Nearly twelve years ago, I attended a program on mindfulness that was based on the first book written by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD. I initially took this course as part of a professional training, striving to provide the same program to my clients at The Ottawa Mission (where I was working at the time). As I reflect back, I can honestly say that the experience that came from such a training has brought far more benefits to my personal life than it has to my professional one. And I say this in all humbleness as, I realize today, my profession revolves mostly around the practice of mindfulness.
As a new social worker, I wanted to change the world one person at the time. I was eager to learn the best approaches, techniques and interventions that would allow me to make drastic changes in people’s lives and help them live happily ever after. As I write this, I smile at the acknowledgment of how innocent, naive and mistaken my perception was then. I am also thankful that I was able to realize early enough in my career that such perception was only going to lead me to burnout and a whole lot of disappointment. So, in retrospect, that innocent eagerness to learn about alternative ways of helping others brought me right to the lifestyle I enjoy today (and no, I am not talking about the house I live in, the places I travel to and the time off I get). I am talking about the rules by which I live my life thanks to the teachings of mindfulness.
Something else that has changed since I first took that training is that rather than changing the world one person at the time, I now want to share this knowledge with as many people as I can, because I wholeheartedly believe that this information belongs to all of us. Below, I have compiled how I have introduced the three of the seven mindfulness principles into my everyday life. My hope is that by reading my story, you feel inspired to introduce a little mindfulness into your everyday life and to eventually make it part of your lifestyle.
#1 NON-JUDGING: I do not know about you, but as a former Catholic, I was always made aware of my judgements towards others and was encouraged to be understanding and compassionate. To this date, I am thankful for those teachings and, I will keep practicing them, despite my lack of synchronicity with the religion itself.
However, here is what I was never made aware through my previous faith about non-judging but that mindfulness has taught me: I am also a person who is in need of compassion and understanding, not only from others, but especially from myself! So simple, yet so hard to do. It is a lot easier to not judge others than it is to free yourself from your own judgement. Don’t believe me? Try it!
The principle of non-judging applied in mindfulness is about becoming witness of our own experiences without the need to label the experiences as “good” or “bad”, and without editing or overanalyzing our thoughts, emotions, feelings and overall perceptions. If this is the first time you are being introduced to this concept, I totally get it if you think it sounds like Mandarin, except that you do not speak a word of it!! That was my initial reaction to this concept too (and by the way, that was a judgement). But all jokes aside, this one concept has been the one to benefit me the most. If you have read any of my previous blog posts or, if you have attended any of my classes, you probably have heard me say that I am a worrier by nature and that anxiety has been no stranger to me. I am this way partially by my life experiences but also, I think that my nature was always more prone to overthink, over worry and just generally to overdo. So, you can probably imagine how foreign yet how powerful this concept was for me.
Non-judging has giving me the freedom to detach from my thoughts (by creating the understanding that I am not my thoughts) and, it has given me the ability to observe the thoughts rather than to judge them as “good”, “bad”, “scary”, “crazy”, “normal” etc. The effects triggered by that simple notion have been life-changing for me. While I still get lost in thoughts, I now know that I can choose to view my thoughts and experiences just for what they are, and noticing how those thoughts and experiences run though my body and mind without having to qualify them as anything other than “thoughts” and “experiences”. While my tendency is still to overdo, think and worry, the regular practice of noticing my judgements as they occur, without judging them has allowed me to live my life mostly peacefully by reducing significantly my reactivity to thoughts and emotions.
One way in which you can apply non-judging to your everyday life is by sitting in silence to think. Allow all your thoughts to come and, as thoughts enter the mind, notice your opinion over those thoughts. Then bring awareness to the opinion (judgement) and notice that the judgement itself is nothing more than another thought. This simple awareness process will release you eventually from believing and therefore, reacting to every thought you have.
