want to be. Non-striving feels more spacious, and leaves room for unforeseen opportunities to arise.
Paradoxically, we are more likely to reach where we want to be if we can let go of striving. Where do you strive in everyday life? What pressure do you put on yourself to achieve “xyz,” and how would it feel to let those aspirations go? Begin with something very small. “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities but in the expert’s there are few.” The well-known words of the Buddhist monk Shunryu Suzuki are worth bearing in mind. When we think we are an expert, we have a position to protect and defend. When we think we know it all, we are blind to what may actually be arising. Can you approach your experience with beginner’s mind? Can you see it as if for the very first time—drink this cup of tea as if you’ve never tasted it before? Try it now. What do you discover?
One of the first things we notice when we begin paying attention is how judgmental we are—of others and of ourselves. Non-judging is at the heart of mindfulness. It is not easy to notice and acknowledge the judging thought, and then let it go.
Gently labeling it “judging is here”—noticing the tone of your inner voice as you do so—can be helpful. There is nothing wrong with having an opinion about something, but notice whether there is a sense of righteousness about it? Pay attention to your judging mind (without judging it, of course).
Acceptance has to arise from within. Learning to accept when things are not as we would like them is never easy. However, we can learn this skill when we practice being with the itch on the end of our nose or the pins and needles in our feet when we sit, accepting that things are not as we would like them to be. The benefit of giving yourself a whole year of mindfulness practice is that there is no rush. You have 52 weeks and 365 days ahead of you, so it is important to be patient with yourself when your practice falters and let change emerge in its own time. You may feel as though nothing is happening, but a lot bubbles below the surface as we practice. Notice when you are impatient in your everyday life: with the old lady shuffling ahead of you and blocking your way; or with someone new at work who hasn’t quite grasped how things are done yet, so is taking twice as long as they should … Notice what that impatience feels like in your body, become aware of the accompanying thoughts, and breathe. Breathe and remind yourself that here is an opportunity to pay attention to the breath and to practice patience.
Kindness is at the heart of mindfulness. We must practice kindness when we falter in our practice, or when we are harsh with others or with ourselves. If being kind to yourself feels too much to ask, can you simply practice not being so mean to yourself? Can you treat yourself as you would your best friend?
Each day this week, choose one of the Attitudes above and pay attention to it. Explore how it feels to practice the attitude, noticing your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations, and notice too what arises when the attitude is absent and the opposite is present.
For more advice on how to practice mindfulness everyday, check out A Year of Living Mindfully by Anna Black.