The second piece of the Practical Spirituality pie is Mindfulness Practice.
First, let’s review – what is mindfulness? To paraphrase Jon Kabat-Zin,
Mindfulness is stepping into the present moment on purpose and without judgment.
We can also say that mindfulness is a quality with some key ingredients. These are:
- non-judgment – nothing is good or bad; things just are;
- non-reactivity – nothing needs to be done to change feelings in the moment;
- non-attachment – everything is impermanent and constantly changing/flowing;
- beginner’s mind – we are being open and curious about what IS.
We don’t live in a society that celebrates mindfulness Rather, we live in a society that really likes autopilot. We are, as a group, encouraged to JUST KEEP GOING. We run on our habits, and we run as fast as we can. Oftentimes, we are disconnected from our feelings and don’t have much of a grip on what thoughts are spinning in our heads at any given moment (this is how we got to where we are in the first place). That means that mindfulness doesn’t come easily for most of us, and practice is necessary.
Mindfulness practice is DELIBERATELY taking the time to become present and non-judgmental. We can do that by learning a formal mindfulness meditation like breath-count, breath-observation, or body-scan. We can also set aside space to mindfully practice a hobby or normal daily activity like dish-washing. Finally, we can up our mindfulness quotient by stopping throughout the day just to purposefully check in with our thoughts and feelings.
Mindfulness practice is an invaluable tool for learning to cope with uncomfortable sensations and experiences, many of which may erupt as a result of our efforts to identify our values. Mindfulness is also a key state of being as we start moving toward consistent (positive) value-based behaviors.
Value identification can be challenging and uncomfortable work. Bumping up against a value that we don’t want anymore can feel painful. The more tools we have that help us cope with difficult sensations and feelings, the better. Mindfulness practice is a great tool for the toolkit. Practicing consistently introduces us to the impermanence of thoughts and feelings and also encourages non-judgment. Combined, these help us ride the tides of our emotions more productively and with less reactivity. Mindfulness practice is also a juicy opportunity to take a break from the day. I strongly encourage you to read Jon Kabat-Zin’s book, Full Catastrophe Living for more on Mindfulness and stress management. It breaks down the benefits of mindfulness and also includes several great practices.
Developing our mindfulness can really grease the skids when it comes to consistently practicing our new (or renewed) positive values (step 3). It’s so easy to fall into old behaviors when we’re running around like chickens with our heads cut off. We can be jumping into a situation, and before we know it, we’re in the middle of an old, worn-out or unhealthy value. The more mindful we are (non-judgmental, non-reactive, flowing and open) the easier it is to grow knew habit patterns that are based in our positive value systems.
So here’s the thing. You can develop your mindfulness in a number of ways. There are 2 basic categories: formal and informal. Formal practice includes the various mindfulness meditations that are out there. These include breath-count, breath-awareness, body-scan and other practices. As I said, Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zin contains several. Informal mindfulness practices include engaging in hobbies or regular daily activities in a mindful way. For instance, you might wash a single dish for several minutes focusing on all the qualities of mindfulness. Whether you choose formal or informal mindfulness practices, you’re probably doing something new, and your brain will thank you for it. You will benefit by doing SOMETHING.
I’ll be honest. I have a pretty strong opinion here. The best and fastest way to grow your mindfulness is to combine formal and informal practices as often as possible. Daily meditation practice combined with mindfully brushing your teeth or tying your shoes will bring on the brain changes you need and desire faster than one or the other. Still, you’ve got to do what you are honestly able to do. You may have days when you cannot, for whatever reason, do a formal practice, and the only informal practice you can fit in is blow-drying your hair. Do it. Do something. Take a breath at the stop sign and follow that breath all the way in and all the way out before you drive on.
Grow your mindfulness. You won’t regret it, and your shiny, positive value system will become more and more clear in your life.
- Practice Consistent Value-Based Behavior
- Compassionate Self-Evaluation and Self-Care