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The Nine Attitudes of Mindfulness


The Nine Attitudes of Mindfulness are principles that remind us how to live mindfully.

Mindfulness is a way of being in the present moment that allows us to manage our emotions, build resilience and to reduce stress and anxiety.


Mindfulness is able to do this in a number of ways. The basic building block is the practice of being in the present moment. By doing this, we’re giving ourselves time to pause – and to listen to what our bodies and minds are telling us.

In this pause we’re able to practice the nine attitudes of mindfulness.


The attitudes were compiled by American doctor Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is considered the father of western mindfulness. In 1979 he harnessed the power of meditation, and its benefits, and built the 8 week ‘Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction’ programme, to help his chronically ill patients.


Originally there were 7 attitudes, but Jon Kabat-Zinn added Gratitude and Generosity later on, to build on the original 7.


So, let’s look at each one in turn. My challenge to you, as you read through each one, is – do you practice this in your day to day life? If not, how would your life be enhanced or change if you did?


Non-Judgement


We are all the product of our beliefs and our genetics.


This isn’t the place for a nature/nurture debate, nor is it the place for a discussion on epigenetics – the study of how we can influence our genes. (If you’re interested, google – it's fascinating!)


This IS the place to know that we are who we are because of a wide range of factors. Think about our parents or caregivers when we were children – how much did they teach us? How much did they influence our outlook on life?

Our experiences in life also shape us. Our brains are massive ‘predictor’ machines. We predict the outcome of a situation, based on what we’ve experienced before.


When the school bully walks into the room, you’re expecting something horrible to happen – because that’s what they do.

When you get post near your birthday, you expect a card from your grandparents – because that’s what they do every year.


Some people are lucky to have wonderful childhoods filled with love and learning. Others are unfortunate to experience tragedy, loss or abuse. Our experiences shape who we are, and what we expect from life.


We’re all different.


Mindfulness asks us to remember this – we are all different. So, let’s not judge someone who is different. Let’s just accept them for who they are. We don’t always know what is really happening in someone’s life.


We extend this ‘non judgement’ to ourselves and our mindfulness practice.

We practice being patient with ourselves, and not judging – or criticising – ourselves. That doesn’t mean believing that we’re perfect. It means understanding that we’re human, and we make mistakes. It means acknowledging when we do something wrong, without the negative self talk, and working out how to make it better, or different next time.



Patience


It’s very easy – especially in today’s ‘now’ society – to want results quickly. You start your mindfulness practice on Day 1, and you’d like to see yourself stress-free by Day 2!


However, it takes practice and patience to make changes in your life. It takes time for your brain’s neural pathways to change direction from your old habits, to the new ones you’re trying to cultivate.


This attitude reminds us that we should cultivate patience – with the process, but also with ourselves.


We’ll get there.



Beginners’ Mind


Picture a child seeing a cat for the first time. Imagine them tasting an ice cream for the first time. Imagine their delight at their first boat ride.

What does a child experience in these moments?


Children are more likely to take delight in things – whether it’s their first ever ice cream, or their regular Saturday afternoon treat.


They express joy and curiosity.


Compare this to how adults react. In my experience – and perhaps yours – adults are more cynical, more inured to joy and awe.


However, if we are to be able to acknowledge and sit with our emotions – especially the difficult ones – and not let them to overpower us, we need to be able to approach them as a child would.


Let us be curious about our emotions and feelings. Let us examine them like a 4 year old would examine a worm wriggling in the soil. What does it look like? What does it feel like? What’s it doing? What’s its purpose? What should I do here?


You may also like to cultivate childlike joy and awe in your daily lives: noticing and appreciating a beautiful sunrise will bring us so much more happiness than just thinking ‘Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning’ and worrying about the approaching storm.



Trust


When we practice mindfulness, we practice listening to ourselves. We listen to and notice our emotions and feelings – but we also listen to and notice what our bodies are telling us.


It’s in those quiet present moments that we can tell how we’re feeling, and understand ourselves.


We practice listening to our intuition.


It's so easy to hear what other people say and believe them. It's so easy to hear negativity and criticism in the world, and take them as the truth.


