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Seven Foundational Attitudes of Mindfulness Meditation

How to Embody Mindfulness

These seven qualities are foundational for a mindfulness meditation practice. By remembering to practice these attitudes in your daily life you can help to integrate discoveries from your meditation practice into the areas of your life that are most important to you.

1. Beginner’s Mind

This attitude is an antidote to falling into autopilot. Approaching a situation as if it were for the first time realistically acknowledges that each moment is in fact new and unique, and has never happened in exactly this way before. With Beginner’s Mind we don’t devalue our intellect or expertise, but rather temporarily pause thinking that we know this for what it is in order to fully take in all the information available. We allow for a richness of experience: fresh and new. If faced with a problem, this allows space for novel, creative solutions to emerge. The attitude of Beginner’s Mind supports adaptability and can also be a source of pleasure and positive emotion. Think of how a young child explores the world; things frequently overlooked or mundane can bring about a sense of great awe (positive emotion)! Bringing Beginner’s Mind to another person allows them to feel seen.

Try it: Place full attention on one of your senses, such as sight, or on one single activity at a time and investigate/explore with interest and curiosity.

2. Patience

We accept that the learning and change from our mindfulness practice can take time. Much of our life unfolds in its own way. With this attitude we are recognizing what we can and can’t control and that we cannot force insights or change before it is ready. This attitude also helps us to be present to the unfolding moments of our lives rather than missing the moments by always moving on to the next thing.

Try it: Just do the meditations and reflections and save the evaluation for later. Just like with physical exercise, trust that change takes place as a result of small incremental steps that may not initially be apparent.

3. Trust

In much of our learning we look to authorities outside of ourselves. With mindfulness we are learning to trust in our own capacities of wisdom and discernment and the wealth of information that is available if we just stop to pay attention. Information from our senses and intuition, that “gut feeling”, help to inform our choices when paired with intellect. Intuition allows access to intrinsic learning, which is constantly taking place as the brain registers decision rules outside of words or awareness. You may begin to realize that you are the authority of your own experience and that no one else knows your body and your feelings.

Try it: Become familiar with where your common emotions are felt in the body or what your common “stress signature” looks like (in the form of body sensations, behaviors, emotions, thoughts). Then keep a look out for these along with whether your energy levels increase or decrease as you go throughout your day. Let your experience inform you.

4. Non-judgment

Our experience can easily be overlaid with a perspective or story that can actually get in the way of noticing what is right here in front of us. This can lead to missing information or getting stuck in rigid thinking and conditioned habits of mind. We may make quick judgments as a function of our brain sorting an incredible amount of input and adding expectations from a past experience. Non-judgement is an opportunity to view our experience objectively, instead of judging everything as good or bad, right or wrong, something I like or don’t like. In practice, non-judgment is more like a “north star” that we aim towards. Along the way, we may merely become aware of how strong the tendency is to judge. Recognizing how often we judge our experience and the trends of how we judge builds self-awareness and helps us to realize the connection between our patterns of thinking, mindset, beliefs and the impact on our life.

Try it: If you find yourself liking or disliking what you are experiencing pay attention and note that “judging is here”, (without judging yourself for doing it). We do this all the time and just noting that we are judging interrupts the cascade of automatic beliefs that can quickly follow.

5. Non-striving

This attitude doesn’t suggest that we won’t get things done, but rather that our agendas can prevent us from effectively meeting the dynamic and changing realities that we face. With non-striving we stay with the moment to moment unfolding of life, without being attached to the outcome in a way that blinds us to the present. When you think of what you really have control over, it exists in the present. Constantly focusing on the future or past and wanting the current experience to be different than what it actually is can add tension. In meditation you’re not trying to achieve a special state or feel any particular – approaching meditation in a goal-oriented way can actually detract from your efforts.

Try it: Prepare as much as makes sense and then at some point put that aside and interact directly with the information that is available in the present moment. This supports the process of emergence.

6. Acceptance

Acceptance is an active recognition that things are the way they are. This doesn’t mean that you have to like what is taking place or how you feel. Healing is most effectively enacted from a starting point of accepting what is here now. This allows us to really understand what we are working with, so that our efforts are deliberate and informed by wisdom and discernment. Acceptance helps us to determine where we currently stand so that we can then take the next step. This attitude supports us in meeting the full variety of our experience – even the aspects that are not what we wanted.

Try it: Notice the tendency of the mind to prefer or want more of what is desirable or you’re afraid to lose, and to push away, avoid or want to fix what is unwanted or uncomfortable. Also notice the tendency to equate pleasant moments with thoughts like “things are going well”, “I’m successful”, “I’m a good person” and unpleasant moments with “I can’t do this”, “I’m ineffective”, “I’m a bad person”. With both pleasant and unpleasant try holding both types of experience equally in an objective attention - not avoiding or indulging. Allow them to be here as long as they are, without needing to identify with, or grasp onto them longer than their natural life span.

7. Letting Go

This attitude involves not getting fixated on or clinging to particular thoughts, emotions, sensations or experiences. In practice, it can be actioned as letting be: allowing things to be as they are and not forcing them to be differently against the evidence. Letting go is the ongoing practice application of acceptance.

Try it: Each time that you notice that you are getting fixated on something or lost in thought, (you will find that there is a difference between being lost in thought and aware that you are thinking), you can gently let go of whatever has grabbed attention, and then move your attention back to anchor on the breath or another neutral point of focus in the present.

Learn about what is and what is not mindfulness