‘Mindfulness provides a simple but powerful route for getting ourselves unstuck and back in touch with our own wisdom and vitality …
The most important point is to be really yourself and not try to become anything that you are not already … being in touch with your deepest nature, and letting it flow out of you unimpeded’
– Kabat-Zinn, 1994
Acceptance and change
The advantages of awareness, acceptance, and mindfully responding to situations rather than immediately resorting to pre-programmed “automatic” reactions have been a theme throughout this programme.
Acceptance may often be the springboard to some form of skillful action directed at achieving change in your inner or outer worlds.
However, there are also situations and feelings where it may be very difficult, or actually impossible, to change. In these cases, there is the danger that by carrying on trying to solve an insoluble problem or by refusing to accept the reality of the situation one is in you can end up “banging your head against a brick wall,” which is exhausting, and can actually increasing your sense of helplessness.
In these situations, you can still retain some sense of dignity and control by making a conscious, mindful, decision not to try to control it and accept the situation as it is, if possible, with a kindly attitude both to the situation and your reactions to it.
Choosing not to act is much less likely to increase a sense of helplessness and stress, than being forced to give up attempts at control after repeated failures.
The Serenity Prayer
Give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which must be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference.
– by Reinhold Niebuhr
Where do we find this grace, this courage, and this wisdom?
At some level, we already have all of these qualities. Our task is to realize them (make them real), and our way is none other than moment-by-moment mindful awareness.
Looking to the future
Decide, right now, what your regular pattern of practice will be over the coming weeks, and commit to stick to it as best you can.
Also, remember the Breathing Space. Regular practice provides a way of “checking in” with yourself a few times a day. Make it be your first response in times of difficulty, stress, or unhappiness, whatever happens.
Use Your Umbrella
A young woman, studying in India, undertook to develop love, kindness, and goodwill through her meditation practice. Sitting in her small room, she would fill her heart with loving-kindness for all beings. Yet each day, as she went to the bazaar to gather her food, she would find her loving-kindness sorely tested by one shopkeeper who would daily subject her to unwelcome caresses. One day she could stand it no more and began to chase the shopkeeper down the road with her upraised umbrella. To her mortification she passed her teacher standing on the side of the road observing this spectacle. Shame-faced she went to stand before him, expecting to be rebuked for her anger.
“What you should do,” her teacher kindly advised her, “is to fill your heart with loving-kindness, and with as much mindfulness as you can muster, hit this unruly fellow over the head with your umbrella.”
Sometimes that is what we need to do. It would be easy enough to hit the man over the head with the umbrella. The difficult part is to do it with all the loving-kindness in our heart. That is our real practice.
– adapted from Christian Feldman & Jack Kornfield: Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart, Harper, San Francisco 2001
“Remember to weave your parachute every day, rather than leaving it to the time you have to jump out of the plane!”
– Jon Kabat-Zinn
Daily mindfulness practices
- When you first wake up in the morning before you get out of bed, bring your attention to your breathing. Observe 5 mindful breaths.
- Notice changes in your posture. Be aware of how your body and mind feel when you move from lying down to sitting, to standing, to walking. Notice each time you make a transition from one posture to the next.
- Whenever you hear a phone ring, a bird sing, a train pass by, laughter, a car horn, the wind, the sound of a door closing. Use any sound to be like the bell of mindfulness. Really listen, being present and awake.
- Throughout the day take a few moments to bring your attention to your breathing. Observe 5 mindful breaths.
- Whenever you eat or drink something, take a minute and breathe. Look at your food and realize that the food was connected to something which nourished its growth. Can you see the sunlight, the rain, the earth, the farmer, the trucker in your food? Pay attention as you eat, consciously consuming this food for your physical health. Bring awareness to seeing your food, smelling your food, tasting your food, chewing your food, and swallowing your food.
- Notice your body while walking or standing. Take a moment to notice your posture. Pay attention to the content of the ground under your feet. Feel the air on your face, arms, and legs as you walk. Are you rushing?
- Bring awareness to listening and talking. When listening, can you listen without agreeing or disagreeing, liking or disliking or planning what you will say when it is your turn? When talking, can you say what you need to say without overstating or understanding? Can you notice how your mind and body feel?
- Whenever you are waiting in a queue, use this time to notice standing and breathing. Feel the contact of your feet on the floor and how your body feels. Bring attention to the rising and falling of your abdomen. Are you feeling impatient?
- Be aware of any tightness in your body throughout the day. Breathe into it and as you exhale let go of excess tension. Is there tension stored anywhere in your body? For example – your neck, shoulders, stomach, jaw, or lower back. If possible stretch or do yoga once a day.
- Focus attention on your daily activities – such as brushing your teeth, brushing your hair, washing up, putting on your shoes, doing your job. Bring mindfulness to each activity.
- Before you go to sleep at night, take a few minutes and bring your attention to your breathing. Observe 5 mindful breaths.
– Adapted from Saki Santorelli, EdD, University of Massachusetts Medical School