This article was originally published on LinkedIn on 2 March 2020.
They say “curiosity killed the cat.” Being too inquisitive could lead to danger. So don't ask too many questions. But one of the best advice I have ever received was from my very wise mentor Char Wilkins, who constantly reminded me when I was training to be a mindfulness teacher - “Curiosity will always get you out of trouble, Erin.”
That’s right, I have learned that there is no such thing as being too curious, as long as it was grounded in the practice of mindful awareness.
I used to feel really nervous about facilitating an inquiry into a mindfulness experience; posing a question like "What did you notice?" to a group of people, and potentially having every one of them stare right back at me in complete, deafening silence - it was unnerving. Silence was something I felt really uncomfortable with. Do they understand my question? Are they getting this? I would think to myself. I must look pretty amateur right now. They're onto me, they know I'm a phoney... Oh god, this is the longest anyone has not talked, ever. In reality, it was perhaps only five seconds of silence; to me, it felt like an eternity of awkwardness, self-doubt, and shame. My attention would get pulled into an internal whirlpool of self-judgmental thoughts, and before I knew it, I had lost sight of my original intention, which was to attend to and be present with the experiences of my participants. Throughout the rest of the session, dread and anxiety lingered behind every word I spoke, every question I asked, and every response I offered.
Char would ask me during our mentoring sessions, “What are you curious about, Erin?” This golden question prompted the start of a paradigm shift in my facilitation approach.
We have a strong tendency to quickly form judgments about anything and everything that arises in our experience. This usually stems from a place of fear or uncertainty, which we don't particularly like to deal with. We inwardly make assumptions and draw conclusions without taking the time to investigate what is really going on. The mind automatically runs scripts we are familiar with in an attempt to make sense of a situation. Your employee is staring at his phone during a meeting - that guy is not a team player. Your boss takes a deep breath in as you present your idea - nope, she's not buying this. Your partner texts you, "We need to talk," - is she breaking up with me? Your child avoids answering your question - why doesn't he ever respond to me? A stranger remains seated on the train despite seeing an elderly standing in front of him - ugh, what a jerk.
What might happen if we were to invite a little curiosity into our experience? The moment we become curious about something, our attention softens and widens, our judgments start falling away, and suddenly space opens up for us to witness the experience as it is, and to explore more possibilities. Your employee is staring at his phone - could he be attending to something urgent? Does he need support? Your boss takes a deep breath in - could that be an attempt to be more present with me? Your partner texts you - what is she concerned about? Your child avoids your question - is something bothering him? Does he feel safe enough to share? A stranger doesn't give up his seat - could he have a condition I don't know about?
And what happens when we stay curious and open ourselves to more possibilities? How might our interactions with one another change?
Coming back to my silent group of practitioners, I subsequently reminded myself to be open and curious about what was happening there and then, without the need for a specific answer or outcome. Moment by moment, I practised resting in the atmosphere of silence, observing not only the participants, but also my very own discomfort. After a while, I realized that silence was just silence, and all that awkwardness was really in my head. Curiosity had allowed me to turn towards my experience and notice the unnecessary evaluations I was reactively bringing in. There was nothing inherently right or wrong, good or bad about that silence. The only thing I needed to be aware of at each moment of noticing, was that silence was present. And this information was enough.
It was an epiphany, the moment I discovered that being curious about how things are, was more important than thinking about how things should be.
Today, I am comfortable enough to invite the entire group to rest with me in silence, even when we are supposed to be sharing. With this open curiosity, I see thought bubbles brewing in the group and patiently wait for them to reveal themselves; I discern appropriate moments for holding space, and the best opportunities to value-add; I bear witness to how each person - including myself - transforms from struggle, to knowing, to insight.
So, what are you curious about?
First published via LinkedIn Pulse. Read Linkedin Article.
