In John Kabat-Zinn’s book “Full Catastrophe Living”, he begins with a discussion on the foundations of mindfulness practice. These foundations include the 7 pillars of mindfulness; I have added 2 more, making the 7 pillars of mindfulness plus 2. Each pillar is connected with all the others; all are aspects of the attitude and approach we take to being mindful.
These pillars are Trust, Non-Judging, Non-Striving, Letting Go, Acceptance, Beginner’s Mind, and Patience, as well as Presence and Balance. I’ve added Presence and Balance as pillars because they complete the connection is a special way. I’ll be talking about how they complete this connection next week. This week I want to focus on what makes them pillars.
Cultivating the healing power of mindfulness, in Kabat-Zinn’s words, means bringing our whole being to the process. And this means setting our intention of consciously cultivating the attitudes, as best we can, of trust, non-judging, non-striving, letting go, acceptance, beginner’s mind, and patience. If these are consciously cultivated, then we are present and moving into balance. What does it mean to cultivate the attitude of trust, or any of the pillars mentioned?
Trust means learning to trust our own experience, feelings and intuition. It is impossible to become like somebody else. We can only become more fully ourselves. And so it is better to trust our own intuition and authority, even if we make some mistakes, than always to look outside ourselves for guidance. In practicing mindfulness, we are practicing taking responsibility for being ourselves and learning to listen and trust our own being.
Non-Judging frees us to be with whatever arises. Our mind labels and categorizes according to what we deem as good, bad or neutral – depending on how it makes us feel. This habit can dominate the mind, making it hard to ever find peace within ourselves. When practicing mindfulness, we learn to recognize when we are judging, then assuming a stance of impartiality, and as best we can, observe what unfolds, including our reaction to it.
Non-striving is an unfolding that we are inviting to happen within us. Almost everything we do, we do for a purpose, to get something or somewhere. Meditation, on the other hand, has no goal other than to be ourselves. We allow everything we experience from moment to moment to be here, because it already is. The invitation is to simply embrace it and hold it in awareness. We do not have to do anything with it.
Letting Go is a gift we give ourselves, a space around our hearts that is free of attachment, free to be with whatever is here and now. Letting go is a way of letting things be, of accepting things as they are. Often our minds get caught up in holding onto pleasant thoughts, or holding off on thoughts or feelings we deem unpleasant. Cultivating an attitude of letting go, or non-attachment, can teach us about what we are holding onto.
Acceptance means taking each moment as it comes, and being with it fully, as it is. Acceptance is seeing things as they actually are in the present. We often spend a lot of energy denying and resisting what is already fact. This prevents positive change from occurring. The attitude of Acceptance sets the stage for knowing what to do because we have a clear picture of what is actually happening. If we attend on the present, we can be sure that whatever we are attending to in this moment will change, giving us the opportunity to practice accepting whatever it is that will emerge in the next moment.
Beginner’s Mind lets us be receptive to new possibilities and prevents us from getting stuck in the rut of our own experience. No moment is the same as any other. The richness of present moment experience is the richness of life itself. We sometimes let our beliefs about what we think we know prevent us from seeing things as they really are. To see the richness of the present moment, we need to cultivate Beginner’s mind, a mind that is willing to see everything as if for the first time.
Patience is simply being open to each moment as it unfolds knowing that, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, things can only unfold in their own time. Patience is a form of wisdom. With patience we understand and accept that sometimes things must unfold in their own time. Like the butterfly, the process cannot be hurried. When practicing mindfulness, we cultivate patience towards our minds and bodies by giving ourselves room to have whatever experiences we are having.
Presence is a state of mental awareness, physical alertness, and emotional acceptance of what is with us here and now. In Pema Chodron’s words “your everyday practice is open to all your emotions, to all the people you meet, to all the situations you encounter, without closing down, trusting that you can do that”.
Balance is what we are all striving for as human beings and even as living beings. It’s a fundamental law of nature that everything that exists strives to achieve homeostasis, and for us, that means achieving, as best we can, a balanced emotional, physical, mental and spiritual state of being. And that means living mindfully.
Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit http://www.thejoyofliving.co for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.