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Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. Kabat-Zinn, if you haven t heard of him, is a famous teacher of mindfulness meditation and the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. First of all, mindfulness involves paying attention on purpose . Mindfulness involves a conscious direction of our awareness. We sometimes (me included) talk about mindfulness and awareness as if they were interchangeable terms, but that s not a good habit to get into. I may be aware I m irritable, but that wouldn t mean I was being mindful of my irritability. In order to be mindful I have to be purposefully aware of myself, not just vaguely and habitually aware. Knowing that you are eating is not the same as eating mindfully. Let s take that example of eating and look at it a bit further. When we are purposefully aware of eating, we are consciously being aware of the process of eating. We re deliberately noticing the sensations and our responses to those sensations. We re noticing the mind wandering, and when it does wander we purposefully bring our attention back. When we re eating unmindfully we may in theory be aware of what we re doing, but we re probably thinking about a hundred and one other things at the same time, and we may also be watching TV, talking, or reading or even all three! So a very small part of our awareness is absorbed with eating, and we may be only barely aware of the physical sensations and even less aware of our thoughts and emotions. Because we re only dimly aware of our thoughts, they wander in an unrestricted way. There s no conscious attempt to bring our attention back to our eating. There s no purposefulness. This purposefulness is a very important part of mindfulness. Having the purpose of staying with our experience, whether that s the breath, or a particular emotion, or something as simple as eating, means that we are actively shaping the mind. Left to itself the mind wanders through all kinds of thoughts including thoughts expressing anger, craving, depression, revenge, self-pity, etc. As we indulge in these kinds of thoughts we reinforce those emotions in our hearts and cause ourselves to suffer. By purposefully directing our awareness away from such thoughts and towards some anchor we decrease their effect on our lives and we create instead a space of freedom where calmness and contentment can grow.
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Mindfulness and daily activities The point of meditating is to bring about a greater degree of mindfulness, so that your entire life can be transformed. To some extent this can happen naturally; the mindfulness we develop in meditation simply spills over into our daily lives, and we find ourselves being more aware of how our mind and emotions function in everyday encounters with the world, leading to an increased freedom from reactive emotional and mental habits. But we don t have to simply hope that our meditation will have an effect on the rest of our lives. We can consciously choose to use everyday activities as opportunities to practice mindfulness. I like to suggest to my meditation students that they take a few daily activities and make a point of doing them with more awareness than usual. Elsewhere I ve suggested a number of ways in which mindfulness can be brought into the act of driving a car. I think this is particularly valuable since so many of us spend a lot of time driving these days and since sharing the road with so many other drivers can be a source of emotional strain. So here are a few suggestions for other activities that you can turn into meditation practices. Showering meditation Other activities that can also be used include simple things like showering or brushing our teeth. When you shower mindfully, you can be aware of the physical actions, such as rubbing soap onto your body, or the way you shampoo your hair. You can be aware of the water hitting your skin and running down your body. You can be aware of how your mind tends to think about what you re going to be doing next, and get into the habit of bringing your awareness back to your physical experience. (Remember that the point in being mindful is not to think about your experience but simply to notice it. Tooth-brushing meditation There s a wonderful scene in the film Adaptation where the character Susan Orlean, played by Meryl Streep, begins to appreciate the act of brushing her teeth after taking a drug made from a rare orchid. As you watch her seeing herself in the mirror, she begins by brushing her teeth in the normal habitual way. You can tell by the absent expression on her face that she s miles away, thinking about something else. Then gradually she begins to notice what she s doing and slows down. Then we see her delightedly playing as she brushes her teeth, enjoying the sensations as the bristles tickle her gums. From the way she seems to relish this simple activity, you can see that it s as if she s brushing her teeth for the same time. One attribute of mindfulness has been described by Suzuki Roshi as Beginners Mind . Beginners Mind arises when we let go of the been there, done that attitude that we normally carry in to everyday activities. When we let go of the assumption that there s no point paying attention to this experience since we ve done it a million times already, we re free to fully experience those sensations. Having let go of comparisons with previous experiences, we really can feel almost as if we re brushing our teeth for the first time. Page 2 of 10
