In mindfulness meditation, we are not trying to change anything. We are simply becoming aware of what is going on without judging it as good or bad. When we bring our awareness to the present moment, a natural by-product is often relaxation.
Mindfulness meditation is a form of present-moment awareness—noticing what is happening inside our bodies and minds and in the world around us as it is happening. The opposite of being mindful is being on “autopilot.”
In mindfulness meditation, we are not trying to change anything. We are simply becoming aware of what is going on without trying to judge it as good or bad. We are approaching experiences with a sense of curiosity and openness.
Interestingly, when we bring our awareness to the present moment with repeated practice and allow feelings and bodily sensations to be present without trying to push them away, a natural by-product is often relaxation.
In the book, “Full Catastrophe Living,” Jon Kabat-Zinn discusses the Attitudinal Foundations of Mindfulness. Over the next several months, I will review each of these foundations and provide simple ways you can try bringing them into your daily life, as well incorporating them into patient care.
#1 Beginner’s Mind
We often go about our days on “autopilot.” We engage in the activities we have done so many times without pausing to think about them. Alternatively, we get caught up in our thoughts and judgments and consequently don’t see situations as they really are.
What would it be like to approach situations with fresh eyes, with a beginner’s mind, as if we are encountering the experience for the first time?
Consider thinking about a small child. Children innately have a beginner’s mind. When a child sees a leaf or an insect on the ground they see that one object exactly as it is in that particular moment. They see that object’s uniqueness—not as they thought it would be, should be, or could be, but exactly as it is in that moment.
Approaching situations in this way, allows us to see them as they really are in a particular moment. This in turn, allows us to expand our awareness to include new possibilities in each moment instead of getting stuck in our habitual ways.
Bringing a beginner’s mind to daily life: choose one routine activity (taking a shower, brushing your teeth, going into a daily meeting) and pause before beginning the activity. Set an intention to use a “beginner’s mind”—to engage in this activity as if you are doing it for the very first time. What do you notice?
Bringing a beginner’s mind to patient care: You can also bring a beginner’s mind to a patient problem or a challenging patient. Sit in a quiet place, take a few breaths and bring the problem to mind. See if you can notice your automatic thoughts, feelings, and judgments about the situation. Then gently ask yourself, are there alternative ways to think about this problem, about this patient? Can I see this situation as if for the first time?
Remember, cultivating these foundations requires practice and constant reminders so that we can come out of our habitual ways of reacting to situations and begin to relate to experiences in a new way.