Adopting an attitude of mindfulness

Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, known as a founding father of modern mindfulness practice, defines mindfulness as “an awareness of the present experience, in an open and non-judgmental manner”.

Mindfulness can be an incredibly beneficial practice, helping to ground ourselves in the present moment and reduce the amount of time we spend on ‘automatic pilot’. It’s also a great way to reduce the power that negative emotions and thoughts have on us by noticing these experiences and then letting them go. Unsurprisingly, mindfulness has been found to improve a number of psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety, emotion regulation, and sleep.

When practicing mindfulness, having the right attitude is important. It’s also important to discuss these attitudes specifically because they may be quite different from how we typically go through life.

Below, I provide information on 9 attitudes that are helpful to embody when practicing mindfulness from the founder of modern mindfulness himself.

#1: Taking a “Beginner’s Mind” approach

When we approach new situations, we tend to bring along a set of beliefs, biases, attitudes, and assumptions based on our past experiences. Although taking our expertise into different situations is not necessarily a bad thing (and can be helpful in many cases!), this can limit our ability to approach a novel situation for all the possibilities that can exist.

Seeing new experiences through a beginner’s mind can provide a fresh perspective full of curiosity and excitement, and without opinion or judgment. We may notice things that we may have neglected before, and better enjoy an experience for what it is, rather than what we think it should be.  

A beginner’s mind is like seeing a tablet for the first time as a child!

#2: Being non-judgmental

Taking a non-judgmental approach is important to support the beginner’s mind. By removing ourselves of judgment (e.g., I like/dislike this; I want/don’t that; I crave/don’t crave that), we avoid limiting our perspective on a new situation.  

#3: Acceptance of internal and external experiences

Dr. Kabat-Zinn considers acceptance to be an active process, rather than passively ‘giving-up’. Acceptance in mindfulness means recognizing things as they are, rather than what we want them to be. When we focus on how things should be and resist our current reality, it can often lead to detrimental issues.

For example, a person who is angry about their chronic pain and constantly ruminates about why this happened to them, will continue to suffer significantly in their condition. What we resist, persists.

On the other hand, the person who accepts that chronic pain is a part of their life (perhaps a lifetime journey), they can begin the healing process and focus on redirecting their efforts in living a meaningful life in spite of their chronic pain.

#4: Letting go

In the same vein as acceptance, being able to let go of thoughts and feelings that we cling onto when we experience negative situations can be helpful to simply let things be as they are. By acknowledging our thoughts, judgments, emotions, and attitudes but letting them go all the same, we take away the power for these experiences to affect us and see a situation for what it truly is.

#5: Trusting oneself

Trusting oneself means to have confidence in the wisdom of our own body. That our body knows exactly what to do to keep itself healthy and safe without our intervention. Our body takes care of us by breathing, by hearing sounds with our ears, by seeing things with our eyes, by digesting food with our stomach, among many, many other processes.  

When we get in the way of our own body, it can often lead to distress. For example, people with insomnia have worries that their body is not producing sufficient sleep. In response, they begin to get in the way of their body’s natural sleep processes through behaviours such as getting into bed early, forcing to sleep to come, and napping whenever possible. Although these behaviours make sense because they are so anxious, it gets in the way of their body’s natural ability to produce sleep.

#6: Being patient

We are often impatient to get to the next important thing that is happening. Even in my own practice, I sometimes notice that when I am meditating, that I can be impatient to finish my meditation to get on with the next task! However, the focus on the future makes us become less aware of what’s happening in our present moment. By inhabiting the present moment and the beauty of what is current around us (instead of always thinking about the future or ruminating about the past), there can be great comfort and gratitude that can result from this attitude.

#7: Non-striving in the present

Similarly, non-striving means that we are not trying to be anywhere else, or do anything else, except be in the present moment. To allow the present to unfold into the next moment without striving to change anything.

This practice can be restorative because we are always on the move with a plan in mind and a future in mind (whether an appointment, or a task, or something else).

#8: Showing gratitude

When we take a moment to reflect, there are probably many things in life that we may take for granted. The beauty around us, the people around us, the very moment we are currently experiencing. The gift of life itself. When we take a moment to express gratitude towards ourselves, others, and the present moment, this can be incredible way to foster feelings of self-compassion, contentedness, and grounding.

#9: Being generous

Beyond ourselves, it can be a powerful and humanizing experience to give time, attention, and care to others. We as human beings are inherently social creatures and providing joy unto others can often be a fulfilling experience for ourselves.

Concluding thoughts

Throughout this post, you’ve learned about the nine attitudes of mindful practice. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, don’t worry! As Dr. Kabat-Zinn said, all these attitudes are interconnected, such as that if you are embodying one attitude, you are embodying them all. Take some time to practice a few mindfulness exercises (which can be found anywhere online). Experiencing mindfulness in an experiential way through actual practice will help you truly understand these values and attitudes.

Here’s a post on practicing mindfulness if you’re interested!

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Best wishes,