Whenever I met with doubts or challenges in teaching the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program, my mentor would gift me this timely reminder: "Erin, be curious. Curiosity will always get you out of trouble".
The cultivation of curiosity in mindfulness is an interesting practice to engage with. When was the last time you were truly curious about something? If you have observed a child figuring out the way the world works, you might notice the wonderment and spark in their eyes as they discover something new and interesting.
As a child, we were naturally curious and open about everything around us, and we simply wanted to explore. But as we grew up, fears, expectations and judgments set in, and we no longer approach things with genuine curiosity. We worry about the unknown or ambiguous, we reject repetition and avoid change, we seek concrete answers to the questions we ask, we tend to form biased perceptions, categorizing what we observe into stereotypes, and we almost always look to get something - usually a function or benefit - out of anything we see or come across.
Being curious about things is encouraged in mindfulness practice. In mindfulness, we practice a lot of acceptance towards the stresses and challenges in our life, but before we can even develop greater acceptance, we need to train the mind to see things just the way they are. We notice the prejudices and assumptions we tend to make, and learn to let go of preferences for things to go our way. When we are able to cultivate such genuine curiosity that is free from expectations and judgment, we usually experience remarkable changes to our relationship with the world around us.
Curiosity does not kill the cat. Instead, it can be your new best friend - a support you can depend on anytime, anywhere, and a gentle practice that invites you to approach life in an entirely different way. If you'd like to learn how to cultivate genuine mindful curiosity, do check out our 8-Week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program.
In The Mindful People Series, we interview people from different walks of life and get them to share their mindfulness experience, as well as how learning and practicing mindfulness have made a difference to their personal and professional lives.
MiMo: How did you get into learning and practicing mindfulness?
AR: We live in a world that is moving and evolving too fast, change is the only constant in today's day and age. Hence, stress levels are endemic. While a lot of us focus on physical health, the awareness and attention being given to mental health is still nascent. At some point last year, I decided to rewire my routine and make it more balanced. I decided to focus on my mental wellness too. This led me to the Plum Village group in Singapore which was my first tryst with mindfulness practices. Furthermore, I started reading a book on Buddhism where I learnt about Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and the MBSR program. Being an engineer, this instantly caught my attention since the program has a scientific basis to it!
MiMo: Tell us about your experience in the MBSR program.
AR: I had already experienced the practices taught in the MBSR program at the Plum Village 'Day of Meditation' events. However, MBSR is a structured program that focuses purely on mindfulness practices. In addition, the class size is small allowing enough face time with the teacher (Erin). The discussion sessions in class after each practice or discussions about the home practices are an essential and valuable part of the program. Without going into too much theoretical detail, the MBSR course also helps you understand stress, how it affects your body, why you react in certain ways and how you can deal with it. Hence, all in all it was an enriching experience for me.
MiMo: How has mindfulness contributed to your personal well-being?
AR: Earlier in stressful situations, I would react and not understand why there were certain reactions or sensations. Now, I am much more aware. Mindfulness practices are simple yet powerful tools to support you in a multitude of situations. It has helped me calm my mind and as a result my body. Of course, that said, there is no switch that can be flipped and suddenly you have a "Eureka" moment of being a mindful person. It is a slow process which requires persistence and practice.
MiMo: How has mindfulness supported you in your professional work?
AR: I work as a Vendor / Project Manager in IT. My job involves working with multiple internal / external stakeholders, dealing with conflict, dealing with tough situations on projects. When faced with challenging situations, mindfulness helps me be aware of my feelings / emotions and sensations. Once I am aware, it enables me to take a Pause. Basically to apply one of the practices to draw attention back to the present moment and calm the mind. What works best for me is drawing attention to the breath and breathing deep.
MiMo: How have you incorporated mindfulness into your daily life?
AR: Since I got to know about mindfulness, I am more aware of how I spend my time. Often sparing 30-40 minutes every day for formal practices can be challenging. As a new father, I also need to strike a balance between spending time at work, with my family and on my well-being. Hence, I try to use my transition times more effectively - while I am on the MRT or in a cab or walking towards somewhere. I try to bring my attention back to my breath or focus on nature and just observe. Of course, when time permits I still try to keep up with the formal practices as well.
MiMo: Any words of advice for people who are thinking about learning mindfulness?
AR: We spend our lives worrying about the future or getting stuck in the past. Our minds have gotten attuned to overthinking, to making a mountain out of a mole hill, to be racing all the time. Mindfulness helps us break this vicious circle and brings us back to the present moment. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, the present moment is the only moment we have. Hence, mindfulness is all about being aware, being present, being here. Mindfulness practices help us achieve this and see the benefits of it.
Mental health is often a touchy topic and there is stigma associated with it. I personally have gone through this. However, I would just say shun the stigma, shun the doubts and immerse yourself into the mindfulness experience. Because "Happiness is here and now, Peace is here and now"! Being here and now is Mindfulness.
About Ameesh Randeri
Global Vendor Manager at Autodesk Asia Pte. Ltd.
