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Letting Everything Become Your Teacher – Lessons in Mindfulness

By Ida Soghomonian
Psychologist, The Resilience Centre

Extracts from bestselling author Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book ‘Full Catastrophe Living
Part 1 – Nonjudging, Patience and Beginner’s Mind
For those who want to learn about mindfulness

Whether you are trying to learn patience, cope with pain, deal with stress and challenges, improve your relationships or free yourself from destructive emotions, thoughts and behaviours, you must remind yourself that you have deep inner resources to draw upon, the most important of which is the present moment itself.

In part your vision will be moulded by your unique life circumstances, by your personal beliefs and values.  Another part will develop from your experiences, from letting everything become your teacher: your body, your attitudes, your mind, your pain, your joy, other people, our mistakes, your successes and nature.  This lifelong commitment to continual inquiry and a willingness to modify your perspective as you acquire new knowledge and arrive at a new level of understanding and insight.

Awareness requires only that we pay attention and see things as they are.  It doesn’t require that we change anything.  Healing requires receptivity and acceptance, a tuning to connectedness and wholeness.  None of this can be forced, just as you cannot force yourself to go to sleep.  You must create the right condition for falling asleep and then you can let go.  The same is true of mindfulness.

To cultivate the healing power of mindfulness requires much more than mechanically following a set of instructions.  It is only when the mind is open and receptive that learning and seeing and change can occur.  In practicing mindfulness, you will have to bring your whole being to the process.

Healing does not mean curing, although the two words are often used interchangeably.  While it may not be possible for us to cure ourselves or to find someone who can, it is possible for us to heal ourselves.  Healing implies the possibility for us to relate differently to illness, disability, even death, as we learn to see with eyes of wholeness.  Healing is coming to terms with things as they are.

Mindfulness is cultivated by assuming the stance of an impartial 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 practicing paying attention to the activity of our mind, it is common to discover and to be surprised by the fact that we are constantly generating judgements about our experience.

The habit of categorizing our experience locks us into mechanical reactions that we are not even aware of and that often have no objective basis at all.  These judgements tend to dominate our minds, making it difficult for us to find any peace within ourselves.

If we are to find a more effective way of handling the stress in our lives, the first thing we will need to do is to be aware of these automatic judgements so that we can see through our own prejudices and fears and liberate ourselves for their tyranny.

When practicing mindfulness, it is important to recognise this judging quality of mind when it appears and to intentionally assume the stance of an impartial witness by reminding yourself to just observe.  When you find the mind judging, you don’t have to stop it from doing that.  All that is required is to be aware of it happening.  No need to judge the judging and make matters even more complicated for yourself.

Patience is a form of wisdom.  It demonstrates that we understand and accept the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time.  We must cultivate patience toward our own minds and bodies when practicing mindfulness.  We intentionally remind ourselves that there is no need to be impatient with ourselves because we find the mind judging all the time.  Patience can be a particularly helpful quality to invoke when the mind is agitated.  It can help us accept this wondering tendency of the mind while reminding us that we don’t have to get caught up in its travels.  Practicing patience reminds us that we don’t have to fill up our moments with activity and with more thinking in order for them to be rich.  In fact it helps us to remember that quite the opposite is true.  To be patient is simply to be completely open to each moment, accepting it is its fullness, knowing that like a butterfly, things can unfold only in their own time.

The richness of present moment experience is the richness of life itself.  Too often we let our thinking and 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 cultivate what has been called ‘beginner’s mind’, a mind that is willing to see everything as if for the first time.  An open ‘beginner’s mind’ allows us to be receptive to new possibilities and prevents us from getting stuck in the rut of our own expertise, which often thinks it knows more than it does.

No moment is the same as any other.  Each is unique and contains unique possibilities, beginner’s mind reminds us of this simple truth.  The next time you see somebody who is familiar to you, ask yourself if you are seeing this person with fresh eyes, as he or she really is, or if you are seeing only the reflection of your own thoughts about this person.

It is impossible to become like somebody else.  Your only hope is to become more fully yourself.  Ultimately you must live your own life, every moment of it.  In practicing mindfulness, you are practicing taking responsibility for yourself and learning to listen and trust your own being.  The more you cultivate this trust in your own being, the easier you will find it will be to trust other people more and to see their goodness as well.

Just keep practicing…


Ida Soghomonian
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