Attitude 3 – Beginner’s Mind

 

“The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.” ― C. JoyBell C.

This is the third of the seven attitudes that Jon-Kabat-Zinn believes are the basis for Mindfulness. This one is probably the most difficult to understand. When I first heard this phrase, I thought to myself “Beginner’s mind? Shouldn’t we strive to be an expert?”.

So what is a Beginner’s Mind?

Definition: Seeing things with fresh eyes, with a clear and uncluttered mind.

The idea of “Beginner’s Mind” comes from a Japanese concept called Shoshin (初心). It is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind”. It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would. Now, this sounds counter-intuitive but, in fact it is not. The issue is that too often we let our thinking and our beliefs about what we ‘know’ stop us from seeing things as they really are. That is the core tenet behind “Beginner’s Mind”.

So what are some of the key tips that will help you to have a “Beginner’s Mind”?

  • Cultivate a mind that is willing to see everything as if for the first time.
  • Be receptive to new possibilities, not getting stuck in a rut of our own experience or expertise.
  • Be open and engaging with each situation.
  • Treat each situation as if it is the first time you have encountered it. How many times do you go into a situation with a preconceived idea of the outcome? Don’t. Even if you have experienced it many times.
  • Each moment is unique and contains unique possibilities.
  • Try it with someone you know – next time, ask yourself if you are seeing this person with fresh eyes, are they really that person?
  • Try it with problems… with a work situation… with your partner at home… with the person you see every day.

Is it possible to approach life with a fresh view? Is there something new to be noticed in the world around us? Sometimes our beliefs and assumptions about the way something is, cloud our judgements and prevent us from experiencing the richness of the present moment right in front of us. That is why the “Beginner’s Mind” is so important. Taking that view, helps us reframe our view of the world in a fresh, new, way.

So what is “Beginner’s Mind”?

It’s dropping your expectations and preconceived ideas about something and seeing things with an open mind, fresh eyes, just like a beginner. If you’ve ever learned something new, you can remember what that’s like: you’re probably confused or unsure of what to do, because you don’t know how to do whatever you’re learning, but you’re also looking at everything as if it’s brand new, perhaps with curiosity and wonder. That is what “Beginner’s Mind” means.

But imagine if you could apply this to every activity. One of the simplest is to imagine eating food. After all, for most of us, eating is almost automatic. We rarely think about the food; take the time to appreciate the flavours, and textures and appreciate the experience. So why not try the following exercise:

  • You start by seeing the act of eating with fresh eyes as if you don’t know what to expect as if you hadn’t done it thousands of times already. After all, we were taught as little children how to eat and it has become automatic for most of our life.

  • When was the last time you really looked at the food on the plate in front of you and really notice the layout, structure, textures and form of the food laid out before you.

  • Now you take the first bite of the food. Having placed various parts of the dinner onto the fork and brought it to your mouth, notice the smell as you open your mouth and start to eat. Notice the texture, the taste. Perhaps the sweetness or bitterness or saltiness. Everything seems new, perhaps even full of wonder.
  • Don’t take anything for granted. Appreciate every bite as a gift. It’s temporary, fleeting, and precious.
  • As you can see just from this description, the practice of beginner’s mind transforms the activity.

Why does it matter?

When you practice beginner’s mind with an activity you get better experiences of the activity. It feels fresh, new and alive. You are less likely to feel negative and more likely to enjoy the activity.

How do you practice it?

Beginner’s mind is what we practice in meditation. Instead of sitting in meditation and thinking you know what your breath will be like, or the present moment in front of you will be like … you pay attention. See it with fresh eyes. Drop your preconceived ideas and just look clearly at what’s in front of you. A daily meditation practice is useful in developing this beginner’s mind. However, it is not the only way to develop it.

Here are a few practices courtesy of Mary Jaksch of Goodlife Zen that I came across that also might help:

  1. Take one step at a time. Don’t try to strive out. Just take one step at a time.

  2. Fall down seven times, get up eight times.

  3. Don’t pre-judge.

  4. Live without shoulds.

  5. Make use of experience. Don’t negate experience, but keep an open mind on how to apply it to each new circumstance.

  6. Let go of being an expert.

  7. Experience the moment fully.

  8. Disregard common sense.

  9. Discard fear of failure.

  10. Use the spirit of enquiry.

  11. Focus on questions, not answers.

With a Beginner’s Mind, you will be more open to possibilities and more creative. You may also form closer bonds with others in your life as well.