You may also find that brushing your teeth more mindfully and carefully leads to fewer cavities. Eating meditation Try eating breakfast without reading. See what it s like when you really pay attention to the food you re eating. Notice your mind wandering and bring it back to the experience of eating. 10 tips for mindful driving Driving can be a very stressful activity, but it can also be a tremendous opportunity for developing mindfulness and metta (lovingkindness), and it can even become a kind of meditation practice in its own right. Obviously, when you re driving it s not recommended that you close your eyes and focus on your breathing, and I had to put a warning on my meditation CD when one customer wrote saying how excited she was about receiving her copy and how she couldn t wait to listen to it in the car. The thought terrified me, but I hope that she d have quickly realized even without me telling her that sitting meditation and driving don t mix. Then one time that I was leading a meditation workshop in Spokane, Washington, a young woman told me about a time she spaced out and rear-ended a truck, totally destroying her own car. She rather sheepishly confessed to the fact that she d been listening to a tape on mindfulness by the Vietnamese teacher Thich Nhat Hanh at the time she d crashed. She d been paying so much attention to what the tape was saying about the need to pay attention that she stopped noticing what was going on around her. Fortunately no one was hurt. So here are a few suggestions for ways that you can use driving as a meditation. 1. Switch off the radio and experience the silence. We often drive along while listening to the radio or to recordings on tape or CD. Just as an experiment, try seeing what it s like to have the sound turned off. It might seem at first as if something is missing, but you ll quickly learn that the silence gives you an opportunity to fill your awareness with other perceptions, some of which are more enriching. But before that, I d just like to suggest that not listening to advertisements, the news, music, and opinion can leave you quieter, calmer, more focused, and happier than you otherwise would be. 2. The extra attention that s freed up because you re no longer listening to the radio is now available to notice other things. You can notice any tensions in your body, such as a knot of tension in the belly, or your hands gripping the steering well, or a clenched jaw. Notice these experiences, and let your body relax more. Notice how your experience changes and becomes more enjoyable as your muscles let go. 3. Slow down. As an experiment, try driving at or just below the speed limit. Most of us tend to want to push the speed limit, driving just a little faster than allowed. Driving just a fraction under the speed limit can take away a lot of tension. Shift over into the slower lane if necessary. 4. Notice your attitudes. Often we become competitive while driving, and this leads to tension. Make a practice of noticing cars trying to enter the road, and adjust your speed so that you can let them
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out if it s safe to do so. Notice if you re in a hurry. How does this make you feel? How does it feel if you let the pace slacken a little? 5. Practice being more aware of the other traffic around you. Sometimes we become very focused just on what s around us, but it can be very fulfilling (and much safer) to develop an all-round awareness, using our mirrors as well as what we can see in front on us. 6. As drivers pass you, wish them well. Repeat, May you be well, May you be happy as cars cut you off. 7. Use every stop light or any other necessary stop to practice a fuller mindfulness of your body. When you ve stopped, it s safe to let your awareness more fully connect with your breathing. At those moments you can also notice what s around you the sky and the trees, and other people. Wish those other people well. 8. If there are other people in the car with you, wish them well. As you drive, a part of your mind can be repeating May you be well, may you be happy . 9. As you get into your car, before you switch on the engine, and before you get out of the car, after you ve switched off the engine, just sit for a moment and take three deep breaths, really letting go on the out breath. 