How understanding the nine foundational qualities can help
Background to Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
Meditation for stress is a key theme in mindfulness. With many years now of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) being delivered to all kinds of populations world wide .There is a growing body of evidence that learning to practise mindfulness can bring a range of benefits to people of all religions and none. A very common reason for individuals beginning a mindfulness practise is to explore how meditation and stress management works.
Benefits of Meditation for Stress
There is now a significant body of evidence from extensive research demonstrating that developing a mindfulness practise can have a significant positive effect on:
- developing greater self awareness,
- increasing ability to manage stress,
- physical and psychological health,
- reducing anxiety and depression,
- reducing tension, anger and fatigue,
- enhancing relationships,
- increasing vitality,
- aiding better sleep,
- developing stronger immunity.
The key benefit of mindfulness is the way it helps us to begin to see ourselves and our lives more clearly. From this new perspective we can then learn to befriend ourselves. We find ourselves becoming kinder and less judgemental to both ourselves and others. All of the other benefits come then from this new way of seeing and “being with” ourselves. Learning to practise meditation for stress can really help us to be more present with whatever is going on for us. By doing this we begin to create the space, a different place to stand if you like from which, especially in times of challenge and difficulty we can make wiser decisions about how to proceed.
With its its roots in Buddhist tradition mindfulness is now considered secular brain training. The current wave of secular evidence based practise of which Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is the gold standard training . It s practised as secular, evidence based brain training. Even this current second wave of Mindfulness practice does however retain from its Buddhist roots some foundational attitudes. I love making these foundational attitudes explicit when I teach Mindfulness. They connect us to ancient wisdom. They also add value to the evidence from neuroscience so that we can get in touch with what it is to be truly human. This can be enormously helpful as we negotiate our way through what is often fragmented 1st century living.
The Foundations of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is defined by Jon Kabat Zinn as ‘paying attention to the present moment in a particular way, non- judgementally’. He often adds ‘as if our life depends on it’. It includes the cultivation of kindness towards ourselves and whatever is arising. Once we start to become mindful, we begin to become aware of how hard we often are on ourselves and on others. We can be surprised when we become aware of our habitual attitudes of blame, judgement, impatience, intolerance, and unkindness towards ourselves and others. It can be quite upsetting when we first begin to recognise these attitudes in ourselves. They often aren’t obvious until we begin to really pay attention to the inner chatterbox, which can be both very self-critical, and critical of others.
In his foundational work Jon describes how the apparently simple directive of mindfulness ‘be here now’ is actually really challenging for us as humans.
This ‘being here now’ can be extremely difficult thing for humans and therefore these nine attitudes can be helpful.
Bringing these foundational attitudes into your mindfulness practise will not mean that you begin to suppress your feelings. Instead you will find yourself better able to recognise these feelings as they arise and treat whatever arises with kindness. These attitudes we bring to our mindfulness practice are those we often have little difficulty showing those we love. You can learn as you practise mindfulness to develop these same attitudes kindness and compassion for yourself.
The Nine Attitudinal Attitudes are helpful in learning how to practise meditation for stress
In his groundbreaking “Full Catastrophe Living” Jon Kabat-Zinn, the Father of the current secular evidence based practise of Mindfulness, outlines the seven Attitudinal Foundations of Mindfulness . He later added Gratitude and Generosity to make it nine attitudinal foundations in all. These attitudes then underpin and support all mindfulness practises, formal or informal. When I teach Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction ( MBSR) I often refer to these attitudes as the qualities of a good friend. In mindfulness we are learning to be as kind to ourselves as we would naturally be to a friend. Learning to operate from these foundational qualities is a key way to benefit from meditation for stress.
Non judgement the impartial witnessing of your thoughts either positive or negative, feelings and sensations as they arise in the body. Initially when you begin to cultivate this attitude of non-judgment, you begin to create more space for kindness, compassion, empathy, and connection. Later you learn to be more impartial – open to both pleasant and unpleasant experiences as transitory.