The video where Jon describes the Beginner’s Mind attitude can be viewed here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssqclf52ZpY&list=PLkgahhWgJW97ADlyc2BYMwOD8wZjcBZ8D&index=4
I leave you with the following quote.

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. ”  ― Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice

 

Change is the only constant

“Forgive the past. It is over. Learn from it and let go. People are constantly changing and growing. Do not cling to a limited, disconnected, negative image of a person in the past. See that person now. Your relationship is always alive and changing.” ― Brian L. Weiss, Messages from the Masters: Tapping Into the Power of Love

Spending time reading at the weekend, I have come to regard as a pleasure.

Getting up early and sitting with a book; reading on my kindle or on-line; I get lost in the words; the story; the journey. I have always read, ever since I can remember. I was known as the “bookworm” in my family. I can recall reading under the bed covers as a very young child; using a very old fashioned rectangular blue torch to shine the light onto the printed page as I devoured the story; gripped by the plot and the characters. Then would come the inevitable “Put that light out and go to sleep” from my mother.

Anyway, back to now. An article in a newspaper has prompted me to reflect on change why it is constant. Whilst reading the article “The secret of happiness? Live life in the slow lane”, I was struck by one small section:

“Things I liked when I was young but now couldn’t care less about: aeroplane journeys, all-you-can-eat buffets, horror movies, staying up all night. Things I enjoy now I am older: Mozart, brown rice, meditation, spending time alone, regular exercise. We change without realising it. We are in the midst of change now.”

I stopped what I was reading and realised that life has been a constant change. The words in bold are key to the next series of thoughts I had.

When I was young, I liked: Horror movies.Staying up late or even all night. Reading fiction and especially horror and fantasy. Getting out on my bike. Being with my mates down the park.

In my middle years, I liked: Science programmes. Reading about World War II. Going to the gym. Chasing girls. Listening to 1980’s pop music.

Now, I like: Listening to podcasts. Listening to classical music and modern classical composers like Ludovico Einaudi. Meditation. And I have rediscovered a need for exercise to try to be healthy.

Throughout all of my life, I have lived a life of constant change. Change that has been almost unnoticed. It was only by pausing and reflecting this morning, that I recognised, even for those things that we feel are constant, like our taste in music, or reading or films; change happens. So imagine, if you will, those major changes in your life? Relationships. Work. home. Places you have lived. Those are not changes. They are more like transformations.

For instance, we transform ourselves for others when we start relationships. I am reading (yes, I know, I’m repeating myself) a fascinating book by Alain de Botton on The Course of Love. You may disagree but think for a moment about a recent or even current relationship you are in. I can guarantee that you are not the same person who started that relationship. You have changed, and quite possibly, you will notice that the other person has changed as well. If you write down what attracted you to the person when you first met them and compare it to your feels now, there will be a difference.

We transform ourselves when we start a new job. Certainly, when you move companies. The company culture will be different. The people’s work practices will be different to what you might have experienced in a previous employer. Even if you are self-employed, you may find that you approach a new client in a different way to an old client.

Finally, homes. It is a given than when we move into a new home; whether rented or owned; we want to change it. Put our mark on it. Paint it. Decorate it. Furnish it with our stuff. Even when you are our looking at potential new places to live, I know you will make comments like “If we change that, or move that….” as part of the decision process.

So change is a constant. So is transformations. Life is a journey that we all go on. As it is Saturday, I will return to my reading. Whatever you are doing this day. Enjoy and I hope you have a pleasant weekend.

The article, I read is here, if you are interested.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-4258372/The-secret-happiness-Live-life-slow-lane.html

I leave you with the following quote.

“Change is a funny thing. We never are quite sure what we are becoming or even why. Then one day we look at ourselves and wonder who we are and how we got that way. Only one thing about change remains constant…it is always painful”

Jodi Picoult, The Tenth Circle

Life…is amazing

So true

Julian Summerhayes

“If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.”Thomas Merton

We struggle endlessly to make sense of life. At times, we feel crushed by the weight of expectation.

You don’t need me to tell you that in those moments of ‘bliss’, life is wonderful. It’s almost as if you don’t exist. It’s no wonder, therefore, an industry has been spawned trying to create this sense of magic — think mindfulness, personal development and spiritual development.

But the truth is, you can’t will your experience — see the work of Arthur Schopenhauer. You can only live it. I’m not saying you can’t use great gobs…

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Attitude 2 – Patience

“It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.” ― Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

This is the second of the seven attitudes that Jon-Kabat-Zinn believes are the basis for mindfulness. We all talk about patience, but what does it mean in the context of mindfulness?

