Exploring Mindfulness

Excerpt from the Introduction of our clinic guidebook (we’re working on progress too!  encourage us to finish this book by leaving your reflections on these sections)

Living Skillfully, Living Well

Mindfulness as a word, a concept, and a practice permeates our awareness these days.  We learn of ways to be mindful through meditation and intentional attention so that we can cope with the myriad challenges that arise, often unexpectedly, in our life.  Sometimes we can greet the depression, anxiety, eating disorder, or physical pain with composure; sometimes we find ourselves swamped with the physical and emotional sensations of the experience.  We deeply wish to be able to live well through the good and bad times and we may often feel we lack the skills to achieve that apparently simple goal.  In this course, we will work together to cultivate our capacity to live skillfully with careful attention so that living well is the outcome in each moment.

As a word, mindfulness has been around for centuries.  In our own lives it would have shown up in the very simple advice given by our grandparents and parents.  “Be careful.”  “Stop and think.”  “What were you trying to do?”  “Wait a second.”  All of these statements were little bells calling us back in to the present moment when we had gone off on some track or were operating on an automatic mode when doing something.  They bring us into a state of remembering what we are doing in each moment.  In fact, translation of the original word for mindfulness, sati, means to remember.

The concept of mindfulness is a little more complex.  It folds in ideas of being “in the flow” of things, experiences of fullness, peace and “being one” with an activity or a scene.  There is fluidity in the concept which lends itself to our ideas of “zen-like states” although we may not really know what a “zen-like state” is.  It is a construct that points to our state of mind as we interact with our internal and external environment.  Large volumes have been written about this idea and it would be easy to get lost in the intellectual process of trying to understand it.

The practice of mindfulness is perhaps the most important in our understanding of “Mindfulness.”  Like learning to ride a bicycle, we can understand it as a word and a concept but until we actually get on that little seat and find the pedals, we haven’t begun to truly experience the word or idea.  In this course, we will unpack this part of mindfulness: the behaviours that go into creating a practice that leads us in the direction of well being.  To do that we will constantly come back and remember the process of mindfulness as it is relevant to living skillfully: creating an intention to well being, paying attention to what is in this moment, and approaching what is with an attitude of curiousity and openness.

Right Mindfulness

Mindfulness is like the elephant being defined by the blind men.  Its definition is embedded in the experience and wisdom of the practitioner.  In a program designed to relieve pain (albeit we avoid being goal-directed), the usual story of mindfulness told by our practitioners is infused with visions of peace, serenity, freedom from suffering, and happiness.  This is inescapable; we are, after all, storytellers.  At best, these stories hold a promise of better things to come; we imagine a future life without suffering from the pain of physical or emotional injuries.  At worst, our stories can lead to another disappointment in our attempts to escape the inevitable; the pain may not recede as we had hoped and we are left facing the fatigue of managing it one more day.  Whatever the emotional result of our stories, they are always an opportunity to explore possibilities.

“Right” mindfulness in this context has nothing to do with our usual understanding of “doing the right thing.”  In fact, it has nothing to do with “doing” anything.  “Right” mindfulness is the process of seeing clearly into our situation, using the wisdom of our experience, and making choices that move us towards or sustain our wellbeing.  To practice right mindfulness, we cultivate steadiness in the face of challenges so that our wisdom can guide our intentions effectively.

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