30 September 2013

Mindfulness Monday: 7 Pillars of Mindfulness

Today's Mindfulness topic is the 7 Pillars of Mindfulness.

In his book, Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn introduces us to the 7 Pillars of Mindfulness, which are foundations of a sort for developing a mindful practice. Some people refer to them as the 7 Attitudinal Factors for a Mindfulness Practice.

The Pillars are:
1. Non-judgment                              2. Patience                              3. Beginner's mind
4. Trust                                           5. Non-striving                         6. Acceptance
7. Letting go

The first, non-judgment, is (in my opinion) the biggest hurdle for most people. The idea behind non-judgment is to be impartial to your own thoughts and feelings. It's hard! Our minds are so used to categorizing and labeling and judging (good, bad, blah, etc.) that it feels almost impossible to be impartial. In mindfulness, the goal is to observe the thoughts without judging them or acting on them, and then return our focus to our breath.

Patience is mostly understanding that we can't rush things. Some things have to unfold in their own way and in their own time. Sometimes we just have to wait. In an age of instant gratification, most of you are thinking, "Seriously? I don't have time to wait....!" Take a breath, and allow things to play out.

Beginner's mind is actually one of my favorite pillars. We get into trouble when we allow our thoughts and beliefs about what "we know" to prevent us from seeing fresh options and possibilities. I bet most of you can think of a time when you took a harder road than maybe you needed to, all because you couldn't see that shortcut right in front of you. With beginner's mind, you try to see things as if you were seeing them for the first time, fresh and shiny and new. It means letting go of expectations created by past experiences.

With the pillar of trust, we're allowing ourselves to trust who we are, our experiences, our feelings, and our intuition. We've all had that little voice that said, ummmm, maybe I shouldn't do this... and then we do it anyway. And we regret it! Honor that little voice, especially if it's telling you to think something through before doing it.

Non-striving is an interesting pillar, especially for those of us raised in a Western society. We're always working towards the next thing, right? Well, in mindfulness, especially mindfulness meditation, we're not doing anything but paying attention to the experience. With non-striving, we're not forcing or pushing for a result. Non-striving allows us to enjoy the moment to moment.

Acceptance. The best summation for this one is the saying, "It is what it is." Acceptance means seeing and coming to terms with things as they are right now, in this moment. Mindfulness says that suffering is when we fight the things we cannot change; we waste a lot of time and energy fighting and denying facts, by trying to make things be the way we want them to be. Acceptance gives us the chance to be open to what we're thinking, feelng, or seeing, and accepting that experience because it's what is happening right now.

The final pillar is letting go. The idea behind this one is that we tend to hold on to the things we like or are pleasant while rejecting the things we don't like. Instead, the aim of this pillar is to try to neither hold onto nor reject our experiences; we should just acknowledge them.