Growing up in a relatively conservative culture, whereby almost every decision I made or every action I took had to be approved or answerable to an authoritative figure or a social ideology, I remember how much I used to crave freedom. I loathed unnecessary criticisms, baseless judgments, and unfair expectations. My own personal time and space became sacred, and I indulged myself in an inner world of fantasy every chance I got. My biggest dream was to be able to run away some day, to a beautiful place - perhaps a place I could call my own home - that would grant me full independence and the liberty to self-govern. I felt immense power just fantasizing about a completely unrestrained self, basking in this self-defined identity of being free.
I held on to this reverie throughout my teens, twenties and early thirties, and unknowingly allowed it to guide the course of my life - my work, my relationships, and my worldview. Of course, the world around me continued to function in an entirely different way, and I often wondered if the bubble I had wrapped around myself served to protect me, or sink me deeper into the illusion that I could be free. The more I struggled with being controlled or limited, the more tightly I held on to my perceived need for freedom.
And then meditation happened. Important discoveries often come to us in the most unknowing ways, when we least expect it, and when we do not anticipate. Upon parting with an almost decade-long corporate portfolio, I signed myself up for a ten-day Vipassana meditation retreat, and went through one of the most excruciatingly painful experiences I had encountered in the first three decades of my life. We were invited to sit for one hour without changing our posture, to practice strong determination in the process of observing ourselves. While the intention of the practice was definitely not one of self-torture, the over-achiever in me couldn't help but take up the "challenge" in its entirety, and for the full one hour I never moved an inch.
As the drilling pain grew exponentially in my legs and shot through the full length of the spine, I instinctively threw myself back into my bubble of freedom, hoping that my power of imagination would take me far, far away from the reality of the pain. But my bubble didn't offer the relief it usually would. If anything, the pain only magnified. I was desperate to be free of this pain. I silently screamed over and over again in my head, My legs! My legs! Stop this pain NOW! as tears rolled uncontrollably down my cheeks. Even though I was certain I appeared absolutely unmoving and composed on the outside, the internal battle was raging. My bubble started to press in on me, challenging each and every byte of reliance on escape I had stored in my consciousness over the years.
The meditation practice was all about self-observation, and the essence of observation is to pay attention without being caught up in whatever we are observing in the moment. When we observe, there is no need to do anything. We learn to take a step back and simply watch, with curiosity and patience. Moment by moment, as I learned to observe my own body and mind, my muscles loosened and relaxed, my bubble started fading away, and the angry, relentless chatter in my head gradually subsided. The painful sensation was still there at my legs, but strangely it was no longer bothering me so much. For the rest of the hour, I sat with an ease I had never experienced before, even though I was in full confrontation with the reality of my experience. Was I free? It certainly felt so. In the middle of deep turbulence, there was no room for escape, and yet freedom found me.
It took me over thirty years and a somewhat intensive meditation experience to bring to light what freedom - a core value I had aligned my life with - truly means. Escape does not really bring freedom, much like how chocolate doesn't bring lasting comfort, or how working out at the gym doesn't increase our self-worth. And yet escape seems to be the only means to freedom that the modern world is currently encouraging. My struggle for freedom amidst pain was at best a form of distraction, and at worst, a multifold intensification of the pain. When we don't like the pain we feel inside, we tend to seek out something outside of us for some relief, not realizing that the unpleasantness really comes from within. But when I chose to direct my attention inwards to gently observe my pain, I was able to find freedom in the pain right there and then.
Since then, I have been consciously reminding myself of this insight with almost every physically, mentally and emotionally painful experience that comes my way. From hectic schedules, professional blunders, ruminative thoughts and moments of self-doubt, to difficult relationships and the stress of being a caregiver, I practice turning my attention inwards, remaining mindfully aware of the pain that comes, learning not to invite it for a stay, and then watching it eventually change and fade away. With each painful experience that arrives, the practice begins. And with each moment of practice, comes a moment of freedom.
Today, freedom remains my top core value, guiding me in every decision I make. But I no longer regard freedom in the same way as before. Rather than running away, I intentionally choose to turn towards. Rather than wishing for things to be different, I learn to be at ease with what is. In the absence of futile struggle, there is freedom to be found in every moment of difficulty, and even in every step and breath I take. Without a doubt, this takes a lot of practice, but I am inclined to make this practice a lifelong one.