10. If you don t drive, but take public transport instead, then wish your fellow travelers well, radiating lovingkindness towards them. Tools for learning acceptance One interesting thing about meditation is that if we try too hard to change it actually makes it harder to change. I ll tell you a story. There was once a man who wanted to become the finest swordsman in Japan, so he went to seek out a hermit who was reputed to be the best teacher, although it was said that he lived in a remote place and rarely took on students. After a long search, the seeker found the hermit deep in the mountains and asked how long it would take him to become a great sword master. The hermit looked him up and down and said, Maybe five years. The seeker thought this sounded like a long time, so he asked, How long would it take if I tried really hard? The hermit stroked his beard and thought about it. After a while he said, Maybe ten years. Desiring to change is okay, but longing for change actually hinders our growth. An important aspect of developing acceptance is learning to avoid craving. Craving is when we long for something, and unfortunately craving can make us very unhappy. One common form of crav is to crave ing experiencing something different from our current experience. This longing actually creates an unhealthy form of dissatisfaction with what we re currently experiencing since the flip-side of craving is aversion. Craving and aversion are polar twins. When we crave to be experiencing something different then we reject our current experience. Mindfulness involves an attitude of acceptance, which is the opposite of either pushing an experience away or longing for an experience. With mindfulness we re prepared to take on board Page 4 of 10
how we actually are. This doesn t mean that we want to stay the way we are at the moment. On the contrary we almost certainly will wish to move on from there, but the first step in moving on is to recognize fully where we are, and to accept it. It s possible to want change without that desire involving craving, because not all desires involve craving. For example when we say May I be well in the metta bhavana practice that can represent a desire that is free from craving. It s only when our desires lead to us rejecting our experience or longing after other experiences that we create difficulties for ourselves. Developing a nonjudgmental attitude Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. Jon Kabat-Zinn Kabat-Zinn s definition highlights that an important aspect of mindfulness is acceptance, or of avoiding harsh judgments. Acceptance means being able to be aware of our experience without either clinging to it or pushing it away. Instead we accept our experience with equanimity. All too often we find it difficult to accept what we re feeling. A common pattern is to experience some initial unpleasant experience, and then to feel bad because of feeling bad, andthen to feel bad about feeling bad about feeling bad, and so on. It s a vicious cycle of feeling bad about feeling bad. The feelings are generated by thinking in unhelpful ways, so this means there are several approaches to breaking the vicious cycle. Acceptance of what you re feeling is one tool, although it s not so much a tool as a way of being. Acceptance means acknowledging what you re feeling, and standing back from it so that although you experience the unpleasant emotion you don t entirely define yourself by it. An important approach in doing this is to locate the feeling in the body. What shape is the feeling? Where exactly is it located? What color if any is it? What kind of texture does it have? Does it change over time? In locating the emotion in the body in this way, we realize that the emotion is smaller than we are. We re bigger than any emotion that we experience, which means that if we stand back from the emotion then not everything we re experiencing is colored by the emotion. In this way we create a sort of space between ourselves and the emotion so that we re not so caught up in it.
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This approach also allows us to surround difficult emotions with lovingkindness. Befriending your distractions A complementary way to develop acceptance is to be aware of your emotions in a spirit of friendly curiosity. So in doing the above exercise as you locate the emotion in the body and sense its characteristics you can take a kindly interest in it. You can say words like It s okay. Let me feel this. It s okay to feel this. In this way we can replace the aversion we have to the unpleasant feeling with a more creative response that won t lead to further unpleasant reactions. In other words we re breaking the vicious cycle by not feeling bad about feeling bad. Then there s the whole area of the thoughts. When you feel bad, your mind generates thoughts that are conditioned by the unpleasant feeling. These thoughts ( Here we go again. I don t want to feel like this. I can t stand it. If I feel like this no one will like me. I don t think anyone likes me anyway ) are what make us feel bad about feeling bad. We take a molehill (or at least a hill) and make it into a mountain. It s very useful indeed to learn to stand back from our thoughts as well as our emotions. We can recognize that our thoughts are just thoughts, and not reality. When you notice thoughts arising, you can let go of the stream of thought. Thoughts only keep going as long as we put energy into this, so by letting go of the thought we re actually withdrawing energy from it and stopping it from being perpetuated. Labelling thoughts as thoughts can be useful. When we notice ourselves thinking we can just say the word thinking quietly to ourselves. When we name our experience we again create a small gap that gives us a sense of freedom. You can adopt a sceptical attitude about your thoughts. Our thoughts often lie to us, and we can feel empowered by choosing not to automatically believe them. Instead of believing thoughts like No one will want to be with me if I feel as bad as this we can simply be aware of this as a thought.
