My mom, who will be 91 this month, has been my mentor and an exemplar of the power of attitude for as long as I can remember. Like all the best teachers, she embodies the qualities she values and I have witnessed first hand in countless ways, her determination to both meet life on it’s own terms and engage active intention to the attitude she brings. She is a remarkable person. As she traverses the challenges of aging and all the change and transition that brings, she will be the first to observe that attitude can affect everything.
That quote above is hers – I think of it as her mantra – her shorthand to refer to a lifetime of practice in her own right. I take it to mean that the attitude we bring can be an ally or a hindrance in any situation. In the context of mindfulness and practice, if we are aware of our attitudes as another element in the mix – we can learn to observe them, just as we would any other thought or sensation - can experience directly their effects moment-by-moment and by extension, make choices about those attitudes we want to encourage to thrive.
The attitudes we bring to practice can help buoy us over the rough times and deepen those aspects of practice that are most meaningful in our lives.
While we can’t insist on feeling any particular way (which would actually run counter to the intention of mindfulness) we can cultivate attitudes that will support us along the path of practice.
So, what are we talking about really? What is the anatomy of an attitude?
Not surprisingly there are various theories and models describing what attitude is and how it functions. While there isn’t a single agreed-upon definition, one common thread is that attitudes act like tendencies or predispositions made up of beliefs, and emotions, patterns of thinking and associations…attitudes influence our feeling states, interpretations about events, sense of meaning, and behavior – we may be aware of some attitudes and not aware of others – from a mindfulness perspective, through practice, we can become more aware of attitudes that feel automatic and habitual, and also cultivate those attitudes we find more beneficial.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, who created the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) at UMASS medical school has written about nine attitudes that support the development and practice of mindfulness. Each serves as a doorway to encourage flexibility, presence, willingness, and a stance of meeting each moment with openness and attention. These attitudes can inform the quality of practice on the cushion or the mat, and can be a practice in themselves that we take out into the world each day.
Coupled with curiosity, willingness and consistent practice, these core attitudes help sustain our efforts in times of ease and challenge.
I think of attitude as an offering of intention – something I can give to myself. Though it may not be perceptible right away, it is an acknowledgment of my own deepest desire, a heartfelt wish that may accompany me with whatever life may bring.