Connect with Erin, because she would love to practice mindfulness with you. Do give a like, leave a comment, or share this article if Erin's words resonate with you!
In the Mindful Musings series, MiMo Founder and Mindfulness Coach Erin shares her personal thoughts and views about the practice of mindfulness.
I like to observe the environment around me, especially when I'm commuting from one place to another on the train. One thing I notice is how as a society living in crowded spaces, our physical bodies are so close in proximity to one another - sometimes in an almost smothering way during the peak hours, but our mind is often miles apart, not just from person to person, but also from ourselves. As I scan the space around me on the train, I find it interesting that the first thing I see would always be the crown of people's heads. Everyone would be looking down at their phones - either busy replying to messages, or browsing the web, or playing a game. Occasionally, they would look up to check which station the train was at, and then resume to bowing down to their gadgets again. Their attention would almost never leave the screen in front of them.
I would then look more closely at their faces and expressions, and what I often recognize is a shared sense of deep-seated exhaustion - perhaps leftover from a day of working and firefighting, or from a lack of restful sleep at night, or from some personal troubles. I would think, if people are so tired, why don't they close their eyes and rest for a while? Why do they choose to have an external object drain more energy from them? Perhaps they don't want to know how tired their body feels, or they dread facing how much is on their mind, so watching a random video on their Facebook feed would obviously be a much "easier" option. As a society, we are collectively exhausted, and we don't know it. Or rather, we don't want to know it.
We are living in a world full of external objects that stimulate the mind, and we have gotten so used to being absorbed in them or using them as a distraction, that we no longer have the capacity to turn our attention inwards to tend to what's going on inside us. Keeping ourselves occupied with something, even when we don't need to, seems to be much more accessible than just sitting and being with ourselves. But what we are giving up in exchange for a coping mechanism masked as a temporary relief from having to confront our exhaustion, is the opportunity to know the mind and body for what they are, and how they are doing.
In the practice of mindfulness, we train ourselves to constantly turn our attention inwards to observe the mind and body. Being mindfully aware of what's going on inside us may seem counter-intuitive at first, since we instinctively want to avoid or fight off anything that feels unpleasant or negative to us; but when we are able to rest our attention inwardly, we can then recognize what the body is being put through, as well as understand what the mind may be unnecessarily holding on to, thus becoming better able to take care of ourselves.
You are invited!
Organized by Dot Connections Growth Centre and partnered with The Institute of Mind Humanities of Wonkwang University, the Mind and Mindfulness Symposium 2017 strives to provide participants with greater insights to our mind and the learning of mindfulness through the sharing of knowledge by specially-invited guest speakers, as well as the opportunity to experience mindfulness through bite-size practices throughout the event!
WHAT: The Mind and Mindfulness Symposium
WHEN: Saturday 6 August 2017, 10 am - 4 pm
WHERE: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, 288 South Bridge Road, Singapore 058840
SPEAKERS & TOPICS:
Professor Jang Jin Yang, Wonkwang University, The Institute of Mind Humanities
Title: Daily Life Practice and Mindfulness - A Comparative Study Across Schools of Mindfulness
Professor Baek Hyeongi, Wonkwang University, The Institute of Mind Humanities
Title: Implementation of Mind Humanities Related Journals Applications Using Google Maps
Dr. Jeffrey Po, Dot Connections Growth Centre
Title: Engaging Goal-Oriented Mindfulness Meditation Skills to Enhance Healthy Workplace Environment
Ms Jacqueline Leong, Dot Connections Growth Centre
Title: Don't Sweat Over Mindfulness
When people come to know that I practice and teach mindfulness, quite a number of them would ask me this same question: What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a word that we see everywhere in the media and at our workplaces nowadays. Through reading editorials and articles, we probably have a roughly idea about what it is, although we may not really understand what it encompasses. Many of us define mindfulness as a kind of meditation, but this concept of mindfulness might stop at images of sitting still and quiet in a cross-legged position, attempts to empty the mind, or of other rituals such as prayers and chanting.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the classic 8-Week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program, explains mindfulness as "paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally" (see source). If we tried to understand this definition conceptually, it might be difficult to fathom what this form of paying attention truly means. What do we mean by paying attention on purpose? Why the emphasis of the present moment in mindfulness? What does being non-judgmental have to do with mindfulness?
