Practice Being Curious
One of the essential attitudes of mindfulness is beginner’s mind. This is engaging something as if for the very first time. People who practice mindfulness bring this attitude with them throughout the day. When we take a shower, we might imagine it was the first time feeling the water, smelling the soap, or watching the steam as it shifts and changes before our eyes. Novelty is one of the fastest routes to creating new neural connections.
Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki Roshi said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. A beginner’s mind is wide open and questioning. An expert’s mind is closed.” So this Not-Knowing actually gives us life. It gives vibrancy and energy to the world we live in. This kind of “I-Know” shuts everything down and we get stuck. All the signals from everything around us say we’re supposed to know. We fill our minds up with all this stuff, and it gets stale and dead, but not knowing is what opens us up and comes alive.
Even a meal or snack becomes a chance to pause and reflect on how this simple piece of food holds everything in it, the earth, wind, rain and sunshine. All the people from around the world who contributed in making the ingredients and putting them together into what it is in that moment. This simple snack becomes a source of gratitude and a moment of recognizing the interconnection of all things.
Life comes with its obstacles and engaging a mindful life is not too different. Throughout the process there are times when we get too tired to practice, feel too busy, find ourselves doubting the process, get caught in avoiding what’s uncomfortable or just feeling too restless. In practicing mindfulness we come to understand that these are not signs of failing at being mindful. Instead they are opportunities for learning about the hindrances of life, what gets in our way, and understanding two things: 1) What we need in those moments and 2) The fastest route to begin again.
The simple phrase of “forgive and invite” can be enormously helpful. When we get caught in an obstacle, we “forgive” ourselves for the time gone by, investigate the obstacle to learn from it, and then “invite” ourselves to begin again. Practicing “forgive and invite” over and over again in life becomes an incredible strong vehicle for growth.
Hold our emotions lightly
When you start paying attention to any emotion, you start to experience that it is an energy that is “in motion.” Emotion have been referred to as “energy in the body with a label in the mind”. And this energy has a certain nature of coming and going, and in experiencing this we can naturally hold it more lightly. This enables us to not get so wrapped up in the difficult feelings, but instead hold them with a gentleness and tenderness. Maybe even learning from them as we get better and better at understanding what we need.
When you ask yourself how you are doing, check in with the sensations in your body. When you’re feeling not so good, how do you know you are not feeling very good? Where does it show up in your body? Maybe you sense a tension on the side of your neck, a jaw that feels clenched and a knot in your stomach. When you are feeling relaxed, how do you know you are feeling relaxed? Where does it show up in your body? Perhaps your eyelids are partly closed and you’re bobbing your head a bit to the beat of a song and your hands feel warm. The “felt sense” of fear feels very different in your body from the visceral feeling of love, right?
The action of searching for specific identifying descriptive words to pinpoint the current condition in your body is actually promoting greater emotional awareness.
Make peace with imperfection
Many of us are keenly aware of our imperfections and this erupts in a barrage of continuous self-judgment. As we start to practice being present we cannot help but see that we are not the only one who is imperfect. To be imperfect is to be human. As the Zen teacher Dogen said, “To be in harmony with the wholeness of things is to not have anxiety over our imperfections.” Easier said than done, but mindfulness heads us in that direction. The imperfections that arise become less of a struggle and instead a source of recognizing the common humanity of all people. Making peace with our own imperfection supports the capacity to be less judgmental of others, and it just helps make life easier, less contracted.
The Buddhist path really comes into fruition not when we get what we want, but when we don’t get what we want. That’s really where our growth flowers, when we face difficulties without compounding them with our attitude, without making difficulties a problem. If we value the difficult, every moment in our life matters. Every moment in our life is valuable. There aren’t any moments that we wish weren’t there if we turn towards the challenging moments.
Our brain’s default is to guard against vulnerability with ourselves and others. However, someone who practices mindfulness comes to understand that vulnerability is where the gold is. From embracing vulnerability we develop courage, trust and connection. It takes courage to take the leap and be vulnerable, as we do this we begin to trust ourselves and others, and consequently we cultivate connection which allows us to feel safe and be happy. Of course, this does not mean we are vulnerable everywhere and at all times, we need to be discerning about this, but slowly we begin to trust ourselves more and more.
Brené Brown, a professor and vulnerability researcher at the University of Houston states that, “vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center of meaningful human experiences,” After twelve years studying vulnerability and shame, she arrived at a surprising conclusion: what scares us is sometimes actually good for us, and if we can stomach sitting with it, vulnerability has the potential to transform itself into joy.
Understand that all things come and go
If there is one singular law in life it is that nothing is permanent, except that law of course. When we close our eyes and listen we hear how sounds appear and disappear. When we open our eyes we see how over time the seasons change how nature looks. Food shows up in our mouths, the taste is there, and then it’s gone. We are of a nature to age, get sick and die.
Even from a scientific point of view this is true. We know cell divisions take place in each living being continuously. Old cells in our bodies die and yield place continuously to the new ones that are forming. Like the waves in a sea, every moment, many thoughts arise and die in each individual . Psychologically and physically we are never the same all the time. Technically speaking, no individual is ever composed of the same amount of energy. Mental stuff and cellular material all the time. We are subject to change and the change is a continuous movement.
As we practice mindfulness, we come to understand this, and in this way life becomes increasingly precious. We bring our awareness to our breath and watch the arising and passing of thoughts, sounds, feelings and sensations. We observe the breath itself changing – in out – in out, sometimes smooth, sometimes bumpy, etc. Impermanence and change are thus the undeniable truths of our existence. What is real is the existing moment, the present that is a product of the past, or a result of the previous causes and actions. Because of ignorance, an ordinary mind conceives them all to be part of one continuous reality. But in truth they are not.