#2 ACCEPTANCE: Just as I have always been more prone to worry, I have curiously also been more open to acceptance. I remember my first face-to-face meeting with acceptance. It was surprisingly early on in my life when I got to accept something that most of us take a life time to accept, and that is death. I was only 10 years old when I came to understand the fragility of life and to quickly accept that death was a reality for every single person, including a young healthy 10-year old. Before the day the doctors told me that there was an infection in my body so severe that they did not think they could save my life, I had been a perfectly healthy girl. In a period of eight days my life went from perfectly healthy to having to go into a medically induced coma. Yup, that’s how life rolls. One day you are here and, the very next day you may be in the complete opposite place.
When mindfulness introduced me to the concept of acceptance, I recognized my old friend and it was quite easy to invite it back into my everyday life. In mindfulness, the concept of acceptance follows the non-judgment idea of taking moments for what they are and just the way they are. Not changing anything about them but observing the unfolding moment-to-moment of our lives with curiosity and willingness. Acceptance teaches us to fuly welcome what each moment has to offer without the need to control, modify or fix anything at all.
So imagine what your life would be like if you were to openly and willingly allow each moment to unfold as it may. What would change?
I found that in surrendering to “what is” was not only liberating but also, incredibly joyful. When I was faced with illness, I literally had no control over what was to happen with my life. I was in the hands of excellent doctors who were very knowledgeable but even with their expertise, they did not know what the outcome of their interventions was going to be. I recognized that I was potentially dying and I also recognized that there was nothing I could do about it. And that is when I recall meeting acceptance. A friendly perception that opened my heart and mind to allow that very moment to exist while trusting that it was going to unfold exactly the way it was supposed to, and so it did.
While you may be spending much of your time and energy trying to orchestrate perfect outcomes in your life and trying to create the best conditions for you and everyone around you, know that no amount of control and planning can escape life and its funny ways. And this is when acceptance comes in handy and ready to save the day. If you are interested in introducing the magic of acceptance into your everyday life, simply begin by having the willingness to see things the way they are and to attempt to not change anything about them. For example, if you notice that there currently is tension at work, notice it and see it for what is (currently there is conflict at work) and then notice your tendency to want to change/modify/fix it or, maybe even avoid it, yet abstain from doing anything at all and simply observe.
I came to understand that acceptance, far from being a virtue achieved by saints only, is an attitude than can be exercised by everyone (children included), as long as there is the willingness to do so.
#3 PATIENCE: Some days I really wish that this was a concept that I had already mastered so that life would stop giving me opportunities to practice it! As you may imagine, part of having an anxious mind leads to moments of impatience with it and with anything that does not unfold as expected. But as we covered in the point above, the one thing we can always count on is the unexpected. Some time ago I read a quote that stated “all in good time” and it caught my attention because it captures this principle of mindfulness beautifully. “All in good time” means that it cannot happen before or after its time, but that it will happen at the right time, whenever that time is. This is when acceptance comes in handy.
One of the main reasons we lose our patience is because we want to avoid having any kind of uncertainty. So, when life present us with an “unknown” scenario, we immediately attempt to control the order and time in which things are to happen, which results in loosing further control over not only the situation but specially over our own mind, and which in turn leaves us with even less patience.
Mindfulness reminds us that things must unfold in their own time and that we are in no control over that. Therefore, we must practice the virtue of patience by noticing our restless minds without letting our anxieties and worries for the unknown future dominate the quality of the moment.
My preferred way to practice patience in my day to day is by meditating. During meditation, I have to bring my mind multiple times to start the same task all over again. For example, if I am meditating on the breath, each time my mind wonders away from the breath, I have to accept that the nature of the mind is to think and I gently bring the mind back right to where we started, the breath. Some days I have to redirect the mind hundreds of times during a short meditation and that’s totally OK because by doing so, I am allowing things to evolve as they may and, I am not letting this impact my moment. Overtime, I have managed to develop more tolerance for the unknown and I have surprisingly become incredibly more patient person than I ever thought I could be.
I hope these three concepts give you something to reflect on and hopefully something to practice. If you are curious and interested in finding more hands-on tips and suggestions to bring mindfulness into your everyday life, make sure to check for my next Mindfulness For Every Day program. I personally love sharing these concepts with everyone as they have surely changed my perceptions and therefore my lifestyle.
I would love to hear from you should you put to practice these principles, so don’t be shy and tell me about your observations!