What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a buzz word that is often mentioned along with meditation, yoga, wellness, self-care and the like. But what exactly does it mean? What lies behind the concept?
Mindfulness is more than a concept: it’s an attitude towards life. Being mindful or practising mindfulness, means to deal with situations in a certain way. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of MBSR (MBSR = mindfulness-based stress reduction), talks about seven basic attitudes of mindfulness. These particular attitudes support the practice of mindfulness and form the ground on which mindfulness can thrive and succeed. This, in return, can help not only in meditation but in life in general.
In the following, I will list those 7 attitudinal foundations. And then it’s up to each and everyone of you to consciously practise and cultivate them for and by yourself. Enjoy!
The 7 attitudinal foundations of mindfulness
This means to not getting caught up in our ideas and opinions, likes and dislikes: Good / bad / indifferent; I like / I don’t like / it’s boring … Our mind is used to evaluate and categorise everything all the time.
Not judging means to take the position of a neutral observer, taking the stance of an impartial witness to your own experience. This allows us to identify less with what’s happening and instead to act more consciously, calmer and more objectively.
Patience has to do with the knowledge that things take time to develop and with the ability to let things unfold at their own pace. „Patience is a kind of wisdom” (Jon Kabat-Zinn). There is no point in being impatient, as impatience doesn’t change the situation. Why wish away this moment for a (potentially) better one in the future? Patience is especially helpful to balance an overactive or easily bored mind. It helps us to simply accept that our mind is like this without getting entangled in it.
- Beginner’s Mind
The beginner’s mind is based on the knowledge that no moment in life is like any other. The beginner’s mind is about looking at people, things and situations as if we were seeing or experiencing them for the first time, and meeting them with an attitude of curiosity, openness and impartiality.
The opposite would be to close oneself off to experiences and to perceive people and situations in a distorted way according to the respective prejudices.
This refers to trusting one’s own wisdom, to have confidence in oneself as a learner. It’s part of the essence of meditation to make one’s very own experiences and to gain insights from one’s own life. This doesn’t mean that we cannot be inspired by others. Rather, it’s about trusting our own ability to learn and discover. „It is impossible to become like somebody else. Your only hope is to become more fully yourself.” (Jon Kabat Zinn)
Meditation is different from our everyday actions in that we try not to want to achieve something specific.
This is a little paradoxical because we sit down to meditate with a long-term intention. But for the moment we try to let go of all expectations. That’s why meditation is also called “active non-doing”. If you try to obtain a certain experience in meditation, you prevent the mind from clearing and coming to rest.
Striving means a rejection of the present. If you don’t strive, you can observe all emerging feelings, thoughts, sensations without identifying yourself with them. Instead of „I’m in pain” – „There is pain”, instead of „I am calm”. – „There is calmness”. Try to allow everything that unfolds to unfold and also then let it go again.
We all have the tendency to want things to be different than they are: People should be different, situations should be different, our meditation should be different. If we resist reality as it is, this inevitably leads to suffering. In meditation, we practice acceptance by trying to accept every moment as it unfolds. Free of expectation, rejection and pre-assumption, our attention is directed to the present and thus to the flow of change from moment to moment.
- Letting Go
We usually want to cling to or prolonge what we experience as appropriate or positive. The consequences of such behaviour can be mental narrowness, worries, anxiety and restlessness because our happiness is always accompanied by fear of loss. By observing our mind in meditation, we learn to gain greater distance. This gradually leads us to perceive attachments as such, to let go a little more and thus to stay in a calmer, more peaceful state of mind.
I learned these 7 attitudinal foundations of mindfulness in an 8-week MBSR course and took this list from my documents from that time. As mentioned above, they go back to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of MBSR. He listed them in his bestseller „Full Catastrophic Living” and have been copied, quoted and reprinted in similar wording and order in many publications.
And now I wish you much joy with practising mindfulness in your life!