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Mindful : June 2013
Like a ny skill, mindfulness needs effort. But many of us have been told—or tell our- selves—that we don’t try hard enough, haven’t got it in us, or fail because we’re la zy. So we may try too hard, think- ing we have to do everything perfectly. This makes the whole business of effort a bit tricky. The commitment we cultivate in mindfulness practice is nonjudgmental. We’re loyal to the present moment, which takes the form of a willing- ness to gently come back from distraction again and again. It also includes compassionate acceptance when our mind wanders off. When we notice how we judge ourselves for not being good enough, or our medi- tation for “not working,” it helps to remember that each moment starts fresh. We are never damned; we ca n renew our commitment in every moment. In fact, every time we notice distraction, we have already come back to aware- ness. Noticing our distraction is a cause for celebration, not recrimination. HOW? It’s helpful to plan a time and space to practice regular meditation and stick with that plan. Make a commit- ment that feels manageable. Notice if you’re driving yourself too hard or selling yourself shor t. Let go of these thoughts. Many forms of training focus on getting us “in shape.” Mindfulness is different. By letting go of pushing, pulling, remonstrating, and ruminating, we go easier on ourselves. If we feel sad, we can allow that sadness. If we feel judgmental, we can a llow for that without having to buy into it (or judge ourselves for being judgmental). If we feel ang ry, instead of seeing it as a solid unchangeable mass, we can see that it comes a nd goes a little. There a re actually spaces in the midst of the intensity. That’s why it ca n still be possible to make someone laugh even when they’re angry. Taking what some psycholo- gists call an “approach” men- tality to life is a key marker of well-being: being curious about the world, interested in new people and experiences, even when they scare us. Avoidance, by contrast, means letting fear control us, not going to new places, trying new activities, or exploring ideas that don’t fit our exist- ing mind-set. Mindfulness—noticing events in a warm, open, and inquisitive manner—devel- ops the courage to meet our lives with genuine interest. It doesn’t mean there’s no discomfort when we dare to be curious. It means we’re willing to tolerate not knowing what might be a round the next cor- Mindfulness means “to pay attention.” But this can carry connotations of harshness— the critical schoolteacher or bellowing drill sergeant—so it helps to remember that paying attention in this case really means “to tend,” to care for something in a warm and supportive way. We can become our own kind parent, nurturing ourselves with unconditional caring. Then the challenges of life won’t hit us quite so ha rd. HOW? Practice opening to parts of yourself you’d rather reject. Notice how they respond to compassion rather than condemnation. ner. In return, we experience the delight of being able to look, listen, taste, touch, feel, and learn from our environ- ment. We may not know all the a nswers, but we don’t limit our perspective. HOW? Be a scientist in the laboratory of your world. Pause before making assump- tions. Hear the feedback from your mind, body, environment, and other people. Give those around you space to express their views, especially if they are different from your own. Can you walk in their shoes for a moment, seeing from their perspective? Ask your- self: “What’s actually going on here?” and be open to the information that comes back. Tenderness Inquisitiveness Acceptance in practice June 2013 mindful 73 insight