Saturday, December 26, 2009

It All Starts With Mindfulness

I took a bit of a break from writing between March and November. I felt a need to wind down a bit. That’s due in part to a feeling of, “What more is there to say?” Anything I said would just be a repeat of something that’s already been said. But I have benefitted greatly from re-reading the same thing at a later date, as well as reading the same thing stated a different way. Plus, technically there is nothing “new” about anything I’ve said so far. So, I decided to start putting ideas on digital paper again and ended up at the beginning again – mindfulness.

If you want to live a better life, filled with less stress and anxiety, it’s really quite simple. It all begins with mindfulness. The ability to notice what’s going on in the mind and body is crucial, and also takes practice. We can’t really control our thoughts because they have a mind of their own (no pun intended). What we can do is take a step back from our thoughts and witness their redundant, incessant, and often trivial activities.

Anyone can notice what thoughts they are thinking at any moment in time just by “looking.” One way to start out might be to deliberately think thoughts, or mentally recite something while you watch the thoughts happen. There are your thoughts, and here you are, witnessing them. I recommend you do this as often as possible with your everyday thoughts since mindfulness creates a solid foundation for a better life.

If you want to take mindfulness to the next level, you can “look” at who or what is witnessing these thoughts. “Who am I,” is the basic question to ask over and over again, while continuing to direct your attention toward the witness behind your thoughts. However, that is a topic for another discussion, and I think most people start out just practicing mindfulness on a more personal level, focusing attention on their life situation.

On that more personal level of mindfulness, you can really learn a lot about yourself when you watch how you think in different situations. I have found it immensely helpful to have read books by Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie because they have helped point out specific repetitive thought structures that most of us have going all the time, as well as their adverse affect on our state of being. In fact, I wouldn’t even know that these thoughts were going on, much less that they were at the root of my problems, had it not been for these great teachers. Simply knowing that thoughts prevent us from seeing the beauty all around is an idea that encourages us to get out of our heads and to wake up.

There are a few basic kernels of wisdom that I have found helpful to keep in mind while being mindful. I am not my thoughts. I can’t control my thoughts, but I can observe them. My thoughts only represent my past conditioning. When I feel worried, I realize that I am mentally living in an imagined future. Life is my mirror, and when I think negatively of another, it is actually me I am thinking negatively of. I forgive easily and forget quickly.

If someone lashes out at me, rather than react, I try to notice what thoughts or emotions are triggered. In most cases, no reaction is better than any action at all. I recognize that I am not the cause of their upset, nor they of mine. Past conditioning and mental stories are the actual culprits. When I do notice resentment, I bring myself back to the present moment, realizing that, in reality, the past never really happened. I am the only one keeping it alive with my thoughts. Plus, since no two people see anything the same way, the past I’m feeding is completely different from that of another.

Feelings of conflict or stress can serve as a reminder to notice what thoughts are doing to me. Since negativity always stems from some sort of judgment, it helps to mentally do The Work (by Byron Katie) throughout the day. When I find myself lost in compulsive and repetitive thought, I notice the frustration that can cause, then try to bring attention back to what I am doing at this moment and give it my full attention.

The thing I’ve noticed about being mindful, and the knowledge I’ve gained from looking at my reactive nature, is that the movement of mind is very subtle. My ability to notice when I feel defensive has improved dramatically, and there is much less stress and conflict in my life. But, this can make it more disturbing when conflict does occur. A feeling of frustration or disappointment is often present after a stressful moment has occurred. A feeling is like a hidden thought that is not in words but felt in the body, and is sometimes more difficult to notice. If investigated, I find that this negative feeling might stem from thoughts like: “I should know better,” or “ When will I realize that my thoughts just a result of past conditioning?” or “ Why can’t I recognize that I am the only cause of conflict in my life?” or “ When will I be free of compulsive thinking?”

All of these questions are simply forms of self-judgment that can carry us away into a story of lack and insufficiency if left unchecked. It helps me when I notice these thoughts or feelings of self-judgment to remember the necessity of all things. For example, it is necessary for me to feel or experience such thoughts in order to point out hidden pockets of resistance. It is my challenge to be made aware of my resistance to what is, then accept what is (even if I am accepting my own lack of acceptance). What I experience is what I need to experience, even if it doesn’t feel all that pleasant. Accepting one’s own failure to live up to some mind created standard is a practice that grows easier with continuous self-observation. As a result, failure is seen as success in spotting the falseness of the mind created standard.

This is all part of a gradual Awakening. Life just gets better as we release old habits and ways of thinking. The past we drag around with us seems to get heavier as we go, but it has always been heavy. We are just starting to realize just how heavy it really is. Mindfulness is at the root of lightening the load.