PATIENCE is allowing things to unfold in their own time and learning to let go of the need to control a situation or forcing a particular outcome. This foundational attitude of patience is a form of wisdom which you will develop as you as you commit to practising meditation for stress. Developing this wise patience you will begin to understand that things will unfold in their own time, and you will find yourself better able to keep calm under pressure.
BEGINNER’S MIND is the attitude of seeing everything as if for the first time with fresh childlike curiosity. The term “Beginners Mind” was coined by Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki and it is a fundamental aspect of mindfulness. Suzuki said that “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities ; in the expert’s mind there are few.” Developing this attitude of beginners mind in your mindfulness practice will firstly help you to cultivate your qualities of creativity and intelligence. Secondly you will notice increased openness to ‘thinking outside the box , and eventually you will find yourself flowing with new responses to old challenges.
TRUST is the attitude of validating yourself and your own experience – learning to trust and to go with your gut. This foundational is a key element in changing old habits. Bringing this foundational attitude to your practise and learning to live with more flow and ease. Firstly you will learn to trust yourself more by tuning in to your own body and gut feeling or intuition. This in turn will help you to handle difficult situations with grace and dignity.
NON-STRIVING is the attitude that allows the present to be just as it is the way it is without trying to fix or make something happen. As you cultivate this foundational attitude through learning various ways to meditate for stress you will begin to find that happiness is not found in achieving or accumulating material things. You will instead begin to notice that this quality of non striving is synonymous with peace, freedom and a deep sense of contentment with the way things are.
ACCEPTANCE is the ability to bring kindness towards, and to roll out the welcome mat for your experience just as it is in any given the moment. As you begin to cultivate this attitude through learning ways to practise meditation for stress you will notice that it is resistance to things that often leads to stress and anxiety in your life. Cultivating this attitude of acceptance does not mean a passivity where you are the doormat or roll over in the face of negative experiences.Rather it is the solid foundation accepting the reality of a situation which in turn allows real healing to happen.
LETTING GO or non attachment is the foundational attitude of simply letting things be as they are without the need to try and control our thoughts, feelings or actions. Cultivating this attitude of letting go, or non-attachment, is fundamental to the practice of meditation for stress. Learning this attitude of letting go means you will no longer be caught in the unhelpful habit energy of desiring things to be different. Strangely letting go is the key to your freedom because clinging to things is nothing more than a self imposed prison. As you learn to let go you will allow things to flow into your life, you will be less likely to fight and resist change. You will find yourself more open to trust more in the process. When you start a meditation or stress management practise you will begin to find that inner peace that is always within you.
GRATITUDE is a recent addition to the Attitudinal Foundations of Mindfulness. This attitude allows us to bring attention to all the good in our life rather than usual habit energy of wallowing in all the disappointments. We know from neuroscience that focusing on what we can be grateful for greatly improves our physical and mental well being.
GENEROSITY is the last and another new addition to the attitudinal foundations added by Jon Kabet Zinn. This is the attitude that invites us to bring happiness to others by giving them our presence and full attention. Evidence from recent research in neuroscience shows how learning ways to practise mindfulness that focus on this attitude radically reduces our own stress and anxiety.
Reflection Points –
- Maybe make yourself a hot drink and take some time to read this poem by Danna Faulds. Try not to analyse the poem, rather let the words drop in or float on by as they will.
There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado. Dam a
stream and it will create a new
channel. Resist, and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry
you to higher ground. The only
safety lies in letting it all in –
the wild and the weak; fear,
fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes.
- Take some time to focus on which of the nine attitudinal foundations particular call for your attention. See if you can focus on one and then commit yourself to developing this attitude over the next four weeks,
“We human beings have multiple ways of knowing the world, inwardly and outwardly.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn Full Catastrophe Living, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., pages 33-40
Mindfulness in Covit 19 days.
Mindfulness is no magic pill. It is a simple practise which we need to learn and build, that allows us to live well whatever the weather of our lives. In doing so we find an inner peace and know how to create a little space between the stressful or painful experience that causes suffering and our response. It is in that space that we find our inner peace. Whether you participate in one of my courses developed specially for these pandemic days, or work one to one with me it will be my pleasure to help you to find this stable base in your particular life
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