We have already mentioned in previous articles how important attitude is – in combination with attention and intention – in the practice of mindfulness. We usually simplify this attitude thing by describing “curiosity, kindness, and non-judgmentally” as the fundamental characteristics of the self-aware observation of how we enter into relationship with ourselves and with those around us.
However, the question of attitude is so important that we better explore it deeper. To do so, we use “the 9 Attitudes of Mindfulness according to John-Kabat Zinn”. In their reading and interpretation, these attitudes must not be seen in isolation but as an interconnected whole.
Before we move on, let me stress how important these attitudes are for me. For some time, I believed that to cultivate and train my attention, presence and well-being, the essential thing was to sit and meditate for several minutes a day. Although this daily discipline and this silence continue to be key (and I believe fundamental for the integrated practice to be present in everyday life), I quickly became aware that the real practice is not happening on the meditation cushion, on the yoga mat or on the days of retreat. The real practice, where the challenge occurs, is in my daily routine and how I deal with it. No matter how stressful I feel or how I live relationships with others – and with myself –, I find an excellent guide in these 9 attitudes. In fact, they constitute, as John Kabat Zinn says, “fundamental pillars for the integration and embodiment of Mindfulness practice – the true walk the talk”.
As we practice Mindfulness, we become more aware of our mental habits as well as our emotions and physical sensations. We usually interpret these experiences as “good” (and we want to keep them), “bad” (and we try to reject them) or “neutral”. Non-judgment is a fundamental attitude to be able to open space and create acceptance for whatever happens to us. It is important to note that this non-judgment should also apply to what we observe around us althouigh it does not mean at all that we have the same opinion or that we agree with everything. The practice of non-judgment helps us, however, to observe the other (and the world) with greater openness to different characteristics and opinions, free of closed beliefs that limit us in the creation of more empathic, fulfilling and collaborative relationships.
We need to be patient with us. We live most of our time on autopilot and the creating of new habits – and new connections in the brain – takes time. Change is an ongoing process that requires intention, discipline, repetition … and patience, lots of patience. Maybe it helps to remember that our mind wanders naturally. The simple fact of noticing how it wanders and bringing our attention back to the present moment is a key practice that will not happen without patience.
The ‘Beginner’s Mind’ is a mindset that helps us to see and experience everything as if it was the first time. Imagine how a child looks at the world, or how we as adults experience things when we visit a new place, or we try a new food. Developing this mentality for everything we do – even washing dishes as I like to remark – helps us to move out of automatic pilot and pay attention to any experience with greater intensity and greater presence.
There are no shortcuts to a mindful life. To experience some benefits, we need to rely on the process itself. We need confidence. Of course, it helps a lot also the available scientific research that demonstrates its positive impact and benefits. Additionally, the practice of mindfulness also brings us back greater knowledge – and consequently greater confidence – in relation to our inner wisdom and intuition.
We often feel that we “should” do or “should” be something, usually requiring a “mental and emotional effort” to try to change and control “that” which finally results that we did not have any control at all. The “non-effort” is knowing how to allow and accept that the present moment is the way it is. It is allowing things to stay (in consciousness) without the need to do anything, to fix them, to get anywhere or to reach a certain state (like relaxation). It is to feel that everything that is already here is enough. Surely it is not easy to practice, but it is a deep process of nurturing, healing, and restoration.
Acceptance is the recognition that things are as they are and not as we sometimes want them to be. But it is not resignation or passivity. This acceptance is a fundamental change inside which accommodates what feels difficulty, a change in the way we relate with those things in life that we identify as the causes of our suffering or our pain. With acceptance, we open to the possibility to apply wisdom to the difficult situation, changing the way we react to it.
Sometimes we become extremely attached to certain thoughts, emotions, and even expectations. “Letting go” is a mindset that opens for not getting too involved or not clinging to what we want and please, but also to stop ruminating on negative situations and thoughts. Observing experiences without judgment helps us to let them be and, in doing so, also to let them go.
With the practice of mindfulness, we become more deeply aware of all experiences. This allows to notice and feel things that we would not recognize when in automatic pilot. Then, we bring a feeling of gratitude for the present moment and for the things we have – like being able to walk, listen, see, etc – so as opening for the experience to change.
Generosity, which we understand as helping others with what they need the most, facilitates interconnection and service. Studies have shown that generosity has a strong association with psychological health and well-being. Mindfulness is about being attentive to ourselves, but also being attentive to others so as cultivating more empathetic and compassionate relationships.