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BEGINNING MINDFULNESS: Learning the Way of Awareness By Andrews Weiss Many of us find it helpful to use gathas - little poems - to encourage mindfulness of what we're doing. Some of these are included in part two of this book, and are for some common everyday acts, such as waking up in the morning, washing dishes, turning on the television, and so on. Please feel free to use others from the two books of gathas in the recommended reading list, or make up your own. Here are some possible ways to reinforce mindfulness in your daily life. During your first week of practice, please pick one or two and give them your wholehearted attention. You can useconscious breathing - awareness of breath - as a foundation to encourage daily-life mindfulness, just as you use it as the foundation for your sitting and walking meditation practice. Each week's home play includes adding another daily-life mindfulness activity to your daily routine, so you will be referring back to this list frequently as you go along. When you wake up in the morning, allow yourself some slow, mindful breaths before you get out of bed. See if you can be aware of your breathing and of making the transition from sleeping to waking. Be aware of the sound, the quality of light, or the darkness. Feel each in-breath calm your body and mind, and each out-breath release any tension or thoughts you're holding. Try smiling and see what happens. As you rise from bed, be aware of your feet making contact with the floor. Notice how different your body feels in the lying-down, sitting, and standing postures. Be aware of your weight on your feet, of the floor supporting your body, and of the motion of your feet and legs as you begin to walk. Try eating breakfast without reading the newspaper or watching television. If possible, eat silently for all or part of your meal. Before you eat, allow yourself to breathe in and out three times and bring your awareness to the food in front of you. Take a few minutes, either at home or on your way to work, to notice something enjoyable about the morning: perhaps the sunlight or the rain or the face of a child or a flower or the sounds of birds or the wind. See if you can allow yourself and your surroundings to inhabit the same space. On your way to work or school, or to appointments or your other daily errands, try to be mindful of your travelling. Be aware of your walking, your sitting on the subway, your strap hanging on the bus, or your sitting while you are riding in a car. If you are driving a car or riding a bicycle or motorcycle, try to be aware of your driving or riding. Take a few mindful breaths to relax your body and mind. Do your best to allow your steps and actions to be peaceful ones. If you drive a car or ride a motorcycle or bicycle, use a few mindful breaths to calm you and bring you in tune with your vehicle and the act of driving or riding before you turn on the ignition or right after you mount your bike. Notice how you're holding your body, and let your breathing help you relax your shoulders, soften your face. See if you can break the pressure of pushing to get where you are going and simply enjoy the process of getting there. When you see a red traffic light, allow that to be a bell of mindfulness and an opportunity to come back to your breath; relax your face and see
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whether a smile is possible. When someone cuts you off, try using awareness of your breath to calm your anger and fear. When you get to work or school, or wherever you go on your daily tasks, practice some mindful breathing when you arrive and before you begin your work. If you are at a desk, try sitting down and taking some mindful breaths before taking out your work or talking with your fellow workers or students. If you are at a computer workstation, try taking three mindful breaths before turning on your computer. If you are shopping, pause before the entrance to the store and take three mindful breaths to calm and orient you before you walk in. Allow your body to relax before you begin, and see whether a smile is possible. Several times during the day, allow yourself to become aware of your breathing and re-centre yourself. Use these occasions to become aware of your body and to let your breath quiet your mind. See if you can allow a smile to bloom. When you walk somewhere, try to be aware of your breathing and your steps. Are they peaceful steps or harsh ones? Can you allow yourself to slow down and make a trip to the bathroom an occasion for walking meditation? Many things happen every day that you can use as bells of mindfulness: the doorbell, the telephone, sounds on your computer, turning on a light, flushing a toilet, and so on. Let each one be an occasion to notice your breathing and allow some mindful in- and out-breaths. When the telephone rings, let it ring two or three times before you answer it. This is a great contradiction to our conditioning. Remember, if they really want to talk with you, they won't hang up! One of my students who spends a lot of time in meetings uses picking up his pencil asa bell of mindfulness and even had special pencils made up that have Breathe embossed on them. If you work on a computer, create a screen saver that encourages mindfulness - perhaps a photo of flowers or animals, or scrolling, suggestive words like breathe or mindful every moment. Play around with this. The Washington (D.C.) Mindfulness Community has a "mindful clock" program available on its website that can sound a bell on your computer hourly or every fifteen minutes as a reminder. This program is very effective and many of my computer-worker students love it. You can find it at www.mindfulnessdc.org. Approach your lunch and dinner with the same mindfulness with which you approached breakfast. A few mindful breaths before you start eating might be helpful. During the meal try to be aware of chewing your food. Pause between swallowing one bite of food and picking up the next one. Spend at least five minutes of your meal in silence. If you do have a conversation, keep the topics light and supportive; especially try to avoid arguments or angry exchanges. During your lunchtime, allow yourself some enjoyable time in addition to your meal. Talk with a friend, perhaps, or take a walk. Whatever you do, as you do it, see if you can be aware of your breathing. Slow yourself down, and relax. When you are ready to leave your day's activities, take a moment to appreciate what you've done that day in being mindful in your work or school or day's tasks. Consider how you can build on that the next day.