In this article, I will aim to explain in the simplest way possible the key words and terms used in describing and practicing mindfulness. It is worth noting that experiential practice of mindfulness is much more important for understanding what mindfulness is, than the terms I discuss below.
All of us have awareness. In the broader sense, awareness refers to the capacity of knowing or perceiving events, objects and situations. In mindfulness, we talk about knowing what is happening while it is happening, often referring to one's inner experience.
When someone makes you happy and you smile, you are aware that your face is smiling. When you are angered by another driver rudely cutting into your lane, you are mindfully aware of the grip of your hands tightening on the steering wheel, and the wave of heat rising in your body. You are aware of your own likes and dislikes, the thoughts and voices in your head, your emotions, actions and behaviours.
Awareness is different from reflection - reflection often takes place on hindsight, after something has happened and you're pondering about what had happened. Awareness takes place as the event itself is taking place, i.e. in the present moment.
There is a great emphasis on being present in practicing mindfulness. We cannot be practicing mindfulness if we are not in the present moment. By the present, we mean the here and now - what is going on in your inner experience at this particular moment.
The opposite of the present moment is the past or the future. The mind often carries us to the past to relive (and dwell in) memories, or carries us forward to think about (or worry about) the future. When the mind is engaged in the past or the future, we are no longer in the present moment.
For example, while you are having lunch, you start to worry about the business presentation you are about to give in an hour, or you begin to think about the comments your colleagues had made about your work earlier in the morning. Your mind is caught up about the past or the future, and you have lost the ability to pay attention to the present moment: i.e. the food on your plate, the tastes on your tongue, the way you are eating, etc.
In mindfulness, we are learning to be in the present, moment-by-moment - one moment at a time. We take each moment as it comes - learning to let go of the moments that have passed, and learning not to anticipate the upcoming ones.
Autopilot is the opposite of mindfulness. When we are mindful, we are aware of what is happening and what we are doing. But when we are in autopilot, we are doing something without being aware that we are doing it. For example, when we are driving, our mind shifts to autopilot and does the driving for us without us having to put too much conscious attention into the skill, and before we know it, we have reached our destination quite effortlessly. Autopilot is a function of the mind that allows us to carry out learned habits and skills efficiently, thus freeing the mind to engage in other activities or thoughts.
But when we are in autopilot, we also act out ingrained patterns of the past without knowing it, and some of these patterns are often negative or destructive. For example, when faced with new challenges, the mind automatically retrieves information about past failures and we react with the same cycles of fear and anxiety. Or we might shove unhealthy food down our body simply out of habit, or light a cigarette time and again without being aware of it until we have taken the first puff.
With mindfulness of the present moment, we learn to be aware of our negative patterns and behaviours, thus beginning to break out of our automatic patterns.
Mindfulness is one of the most effective antidotes to stress. When we talk about stress, we are referring not only to the stress itself, but also to the relationship we have with the stressors in our lives. These stressors can be internal or external, but more often than not, it is the stress we feel internally that really affects our health and well-being.
External stress is inevitable in life, and we often add on to the stress by reacting to the stress, such as allowing ourselves to engage in negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours. For example, your boss calls you into his or her office. This may feel a little stressful for you, but you tend to react to this initial (and external) stress by thinking: What does he want from me? Is she unhappy with my performance? And before you know it, these negative thoughts are taking over your mind, and you are ruminating not just about the stress at hand. Everyone in the office is looking at me with sympathy. This is so embarrassing. Why can't I do anything right with this job? What am I doing with my career? What am I doing with my life?
Mindfulness trains the mind to be aware of the stressors as they arrive, and learn to weaken and break out of the negative and automatic cycles of thoughts and emotions. With the practice of mindfulness, we are working on greater acceptance towards stress, without fighting with reactivity or avoidance or running away, thus changing our relationship with stress.