It can be really really hard to be patient. It is really hard to wait in general. In fact, many of us get antsy or even angry at having to wait. For instance at traffic lights; in traffic queues; waiting at the supermarket; in fact almost anywhere. There are times, even, when we just wished time would go faster; when we hurry to make it feel like it does. But when we do have to wait for something, time really seems to slow down, and we can feel our emotions heat up, both in our minds and in our bodies. Of course, there are times when we wish time would, in fact, slow down to a crawl, as when we are filled with feelings of joy, relief, or even calmness. How can mindfulness help with our very human tendency to be impatient?

So what is Mindful-based Patience?

Definition: An understanding and acceptance that sometimes things must unfold in their own time.

Do we practice patience with a feeling of long suffering and endurance? Or can it be practised with a feeling of deep faith in ourselves, in life and trust in others to come through for us?

Mindfulness patience means that we have developed enough wisdom to accept the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time, in their own pace.

So what are some of the key tips that will help you to have more patience?

  • Don’t try to hurry things along. Everything has it’s own time. This feels obvious, but we try so hard to force things through that we forget that for many activities, there is a natural rhythm or pace to it. 
  • Practice patience with ourselves. Why rush through some moments in order to get to other ‘better’ ones? Each one is you “living your life in that moment.”
  • Be completely open to each moment as it happens, accepting its fullness, knowing that things will emerge in their own time.

I have noticed for instance in meetings, where-as in the past I would rush in with ideas, comments and suggestions; now I try to find the flow of the meeting. The pace of the conversation and allow myself to match it. Often, I do not even make comments or suggestions; but rather stay silent. This can feel counter-productive; but trust me, I feel more grounded and focused.

How do you practice patience?

Practising patience in the midst of a stressful situation is not an easy thing to do. In fact, it seems to be completely counterintuitive. At it’s heart, it really means acknowledging that you don’t have control about all the aspects of your life. Look, none of us do. This can feel very scary, and for some, this means they can become angry, anxious or depressed in response to this sense of “non-control”.

But by practicing patience at these times, by allowing yourself to “be in this moment”, knowing that this moment (and all of the other moments that you are going to experience) is not in your control and that it cannot be otherwise, you will be re-regulating your mind-body, and strengthening your inner self.

There is a technique I came across that does seem to help.

STOP!

When you find yourself in the middle of a situation; be it at work, at home, with loved ones or friends; where you feel your impatience rising, think: S-T-O-P

  • S = Stop. Stop talking. Stop shouting. Stop whatever you are doing.
  • T = Take a breath. I try to breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of seven and breathe out for a count of eight, but whatever works for you.
  • O = Open yourself up to self-compassion. Realise that you in the moment. Just this moment and it will pass. Just like every other moment you have ever had.
  • P = Pause and reflect on what the context of the situation is that is making you feel impatient. I can assure you, that it will feel a lot less by this stage.

Try practising, the “STOP” technique. This in turn, may encourage your brain to “turn down” the heat and adjust itself by having you feel less reactive to the stress.

Patience is about accepting “what is”, knowing that “what is” will change, that everything is impermanent; the bad as well as the good. It is about self-compassion, knowing how hard it is to acknowledge the limited control we all have in our world. It is about knowing that we really will feel better by being less reactive to the “issue” or to the “situation” we find ourselves in. Finally, and probably the most important aspect is, that cultivating patience for yourself will allow you to be more patient with others.

The video where Jon describes the Patience attitude can be viewed here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkW27a8m1mY&list=PLkgahhWgJW97ADlyc2BYMwOD8wZjcBZ8D&index=3

I leave you with the following quote which is really wonderful.

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”

Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Attitude 1 – Non-Judging

“It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.” ― Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

This is the first of the seven attitudes that Jon-Kabat-Zinn believes are the basis for mindfulness. We have all heard of being judgemental, but what does being non-judging mean?

It is part of the definition of mindfulness itself:

“The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.”

So what is non-judging?  

Definition: Not getting caught up in our ideas and opinions, likes and dislikes.

There is an inner critic who lives inside my head rent-free and is one loud and obnoxious bugger. He has something to say about everything, and I mean everything, I do and say.  From the way I drive to work in the morning to how many pieces of fruit I consume in a day, from the way I talk to my children and family to my writing and blogging. Literally, everything I do, say and life through.

What is the purpose of that inner critic we all have inside of us? I have no idea of its source, point or reason. Suffice to say, that sometimes it completely consumes every thought I have.