Ameesh has a Masters in Information Technology and started off his career as a techie. In 2010, he transitioned to the business side of things and currently works as Global Vendor Manager at Autodesk. Ameesh enjoys working in diverse, cross-cultural environments and interacting with people from the world over. Luckily, his job allows him to do just that. On the personal front, Ameesh is a new father and lives in Singapore with his wife, four and a half month old son and their pet dog, Cookie. He is an avid reader and loves reading both fiction and non-fiction books. Off late, he has been flirting with books on Buddhism, Spirituality and Mindfulness.
Are you a mindfulness practitioner or do you know one who would like to share their mindfulness experience on the MiMo blog? Do drop us a message!
When giving mindfulness talks or training, I sometimes like to illustrate human unhappiness or stress using the Buddhist analogy of the second arrow.
Here's a scenario: You are queuing in line to get on the peak hour MRT train. The train finally arrives and the doors open, and you inch forward as the passengers in the queue compliantly get onto the train one by one. Just as you are about to step off the platform and onto the train, someone from behind suddenly cuts in front of you and rushes onto the train, and then the train doors promptly close, leaving you still on the platform and with no choice but to wait for the next train to arrive.
What happens next? You probably freeze in a moment of disbelief, before feeling a wave of indignance or annoyance rush over you. Your blood begins to boil, and you start silently cursing that incredibly rude person for causing you to miss the train.
But you don't just stop at cursing - you replay the scene over and over in your head, wishing you had reacted fast enough to stop that person from getting onto the train; you continue to reel in anger, and thoughts of negativity remotely related to what had just happened start to flash across your mind. I am such a pushover. I always get bullied. Just like when I'm at work. No wonder my family thinks I'm useless. Your mind then decides that you shall ruminate about what a failure you are, and replays all your memories of when you felt you had failed.
You successfully hop onto the next train, but throughout the ride you are torturing yourself with thoughts and feelings of anger, shame, and fear. As you step into your office, you bring this state of mind to work and carry it through to the end of the day. Your entire day has then been effectively ruined by a complete stranger who merely cut into your line at a train station.
The Second Arrow
How does the analogy of the second arrow apply to this scenario? The arrow is a metaphor for stress. When a first arrow, or the initial stress, hits us, it causes us some pain. But it is in our nature to want to avoid or reject what feels unpleasant to us, so we tend to react to the pain by shooting a second arrow at that exact same spot where the first arrow hit us, and when that happens, the pain is significantly magnified.
There is a popular saying, that "pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional". When a stranger cuts into your queue and causes you to miss the train, you have been hit by the first arrow, or your initial stress. And that is inevitable and uncontrollable. But you may not stop there. You shoot perhaps not one, but many second arrows at yourself repeatedly, reminding yourself over and over again about how you had been taken advantage of, allowing your thoughts to ruminate and creating much drama in your head. The second arrow, then, represents how we create our own unhappiness. We often fail to recognize that we do have the option not to shoot the second arrow.
Take a few moments to reflect on the second arrows you have shot at yourself in the past. On top of ruminative, self-deprecating thinking, these second arrows can also come in the form of constant worrying or fear and apprehension of the unknown, or even thoughts and feelings of hate and resentment. How did those second arrows make you feel - better or worse?
The Role of Mindfulness
In mindfulness practice, we are training the mind to be aware of the habitual impulse of shooting the second arrow before we allow it to happen, and this awareness we cultivate come with the wisdom of acceptance and letting go.
For example, when the stranger cuts in front of us (the first arrow), we notice anger arising in the mind, but instead of acting on this anger (second arrow), we learn to take a pause and simply observe it, and allow it to go away on its own accord (mindful awareness). This is a sophisticated form of mind training that helps us break our usual patterns of rumination or worrying.
If you're keen on this kind of mindfulness training, do read about our 8-Week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program here.
At Green Living 2016, Singapore's eco-living event held at Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre, Mindfulness Coach Erin gave a sharing about the importance of practicing mindfulness in sustaining our personal well-being, for the greater good of a more peaceful community. She talked about what mindfulness is and isn't, the stress we experience when we dwell in the past or the future, as well as why we should train the mind to pay attention to the present.
Erin also led the audience through some simple mindfulness practices to observe their inner experience. All in all, the audience was really supportive and curious, and we hope they took away something valuable from the short 30-minute session!
Special thanks to Reed Exhibitions for inviting Mindful Moments to participate in Green Living.
Find out how to improve your personal well-being with mindfulness by registering for our 8-Week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program, of which many positive research outcomes are based.
About The Author
MiMo founder Erin Lee is a Mindfulness Coach and MBSR Teacher at Mindful Moments, and advocate of mindfulness as the way of life. She conducts the classic 8-Week MBSR Program, as well as the 8-Week MBSR Workplace Program.
Are you a mindfulness practitioner and have meaningful experiences or thoughts about mindfulness that you'd like to share? You can contribute an article on the MiMo blog! Please contact Erin to find out more.