Recently I listened to an interview about practicing mindfulness that's available to Liv Lane's Project Light Year participants. A few themes stood out to me in the interview, and I'd like to shed a light on them here.
Regardless of how often it's mentioned that mindfulness does not require a meditation practice, many people still think they cannot practice mindfulness if they do not meditate. Mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn explains that "[m]indfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally." Mindfulness, writes Kabat-Zinn in Wherever You Go, There You Are, is "the art of conscious living." Meditation can be one way to cultivate mindfulness, but it is not the only way.
The Value of Noticing
When I pay attention "on purpose, in the present moment," as Kabat-Zinn suggests, I notice the world around me. The more I practice noticing, the more details and nuances I recognize. When I notice details and differences, I often feel a deep gratitude for my diverse surroundings. The more I practice noticing, the more I also hone my ability to identify the sources of my emotions, the triggers for my reactions. When I can pinpoint where an emotion or sense of discomfort comes from, I am equipped with consciousness to make a change. I can stop reacting and instead mindfully choose an action that better aligns with my values.
The Value of Allowing
Just as noticing can be directed both inwardly and outwardly, so can allowing. The act of allowing events to unfold and and feelings to unfurl begins with noticing and continues with letting go of my (perceived) need for control. When I mindfully let go and allow the unfolding and unfurling, I notice that there's room for all of it to happen, there's room for all of it to be in this moment (and I will not be destroyed in the meantime). While the perfectionist in me wants the beads to stay organized in their neat little compartments, when I simply allow (and acknowledge) a spill's existence, I choose to be okay with the chaos. When I'm deeply mindful and honoring the moment, I can even allow that something new and beautiful may result from the chaos.
The Value of Surrendering Judgement
Kabat-Zinn highlights nonjudgement in his definition of mindfulness and also lists it in his mindfulness attitudes (outlined here). Listening to Liv Lane's mindfulness interview, I recognized that I can subscribe to the idea of surrendering judgement more readily than to the idea of nonjudging. As humans, our brains are programmed for judgement as a means of keeping us safe. We are constantly categorizing and labeling experiences as good or bad, safe or dangerous, pleasing or displeasing, satisfying or not satisfying. Judging is a big part of how we make our way through life. Practicing nonjudgement seems to ask for a difficult and unnatural interception; practicing the surrender of judgement, on the other hand, allows us to apply a label and then to surrender that label, to let it go. And then to chose our next action (rather than to fall into a subconscious reaction).
Each of these values is intertwined with the others. Surrendering judgement requires noticing and allowing. Allowing required noticing and letting go of judgement. Mindfulness is a beautiful and intricate web of consciousness.
As Kabat-Zinn writes, mindfulness is simple but not necessarily easy. Having studied mindfulness over the past few years, I am still learning, still being reminded of the simple-but-not-easy lessons and benefits of mindfulness, and I am continually practicing.
What's your experience with mindfulness? What themes or values help you honor the present moment? You're invited to share your reflections in a comment below or at the community page on facebook.