Doing versus Being
The modern pace of life, with its never-ending stream of tasks and communications, as well as roles and responsibilities we have to take on, has us engaging in the mode of doing all the time - we focus on to-do lists and check-lists; we think and plan ahead, we make decisions and problem solve.
Although these types of doing are important in getting us through the day, the doing mind also often gets into the habit of thinking non-stop, and we find that it gets increasingly difficult for the mind to shut off at night when it's time to rest and sleep. The doing mode also encourages the mind to make judgments and appraisals, assess and criticise, speculate and make assumptions, or dwell in what had happened (the past) and worry about what's to come (the future). For example, you might spend the whole night going through your to-do list for the next day over and over again, or get lost in regretting what you had done today at the workplace.
The practice of mindfulness encourages the being mode of the mind, and simply allows us to rest in the present moment instead of getting drowned in the turmoils of the inner mind.
As humans, we tend to be judgmental beings. We like to appraise things, people or events we encounter, deciding whether they are good or bad, beneficial or detrimental, useful or harmful. We have preferences, hoping for pleasant experiences to continue, and avoiding or pushing away unpleasant ones. We often want things to go the way we like, and when they don't, we react. These reactions we have greatly add on to the stress in our lives.
When we practice mindfulness, we simply pay attention to our inner experiences non-judgmentally. We learn to observe things just the way they are, without the adding of judgments, without preference, and without attempting to change the experience. Whatever that arises in the mind, we train the mind not to engage or react, but to simply observe non-judgmentally.
Paying attention is the fundamental practice of mindfulness. We always set an intention to pay attention at the start of each practice. We have learned how to pay attention - without judgment and in the present moment. But what are we paying attention to?
We can pay attention to anything that arises in our inner experience. To practice the foundations of mindfulness, we often start with paying attention to physical sensations of the breath and body. We also learn to pay attention to the physical sensations in movement. These practices help to anchor our attention to the present moment. As we progress along our practice, we learn to also observe the thoughts and emotions that come and go in the mind, without engaging in them.
Through paying attention this way, we acquaint ourselves with the nature of our mind, and over time we learn to concentrate better, increase our self-awareness, manage stress more effectively, shift the neurology of the brain to embrace more positive outlooks, and improve our health as well as emotional and mental well-being.
Do you have more questions about mindfulness, or need further explanation on a mindfulness term you have come across? Leave a comment, or drop Erin a message here or via email!
During a recent mindfulness retreat I attended on a lovely Isle on the West Coast of Scotland, we were invited to practice mindfulness outdoors, facing the open sea.
If you had the chance to sit like this and start observing, what would you notice? Would the magnificent scenery take your breath away? Would you be thinking about how fortunate you were to be resting under the big blue sky? Would you be feeling a deep sense of gratitude for the wonders of nature?
The picture above makes it look as though we were just chilling to the beautiful sights, but all of us were in actual fact working really hard.
As we sat on the grassy patch, we took the opportunity to observe not just what was around us, but also what was going on in the mind.
We felt the cold wind brush against our face, and noticed a thought arising: This experience would be perfect if the wind wasn't so strong. The warm sun fades away for a few moments, and we noticed another thought arising: Warmth! Please stay, don't go away now... Preference was here.
We heard the buzzing sounds of bees hovering above our heads, and noticed yet another thought arising: Could these nature's biggest helpers possibly sting us? Fear was here.
We saw a young goat trotting past with an obvious limp, and the thought arose: Poor little kid is hurt - I wish I could do something to help it. Sympathy, and the desire to do something to help, were here.
The loud chattering voices of other guests on the island reached our ears, seemingly disrupting our peace; we thought: Can't they see we are meditating here? Some people really lack awareness. Judgment was here.
We began to feel an ache in our body from sitting still for an extended period time; we thought: Oh no, here comes the pain again. Why now of all times? Why can't ever I sit comfortably? Self-appraisal was here.
In a span of thirty minutes, we observed countless fleeting thoughts arising in the mind, out of nowhere, and out of our control. We observed how thoughts were magnified when we engaged with them, but disappeared when we chose to let them be. We observed how we don't simply see or sense things the way they are, but have the tendency to want to interpret them, change them, or fix them. We have preferences - clinging on to things that we like, and pushing away things we don't like.
Such mindfulness practices help us understand the nature of the mind, and the habitual patterns that come along with it. We begin to see how these habitual patterns dominate our daily lives. With such awareness comes insight, and the ability to navigate life with more skillful and helpful responses.
If you're interested in mindfulness training, do check out our 8-Week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program here.
A friend of mine, upon seeing Mindful Moment's Facebook update on our Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program, sent me an image along with a cheeky question: which version are you teaching?
The image, which you may have seen before since it is commonly featured on mindfulness-related websites and social media, is a drawing of a man taking a walk with his dog along a row of leafy green trees and a big warm sun shining from above; there is a thought bubble above the man's head, showing that his mind is filled with thoughts about work, communications, tasks, traveling, etc.; and then there is another thought bubble above the dog's head, showing the exact scene they are in - the row of leafy green trees and the big warm sun shining from above. And then the big question on the image asks the viewer: Mindful, or Mind Full?
It is not difficult to understand from the image that despite taking a walk in a lovely environment, the man is miles away caught up in his own train of thoughts about everything other than the beautiful scenery around him - his mind is full. The dog, on the other hand, is noticing his immediate environment as he walks - aware of the trees he is passing by, and the warmth of the sun - it is being mindful of its surroundings.
My friend understood that, and his tongue-in-cheek question was, which version does a mindfulness teacher teach in an MBSR class? Mindful, or Mind Full?
I answered: Actually, both!
It is without a doubt that participants learn to be mindful in a mindfulness class - during practices we work really hard to pay attention to the present moment, instead of allowing the mind to be pulled away by the past or the future. But through practicing mindfulness, we might find that there is also a lot to learn from paying attention to a mind that is full!
What happens when the mind is constantly overloaded with checklists, to-dos, and tasks to complete? Or when the mind is playing an upsetting event that had happened over and over again? Or when the mind loops questions about uncertainties, or when it frequently airs an unpleasantly critical, judgmental voice?
Through practice, we might discover that the mind virtually never stops, and is almost always full, or at least filled with something. Even though we frequently hear the advice: "Clear your mind" or "Empty your mind", we can be sure that this "emptiness" we are hoping for as a relief from the never-ending busyness of life will not last beyond a moment before the mind begins to be filled up again. It is equally important for mindfulness practice, then, to train the mind to be mindful of the present moment, and also be mindful of the mind that is full.
It is worth highlighting here that it is not enough to ponder over the "Mindful or Mind Full" question as an intellectual exercise. Only personal experience from engaging in mindfulness practices can bring us true insights and discoveries into the nature of the mind. And I invite you to further explore this with mindfulness training.
Click here to find out the latest dates of our next Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program.
We conducted two fruitful Mindfulness Information Sessions on Saturday 9 January 2016 to help promote awareness and make mindfulness more accessible to the general public. We shared information on the background, development, research and applications of mindfulness, as well as gave an introduction to the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program.
Our deepest gratitude to the participants who gave us the opportunity to share some precious mindful moments with them! May all be peaceful and happy.
Erin is available to conduct mindfulness talks and programs for organisations, so please contact Erin to discuss the possibilities, because she would love to practice mindfulness with you.
Suffering is a part of life. Or is it?
There is a common saying that "pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional". We are constantly faced with challenges and struggles that may bring us pain, but this does not mean that we have to keep suffering from the pain.
Suffering can range from traumatic experiences, extreme or chronic stress, to depressive moods, anxiety and other unpleasant emotions. As long as there is unrest, unease, dissatisfaction or turbulence within ourselves, we can be fairly certain that suffering exists. And we usually have no issues identifying the existence of suffering. In mindfulness practice, we are working towards minimizing this suffering by gaining a deeper understanding of why suffering exists.