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Help to make your trip home a transition time by slowing down. Walk mindfully and be aware of your breathing. Try to allow a smile to be there. Notice the quality of the air, and see if you can accept it for what it is - cold, hot, wet, dry - without resisting it or trying to make it different. Allow your attention to be with your surroundings. Try being aware of your feelings and thoughts as you approach home, and take a few mindful breaths before you open the door. Make this transition a conscious one, and notice what it feels like to be home and how that feels different from being at work or school or at your daily tasks. If you watch television at night, why not turn down the sound during commercials or between programs? Close your eyes, and allow yourself some mindful breaths. Get up and take a mindful walk to the kitchen or bathroom. If you're reading, try stopping every half-hour. Close your eyes for a minute or so, and bring your attention back to your breath; become more aware of the room and the noises or silence of your home. If you're with your family, try giving yourself some minioccasions to breathe mindfully and relax. If you have a bell of mindfulness in your house, you can encourage it to sound several times during the evening to slow yourself and your family down. As you go to bed and prepare for sleep, take some mindful breaths, become aware of the bed supporting you, and allow yourself a smile. Feel the muscles of your body relaxing as you sink into your bed. Try letting go of the past day's activities and of your anticipation of tomorrow. See whether you can end the day with a smile. Bell of Mindfulness In my meditation classes we use a bell as one way to help us focus our attention. You can use this same tool at home. The bell can provide an enjoyable and easy way to share the practices of mindfulness with your family and to get their support. To do this, instruct your family members that each sound of the bell is a signal for them to stop what they are doing and to enjoy taking three inand out-breaths. You can invite different family members to be responsible for sounding the bell at different times during the day or on different days. Every time the bell sounds, each member of your family will be reminded to return to his or her breathing, and this reminder will reinforce your mindfulness as well as the atmosphere of mindfulness in your household. The kind of bell that we use in my meditation class is called a Japanese rin gong. It is a small bowl made of spun brass and comes with a small cushion and a small stick. We use the stick to "invite" the bell to sound. The stick is the "inviter."The phrase invite the bell to sound comes from the Vietnamese language and custom. It suggests treating the bell with a lot more respect than the expressions hitting the bell or striking the bell. Would you hit or strike something or someone that you care about? Inviting the bell to sound creates a different, more mindful relationship. When you invite the bell, here is a gatha you can use to help focus your attention. Say it silently to yourself, and coordinate each line with your breath: Voice of the bell, voice of my heart, (breathing in)I invite your sound to awaken me. (breathing out)May all beings live in mindfulness, (breathing in)Our hearts open and minds clear. (breathing out) Page 9 of 10
When you hear the bell, try saying this gatha silently to yourself: Listen, listen... self. (breathing out) (breathing in)The sound of this bell brings me back to my true
Repeat this two-line gatha for three in- and out-breaths. Keep the bell in a special place where everyone can find it. If you have children, it is especially helpful to let them be the keepers of the bell. Parents have told me that their children will invite the bell whenever there is tension in the house or whenever someone begins shouting or behaving in a hurtful way; the bell becomes the children's way of saying "Stop," and it is very helpful. When you invite the bell, first touch the bell with the inviter and hold it on the bell, so you create a "stopped" sound. That's a signal that the bell is about to sound. Then, use the inviter to invite the bell to a full sound, and you and everyone around you can enjoy your breathing. Anything that reminds us to bring our attention to the present moment is a true bell of mindfulness. Becoming aware of my discursive thinking or the sound of the telephone ringing, engaging in dailylife mindfulness activities of any type - all have the capacity to assist me to be in the present moment, to be truly mindful. The next time you find that your mind is wandering, try returning to your breath; you return to the present moment, and mindfulness is there, even if only for an instant. Doing this is a key to good practice. Home Play Formal practice: Create a sitting meditation place for yourself at home. Try doing sitting meditation for five minutes in the morning after you get up and for five minutes in the evening, either after dinner or before bedtime. See whether you are a morning sitter or an evening sitter. Perhaps you are both! Morning sitting sets us up well for our day. Evening sitting helps us clear the thoughts and feelings that have come up during the day. During your five minutes of sitting, try using the exercise of counting the breath. Informal practice: Take one item from the list of daily-life mindfulness activities. Do your best to remain mindful every time you do that activity throughout the week. Notice how your relationship to that activity changes over time with your mindful attention. Excerpted from: BEGINNING MINDFULNESS: Learning the Way of Awareness By: Andrew Weiss
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