Part of Mindfulness practice is the art of being non-judging to yourself and also to others. When you start to do a formal meditation practice, say a breathing exercise, as soon as you start, your mind will wander. I can guarantee it. Now, you can let that inner critic say those words of “you are failing at this” or you can accept that these things happen and by being non-judging, return to the breath.

Jon Kabat-Zinn writes, “When you find the mind judging, you don’t have to stop it from doing that, and it would be unwise to try. All that is required is to be aware of it happening. No need to judge the judging and make matters even more complicated for yourself.”

So what are some of the key tips that will help you be more non-judging?

  • Take the stance of an impartial witness to your own experience.
  • Notice the stream of judging mind .. good / bad / neutral… do not try to stop it but just being aware of it.
  • When you are with others, accept the moment by moment events, try not to judge others; instead, accept them as themselves.

How do you practice non-judging?

To practice non-judging, try going through a day paying attention to how often you judge everything that comes into your experience moment to moment. What feeling does this judging mechanism evoke in you? Anger? Fear? Jealousy? What is it like to simply experience and observe something without clinging to it, or wanting to push it away? The Buddha taught that this very process of craving things to be a certain way or to not be a certain way is at the root of our suffering. See for yourself if this rings true as you observe the judging process. Also, notice if you are judging yourself for judging! Judging the judge, judging the judge!

The video where Jon describes the Non-Judging attitude can be viewed here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNICQ-x_Gek&list=PLkgahhWgJW97ADlyc2BYMwOD8wZjcBZ8D&index=2
I leave you with the following quote.

“If you want to forget something or someone, never hate it, or never hate him/her. Everything and everyone that you hate is engraved upon your heart; if you want to let go of something, if you want to forget, you cannot hate.”

C. JoyBell C.

How attitude helps with Mindfulness

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

I have been trying to cultivate my own Mindfulness practice now for over two years, trying to do formal as well as informal practice on a daily basis; sometimes successfully, sometimes not. At times it has felt really easy. Sometimes, it has felt almost impossible, However, what has kept me going is the concepts of bringing awareness into my daily life; being more present and connected to what is going on around me. With these, I have felt truly alive for the first time in a long time.

Mindfulness has many aspects to it that can be interesting to explore. I have experienced many including silent practices; walking and movement practices; even mindful eating and tasting. All of these lend themselves not only to the formal practice of meditation but also in how we live our lives.  Once we have learned about them, we can actually apply these concepts in our daily life. For example, what is it like for you to do something routine (such as going for a walk with what is called “a beginners mind” (I’ll explain what this means in a subsequent post)? Is it possible to approach activities and life’s events with a fresh viewpoint? Is there something new to be noticed? Sometimes our beliefs and assumptions about the way something is, prevent us from experiencing the richness of the present moment; of the life around us.

I recently came across a video from Jon Kabat-Zinn where he talks about having the right set of attitudes that support the practice of Mindfulness. He talks about the fact that Mindfulness is more than just the formal sitting meditation practice; it is an approach to life. The challenge that we all face is the way we think of ourselves as “I, me and mine”; who we think we are and who we actually are are two entirely different things. Do you constantly think about yourself rather than others?  Do you really understand who you are and what life means for you?

There appear to be seven attitudes that Jon describes (plus a couple of others at the end of the videos). They were originally described in the book Jon wrote called  Full Catastrophe Living:How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation. They are:-

Non-judging: Consists in taking the position of an impartial witness to your own experience.
Patience

Patience: Having patience demonstrates that we understand and accept the fact that sometimes things unfold in their own time.

Beginner’s mind: Practising mindfulness means to take the chance to see everything as if it was for the first time.

Trust: Learning to trust one’s own experience, feelings and intuition.

Non-striving: Almost everything we do is for a purpose. Meditation and Mindfulness should not be!

Acceptance: Accepting what is happening in your life; around you and to the general situation of life.

“You have to accept yourself as you are, before you can really change” (op.cit. p. 38). This attitude is about attending to one’s experience with clarity and kindness, an essential foundation of meditation practice. Whereas a formal kindness meditation is not taught within the course material, this quality is inferred to within all the course content.

Letting go: The idea of letting go, or non-attachment, is fundamental to the practice of mindfulness.

We have a journey we can travel together: I have reflected on each of these and over the coming weeks will share my thoughts, experiences and feedback on each of them via a set of blog posts dedicated to each attitude. I hope you find them enlightening and thought provoking.

If you would like to check out the video that inspired this series, that Introduces the attitudes of Mindfulness click on the link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kANsRoYcaAo&index=1&list=PLkgahhWgJW97ADlyc2BYMwOD8wZjcBZ8D

 

I leave you with the following quote.

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”

Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden