1. Non Judging
Mindfulness is developed by assuming the stance of an open minded witness to your own experience. To do this requires that you become aware of the constant stream of judging and reacting to inner and outer experiences that we are all normally caught up in, and learn to step back from it. When we begin the practice of paying attention to the activity of our own mind, it is common to discover and to be surprised by the fact that we are constantly making judgments about our experience. Almost everything we see is labeled and categorized by the mind. We react to everything we experience in terms of what we think its value is to us. Some things, people, and events are judged as “good” because they make us feel good for some reason. Others are judged as “bad” because they make us feel bad. The rest is categorized as “neutral” because we don’t think it has much relevance. Neutral things, people, and events are almost completely tuned out of our conscious thought. We usually find them the most boring to give attention to.
Patience is a form of wisdom. It demonstrates that we understand and accept the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time. A child may try to help a butterfly to emerge by breaking open its cocoon. Usually the butterfly doesn’t benefit from this. Any adult knows that the butterfly can only emerge in its own time and that the process cannot be hurried.
In the same way we must develop patience toward our own minds and bodies when practicing mindfulness. There is no need to be impatient with ourselves when we find the mind judging, or when we feel tense, agitated or frightened, or because nothing positive seems to be happening. The art of being mindful allows us the room to have these experiences. Why? Because we are having these experiences anyway! When they come up, they are our reality, they are part of our life unfolding in this moment. So we treat ourselves as well as we would treat the butterfly. Why rush through some moments to get to other, “better” ones? After all, each one is your life in that moment.
3. Beginner’s Mind
The richness of present moment experience is the richness of life itself. To be present in the moment means that we focus our attention on what is happening in the here and now rather than on what has happened in the past or on what may happen in the future. Too often we let our beliefs about what we “know” prevent us from seeing things as they really are. We tend to take the ordinary for granted and fail to grasp the extraordinariness of the ordinary. To see the richness of the present moment, we need to develop what has been called “beginner’s mind,” a mind that is willing to see everything as if for the first time.
Developing a basic trust in yourself and your feelings is a basic part of meditation training. It is far better to trust in your intuition and your own authority, even if you make some “mistakes” along the way, than always to look outside of yourself for guidance. If at any time something doesn’t feel right to you, why not honor your feelings? Why should you discount them or write them off as invalid because some authority or some group of people think or say differently? This attitude of trusting yourself and your own basic wisdom and goodness is very important in all aspects of the meditation practice. It will be particularly useful when practicing yoga, because you will have to honor your own feelings when your body tells you to stop or to back off in a particular stretch. If you don’t listen, you might injure yourself.
5. Non striving
Almost everything we do we do for a purpose, to get something or somewhere. But in meditation this attitude can be a real obstacle. That is because meditation is different from all other human activities. Although it takes a lot of work and energy of a certain kind, ultimately meditation is a non doing. It has no goal other than for you to be yourself. The irony is that you already are. This sounds complicated and a little crazy. Yet this may be pointing you towards a new way of seeing yourself, one in which you are trying less and being more. This comes from intentionally developing the attitude of non striving.
Acceptance means seeing things as they actually are in the present. If you have a headache, accept that you have a headache. If you are overweight, why not accept it as a description of your body at this time? Sooner or later we have to come to terms with things as they are and accept them, whether it is a diagnosis of cancer or learning of someone’s death. Often acceptance is only reached after we have gone through very emotion filled periods of denial and then anger. These stages are a natural part of coming to terms with what is. They are all part of the healing process.
However, in the course of our daily lives we often waste a lot of energy denying and resisting what is already fact. When we do that, we are basically trying to force situations to be the way we would like them to be, which only makes for more tension. This actually prevents positive change from occurring. We may be so busy denying, forcing and struggling that we have little energy left for healing and growing.
7. Letting Go
They say that in India there is a particularly clever way of catching monkeys. As the story goes, hunters will cut a hole in a coconut that is just big enough for a monkey to put its hand through. Then they will drill two smaller holes in the other end, pass a wire through, and secure the coconut to the base of a tree. Then they put a banana inside the coconut and hide. The monkey comes down, puts his hand in and takes hold of the banana. The hole is crafted so that the open hand can go in but the fist cannot get out. All the monkey has to do to be free is to let go of the banana. But it seems most monkeys don’t let go.
In the meditation practice we intentionally put aside the tendency to hold on to certain aspects of our experiences and practice observing them from moment to moment. Letting go is a way of letting things be and accepting things as they are. When we observe our own mind grasping and pushing away, we remind ourselves to let go of those impulses on purpose, just to see what will happen if we do. When we find ourselves judging our experience, we let go of those judging thoughts. We recognize them and we just don’t pursue them any further. We let them be, and in doing so we let them go. Similarly when thoughts of the past or of the future come up, we let go of them. We just watch.