Meditation Can Be a Mystery

Meditation can be a mystery. It brings up questions. How do I meditate? Am I meditating correctly? What is the purpose of meditation?

I would like to begin with a story. The story takes place in the mornings when I am on my way to work. Each morning I drive to the end of my road, take a left onto another road and then take a right onto a highway that brings me to work. Very often, in the evening, I drive to the end of my road, take a left onto another road, and take a right onto the highway when, actually, I should take a left to go to the grocery store. When I do this, I am on automatic pilot.

Have you ever been on automatic pilot while driving or when thinking? Each time we are on automatic pilot, we act in habitual ways and those habits become more and more ingrained — more fixed. We may sit down for meditation, and rather than focusing on our breath, or observing our thoughts, we start making a list of things to do — or we start thinking about what someone said or did that we reacted to with annoyance or irritability.

We spend a lot of time thinking about the past and/or worrying about the future. So, what is like to be in the present moment? We can be in the present moment as a result of meditating regularly.

The next time you sit down to meditate, ask yourself — What am I experiencing right now in my body? What am I experiencing in my thoughts? What physical sensations am I experiencing? What is my mind focusing on? What emotions am I experiencing?

When we acknowledge our experiences, even if those experiences are unwanted, we are dwelling in the present moment, we are being mindful. When, in meditation, we find ourselves making a list of things to do later or compulsively thinking about what our partner said last night, we can bring our attention to the breath as an anchor to bring us back to the present moment and create stillness and awareness. Then we allow our field of awareness to expand to include where we are in this present moment.

When we learn to be in the present moment in meditation, we are more likely to live in the present moment when we are working, with our families, with our friends and with ourselves.

Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way — on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”.

Larry Rosenberg outlines five steps of practice.

  1. Whenever possible, just do one thing at a time.
  2. Pay full attention to what it is you are doing.
  3. When the mind wanders from the present moment, bring it back.
  4. Repeat step 3 several billion times! Investigate your distractions.
  5. And remember… meditation may be simple, but that doesn’t mean it is easy!

End of story …

Mindful Attitudes

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, there are 7 attitudes to approach mindfulness – he calls these attitudes:

The Seven Pillars of Mindfulness:

  1. NON-JUDGING: consists in taking the position of an impartial witness to your own experience. It requires that you become aware of the stream of judging and reacting to inner and outer experiences and step back from it. This habit of categorizing into good and bad or positive and negative locks us into mechanical reactions that we are not even aware of and that often have no objective basis at all. Tip: observe over 10 minutes how much you are preoccupied with liking and disliking what you are experiencing.
  2. PATIENCE: it demonstrates that we understand and accept the fact that sometimes things unfold in their own time. Practicing mindfulness give us the chance to give time and space to our own unfolding. Why rushing to the next “better” moment when after all each one is your life in that moment.
  3. BEGINNER’S MIND: practicing mindfulness means to take the chance to see everything as if it was for the first time and not allow our illusion of knowing prevent us from being present to our experiences. Tip next time you meet someone you know well try and see something new in this person.
  4. TRUST: developing a basic trust in yourself and your feelings is an integral part of meditation practice. Do not get caught up in the reputation and authority of your teachers. It is impossible to become like somebody else. Your only hope is to become more fully yourself.
  5. NON-STRIVING: almost everything we do is for a purpose. Meditation not! Actually this attitude can be a real obstacle in meditation. Although meditation takes a lot of work and energy, ultimately it is about non-doing. It has no goal other than for you to be yourself. The irony is that you already are! Do not sit to get relaxed, enlighten or sleep better. Sit to learn to carefully see what is happening and accept it.
  6. ACCEPTANCE: often acceptance comes after we have gone through intense period of emotion turmoil and anger. Doing that uses up our energy in the struggle instead of using it for healing and change. You are much more likely to know what to do and have the inner conviction to act when your vision is mot clouded by your mind’s self-serving judgments and desires or its fears and prejudices.
  7. LETTING GO: when we pay attention to our inner experience, we discover that there are certain thoughts, feelings and situations that the mind seems to want to hold on to. If pleasant, we try and prolong our experience, if unpleasant, we try and get rid of them. In meditation, we try to intentionally put aside the tendency to elevate some aspects of our experience and reject others.

Jon Kabat-Zinn (2005)

I find these attitudes helpful – and have posted them near my computer so I can look at them often and use them as a reference for my mindfulness practice.

If you would like to practice these attitudes – jot them down on piece of paper and one by one, write examples of how you can be more mindful in situations.

For example with the first attitude of non-judging – I find I am often judgmental in certain circumstances and with particular people.  I can practice being nonjudgmental by bringing awareness to those situations and people I usually judge – and I can work on being open-minded and curious and see what happens.  The results can be surprising !

I’d love to hear some of the ways you practice mindfulness.

Here’s to a year of becoming more mindful !