Being mindful allows us to say to ourselves ‘what do I think?’ and listen – and act accordingly.



Non Striving


Sometimes when we’re practicing mindfulness – be it a formal meditation, or an informal walk along the beach – sometimes it just won’t work. Our minds are distracted.

Perhaps we’re practicing some gentle yoga movements or focussing on any parts of the body that feel tight and tense, trying to breathe into them and relax them – but they just won’t relax, dammit!


To be non-striving is to say to yourself ‘ok, it’s not working this time. That’s alright – let me adapt what I’m doing, and I’ll try again another time’.


To be non-striving is to calm the negative self talk about what we should be feeling and doing. Just let it be.



Acceptance


A lot of what causes us stress in the modern world is when we push or pull against what is..

We compare what is happening to us to what we think should happen, and we rage against the difference – and the unfairness.


Perhaps you are on a night out, and you feel like you should be joyous and having fun – but really, what you feel like is being home in bed. You feel stressed because you’re not enjoying yourself – heck, you haven’t had a night out in ages, and you were looking forward to it, so why are you not enjoying yourself? In this scenario, you’re ‘pulling’ stress into yourself, trying to be something you’re not.


Perhaps your favourite pair of jeans are starting to get tight. You refuse to acknowledge the possibility that you’re putting on weight – and ignore the fact, straining into your jeans every time your wear them. In this scenario, you’re ‘pushing’ something away from you, leading to subconscious stress and anxiety.


Acceptance doesn’t mean that you have to accept all and every unfair injustice in the world.

What it means is to accept things as they are.


When you stop pulling and pushing, that’s the point – the calm point – that you’re able to look forward and decide what needs to be done.




Letting Go


Letting go is arguably the most difficult, but also the most rewarding of the principles.

When you start to let go, you can almost physically feel the stress ebbing away.


Road rage is a good example of this – someone overtakes you at high speed, then slams the brakes on, leading you to slam your brakes on, and almost hit the car in front of you. I bet most of us have been there. It’s frustrating and annoying and dangerous – and how dare they drive like that – the blimmin’ dangerous drivers! Where are the police when you need them?


Perhaps you flash your lights at this person, or drive right up and tailgate them. Perhaps you overtake and do the same thing to them.


The chances are that you carry this annoyance with you for the rest of the day. Perhaps you don’t realise, and find yourself snapping at your partner or your children.


I’m feeling stress just at writing these sentences!


When something like this happens, how do our reactions affect us?

Do you imagine this dangerous driver is aware of your emotion – or if they are that they care? Do you think your actions are going to do anything?


Perhaps you imagine that they make you feel better.

But do they?


How can they be better if you carry them around with you for the rest of the day?


The principle of ‘Letting Go’ in this scenario means that you acknowledge your anger – your rage, even. You acknowledge that’s how you’re feeling.

But you don’t react. You breathe, you pause, and you decide just to let that dangerous driver drive away. Then you carry on with your day.


I feel my stress ebb away by writing that!



Gratitude


There have been numerous studies and academic research on the power of gratitude on our happiness levels.


When we focus on being grateful, we’re focussing on the positives.


Doing this doesn’t mean that all the negatives go away, it means that we’re choosing to give power and precedence to the good things.


What we focus on informs our thoughts – and therefore our feelings.


If you practice gratitude, you’ll notice that once you start, you’ll begin to notice other things that you’re grateful for. It’s like the stone rolling down the hill and gathering momentum and speed.


If we are grateful for all the things we do have, we spend less time focussing on what we don’t have – and on the things we have no control over.



Generosity


By being generous to other people, you are practicing kindness. Doing something for someone else – either an action or perhaps even just what you think about them – allows you to let go of any negativity.


As with being grateful, there are numerous studies showing how we can improve our happiness when we buy a gift for someone else – rather than just receiving one.


By practicing generosity and kindness, we’re more easily able, then, to be kind and generous to ourselves.


Many of this attitudes and practices overlap. You may find that by practicing one of them, some of the others get easier.

It may be that one or other of these attitudes resonate with you more.

That’s ok.



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