Letting Everything Become Your Teacher – Lessons in Mindfulness
Extracts from bestselling author Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book ‘Full Catastrophe Living’
Part 2 – Self-discipline, conscious intention, basis instructions
For those who want to learn more about mindfulness
Mindfulness doesn’t just come about by itself because you have decided that it is a good idea to be more aware of things in the present moment, and less judgmental. Mindfulness is not merely a good idea. A strong commitment to nurturing yourself and mustering enough self-discipline to preserve in the process is essential to developing a strong meditation practice and a high degree of mindfulness. Self-discipline and regular practice are vital to developing the power of mindfulness.
The spirit of engaged commitment to meditation is like that required in athletic training. The athlete who is training for a particular event doesn’t practice only when he or she feels like it, for instance, only when the weather is nice or there are other people to keep him or her company or there is enough time to fit it in. the athlete trains regularly, every day, rain or shine, whether she feels good or not, whether the goal seems worth it or not on any particular day.
You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.
Our lives are so complex and our minds so busy and agitated most of the time that it is necessary, especially at the beginning, to protect and support your meditation practice by making a special time for it and, if possible, by making a special place in your home where you will feel particularly comfortable and “at home” while practicing. Just making this amount of time every day for yourself will be a very positive lifestyle change and gift to yourself.
This time for formal meditation practice needs to be protected from interruptions and from other commitments so that you can just be yourself without having to do or respond to anything. This is not always possible, but it is helpful if you can manage to set things up in this way.
One measure of your commitment is whether you can bring yourself to shut off your telephones for the time you will be practicing and let them take messages. It is a great letting go in and of itself only to be home for yourself at those times, and great peace can follow from this alone.
This is where conscious intentionally comes in, the intention to practice whether you feel like it or not on a particular day, whether it is convenient or not, with determination of an athlete, but for its own sake, because this moment is your life.
Mindfulness doesn’t just come about by itself.
Regular practice is not as hard as you might think once you make up your mind to do it and pick an appropriate time. Most people are inwardly disciplined already to a certain extent. Getting dinner on the table every night requires discipline. Getting up in the morning and going to work requires discipline. And taking time for yourself certainly does to.
Perhaps the ability to function more effectively under pressure or to be healthier and to feel better, or to be more relaxed and self-confident and happy, will suffice as reasons to take up meditation seriously. Ultimately you must decide for yourself why you are making such a commitment.
Happily, once people start practicing mindfulness, most quickly get over the idea that it is “selfish” and “narcissistic” to take time for themselves as they see the difference that making some time to just be has on the quality of their lives and their self-esteem, as well as on their relationships.
To get back in touch with being is not that difficult. We only need to remind ourselves to be mindful. Moments of mindfulness are moments of peace and stillness, even in the midst of activity. When your whole life is driven by doing, formal meditation practice can provide a refuge of sanity and stability that can be used to restore some balance and perspective. It can be a way of stopping the headlong momentum of all the doing and giving yourself some time to dwell in a state of deep relaxation and well-being and to remember who you are.
For one thing, we tend to have little awareness of the incessant and relentless activity of our own mind and how much we are driven by it. That is not too surprising, given that we hardly ever stop and observe the mind directly to see what it is up to.
Ironically, although we all “have” minds, we seem to need to “re-mind” ourselves of who we are from time to time. If we don’t, the momentum of all the doing just takes over and can have us living its agenda rather than our own, almost as if we were robots.
Given all the momentum behind our doing, getting ourselves to remember the preciousness of the present moment seems to require somewhat unusual and even drastic steps. This is why we make a special time each day for formal meditation practice. It is a way of stopping, a way of “re-minding” ourselves, of nourishing the domain of being for a change. It’s a way of “re-bodying” too. In practising meditation, we don’t try to answer questions, rather we just observe the impulse to get up from the sitting, or to get caught in the thoughts that come into the mind.
Each time we become aware that the mind is off someplace else, that it has forgotten the present, we first note what is actually on our mind in that moment, whatever it is, and then we gently bring our attention back to our abdomen, back to the sensation of the rising and falling of our belly, no matter what carried it away. If the attention moves off the breath a hundred times, then we just calmly bring it back a hundred times, as soon as we are aware of not being in the present and where our mind has alighted.
By practising in this way, you are training your mind to be less reactive and more stable. You are making each moment count. You are taking each moment as it comes, not valuing any one above any other, in this way you are cultivating your natural ability to concentrate and calm your own mind.
By repeatedly bringing your attention back to the breath each time it wanders off, concentration builds and deepens, much as muscles develop by repetitively lifting weights, and by repeatedly noting. Without reaction, what is on your mind when it is carried off, you are developing greater awareness of the mind itself and insight into how self-distracting and emotionally turbulent it can be.
Mindfulness does not involve pushing thoughts away or walling yourself from them to quiet your mind. We are not trying to stop our thoughts as they cascade through the mind. We are simply making room for them, observing them as thoughts, and letting them be, using the breath as our anchor or ‘home base’ for observing, for reminding us to stay focused and calm.
When you feel connected to something, that connection immediately gives you a purpose for living.
Liberation comes not as we would like to be but accepting ourselves as we actually are.