Suffering happens when we are unsatisfied with our circumstances and feel compelled to change them, despite things being out of our control. When we meet with an unpleasant situation we don't like, we develop an aversion or rejection towards the experience. Thoughts develop: No, it shouldn't be this way, this can't be happening to me; emotions like anger, resentment, disappointment, shame, and guilt arise. We begin to cling on to our thoughts and feelings; we ruminate and obsess, replaying and looping little scenes in our head. Likewise, when we encounter a pleasant situation, we are likely to develop an attachment towards what we like. We want it to happen to us all the time, and then we become afraid that it won't, or feel disappointed when it doesn't. We are afraid to let go, and when things do not happen according to our wishes, we refuse to accept reality.
The concept of the second arrow is important for us to further understand our suffering. We are often involuntarily struck by a first arrow, causing some pain to us. But on top of feeling this pain from the first arrow, we have the tendency to automatically shoot a second arrow at ourselves, at that exact same spot, thus causing a much bigger and often unnecessary pain. We cannot stop the first arrow from being shot at us, but the second arrow is optional. That second arrow is suffering.
Take for example, a loved one has forgotten to wish you on your birthday because they have recently been exceptionally busy. Naturally you feel disappointed, but because your habitual mind starts shooting the second arrow, you begin to think: I always remember his/her birthday, why doesn't h/she remember mine? S/he is losing interest; s/he doesn't love me anymore.
Or perhaps your supervisor criticises the recent proposal you had drafted. Immediately, you feel an unpleasant sensation somewhere in your body, and a thought arises in your mind: My report is not good enough. And then you react to that thought with a follow-up of a string of thoughts: That must mean I'm not good enough. Can I really handle this job? I'm such a failure. Why can't I do anything right? Feelings of embarrassment, fear and anxiety may tag along with those thoughts, and the next thing you know, you are suffering.
Mindfulness trains our mind to recognize both the first arrow and the second arrow we shoot at ourselves. This recognition allows us to create space around our thoughts and feelings; instead of reacting to them with the second arrow, we can choose to respond in a different way. With mindfulness practice, we learn that our thoughts and feelings are not us, and we do not need to identify with them. We learn to notice when we are telling ourselves stories and falling for those narratives. We learn to watch our thoughts and emptions come and go in the mind, and we cultivate a gentle, non-judgmental awareness towards the habitual nature of our mind. We learn to stop resisting and start accepting things the way they are. We learn to be okay with whatever that arises in our experience.
But this does not mean that we give up hope, live indifferently or withdraw from improving our life. In fact, the awareness of our suffering and waking up to it, is by itself an improvement to our life. Instead of reacting impulsively, we are interrupting our negative habitual patterns to respond in a better way. Instead of feeling constantly uneasy, unsatisfied, unhappy with life, we are cultivating more calmness and making peace with ourselves.
Learn how to wake up to suffering with the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program we offer.
Some people, when asked if they would consider practicing mindfulness, would almost immediately respond: "But I can't sit still for even one minute!"
A common misconception about mindfulness, is that the practice requires one to sit quietly, cross-legged on the floor, with your eyes closed, and... basically do nothing. You are not allowed to move or talk, and you are supposed to empty your mind.
The truth is that a mindfulness practice is far from doing nothing. In fact, there really is a lot of work involved. It might look like a practitioner is just sitting there, not thinking, not feeling. But there is so much more to the experience.
In a typical mindfulness practice, we are training our mind to focus and pay attention to the present moment; we are observing the nature of our mind systematically and non-judgmentally; we are inviting curiosity into the experience and learning to accept that whatever that comes up we are okay with it. We are developing the capacity to watch the endless stream thoughts and emotions in our mind without engaging with or reacting to them. We are cultivating patience, building compassion, and collecting moments of equanimity.
Mindfulness is also not just practiced sitting. We regularly practice mindful walking, and do gentle stretching or balancing movements mindfully. Mindfulness should also be practiced in daily life - when we are eating, showering, driving, cooking, sweeping, working, or conversing with someone.
What other possible misconceptions of mindfulness do you think we could address?
Learn and practice mindfulness with us at our 8-Week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program.
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.