Begin with "Beginner's Mind"

“I’m just going to practice and see what happens…”

Most of what I learn on the mat or the cushion ends up applying directly in the rest of my life. In fact, as I write that I can’t think of anything that doesn’t.

In practice as in life, it’s very easy to start believing we know something – anything really - about how things are going to be – in the next moment, in two hours or next year… 

That’s understandable, as we’ve evolved to benefit greatly from being able to predict with some kind of accuracy, how things might be, could be, would be... The ability to consider possible futures has kept our species alive and thriving. The capacity to envision action and consequence comes in very handy when dealing with gravity and other physical world phenomena.  But even with that predictive ability, there are still plenty of times that our predictions are proven not so accurate - and when talking about the inner landscape of experience – well – it can get a whole lot less clear.

All that to say, while predictions have their place, and planning is often to the good, we don’t actually KNOW how anything will be in advance of the moment arriving.

I have had occasion to notice again lately just how persistent a habit is my mind’s desire to know and to predict – especially when I’m feeling challenged or wronged, angry or outraged... or just too tired. I feel the small squeeze in my heart when I lean-in to thinking I know how it’s going to be – the double-edged comfort in the illusion of knowing – but also a smallness of possibility, a narrowing of view, tuning some things out and some things in, filtering the moment through an expectation and invariably missing so much.

Too often we let our thinking and our beliefs about what we ‘know’ prevent us from seeing things as they really are
— Jon Kabat-Zinn

Which brings me back to the cushion, to the mat, and to the attitude we take in practice. Cultivating an attitude of "Beginner’s Mind" is one way we can work with the reflexive habits of our very busy, and sometimes very bossy, 21st century minds. This observing, curious, open-to-discovery stance is highly useful, not as a way of opting out – but as a path of opting in – way in – to what is actually happening right now.  

The attitudes we cultivate feed the nourishing tap roots of our practice. Just taking a seat or stepping onto the mat each day to offer attention and as much willingness as we can muster, to “just see what happens” and then to breathe with it and let it move - or breathe with it staying stuck…this is the heart of the matter.

Holding a space of possibility, of Beginner’s Mind, can be an act of real courage in unsettled times. And it takes practice. I’ve been practicing a lot these days.

Of course our minds will erupt in protest from time to time, or dull in drowsiness, or insist that we must, must, must do something else - and here - we begin again. Just that. Always beginning – life unfolding – in a breath, in a thought, in a remembrance,  in a smile, a pang, a longing…right now…what is here right now?

Become a beginner again. We lose something wonderful when it becomes more important to us to be the one who knows than to be the one who’s open to the everyday wonders around us

I would like to become a beginner again. Truly. Not just as a concept, or a good idea - but in this very breath - softening to the space of some possibility I might never have foreseen... practicing and "just seeing what happens".

Join me on Monday evenings at DAYA Foundation, as we explore Beginner’s Mind and other adventures in mindfulness, weaving gentle yoga, guided meditation and restorative practice . Beginning again...

Attitudes of Mindfulness

Attitude, attitude, attitude...

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.