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Mindful : April 2014
We’re all learning all the time. Parents learn to care for children, students learn physics, soldiers learn survival skills, and all of us learn the latest app or how kale will make us healthy. But much of what we call learning isn’t particularly useful: I just “learned” on Facebook that someone I hardly know baked cupcakes today. Riveting! Mindful learning, on the other hand, cultivates insightful knowing rather than just a brain over- loaded with information. Mindfulness creates space to let new information in a nd to allow us to see how it relates to what we already know. Recent neurological resea rch at Har va rd shows how this happens: mindfulness may actually increase the size of your bra in. When I learned mindfulness practice in 1970, I felt for the first time in my life that I knew something to be absolutely true. I was breathing in and breath- ing out—that was really happening. I actually saw thoughts and judgments arise, like “I’m not nearly as good as these other meditators. Look, their backs are straighter than mine. They’re wearing the perfect white clothes. I’m in a funky embroidered shirt.” Where did those thoughts come from? They arose in my mind, and then, if I wasn’t obsessing about them, they would float or fall away. The importa nt thing was how I saw thoughts arise and disappear. I was beginning to see how my mind worked, and even if I didn’t like what it was doing, I felt more whole, more integrated, more confident. Not really knowing my breath or my mind seemed like not knowing what my face looked like. How could I have missed them? Of course we all know we are breath- ing and thinking, but it was radically different to experience them directly instead of intellectually. It wasn’t just an idea that I breathe—it was me breath- ing. I had lea rned something important in a whole new way. That led me to look at the other ways we learn, to see whether they could benefit from mindful- ness. I wanted to understand ideas, images, skills, and people in an intimate way, with the clarity and confidence I was experiencing as I came to know my own mind and body. I wanted to create space in my mind instead of that crowded carnival of ideas and information and judgments. I wa nted to be open to learning something new, to see things with new perspectives and understanding. Mindfulness, with its focus, openness, inquisitiveness, and humility, seemed like the perfect approach. Here are some of the practices I discovered. Mirabai Bush is senior fellow and associate director of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. She also develops contemplative programs focusing on entrepreneurship, leadership, and public relations. in practice insight 72 mindful April 2014