It’s not about change!
I have many clients, friends, and family ask me, how do I change my negative thoughts, and my answer is, without hesitation, start with mindfulness practice. But, mindfulness practice is not about change. Through the practice, you will have self-knowledge and the perception needed to bring about permanent shifts in thinking and behavior, that can lead to change.
Mindfulness is defined as the “nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment”. So, how does that definition translate into a mindfulness practice? Following is my drill down on what that definition really means. Let’s start with Acceptance.
My first element to a mindfulness practice is acceptance, and although the above definition uses the word non-judgment, I prefer to soften my focus on non-judgment for two reasons: 1) You must first judge a thought before consciously not judging it (which defeats the purpose, and takes up energy), and 2) the more you try not to judge your thoughts, the more those judgments will persist in your mind, as noted by Carl Jung, “What you resist persists”.
I have selected to sharpen my focus on acceptance. Acceptance implies a state of surrender; surrendering to your habitual thoughts as they are, without judgment or the want to change them.
“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.”
Practice Tip: Buddhist, Pema Chödrön, has a very effective practice of complete acceptance of habitual thoughts. Whenever habitual thoughts arise in your mind, instead of labeling the thoughts bad/good, true/false, or right/wrong, you label them “thinking”. In distinguishing the thoughts and labeling them “thinking” you allow the thoughts to move through your thinking mind without resistance, judgment, or grasping the thought; it is simply “thinking”.
Cultivating awareness is the second element in practicing mindfulness. Awareness is the perceiving and knowledge-gathering element of a mindfulness practice. According to Aristotle, “the ultimate value of life depends upon awareness”.
There can be no acceptance of your thoughts (the first element of mindfulness) without first being aware of their existence. Awareness, for mindfulness practice, is to notice thoughts and the physical response the thoughts trigger. Sometimes it is one thought over and over, and in some cases it is a whole series of thoughts which create a conversation in your head.
It is helpful to recognize that mindfulness practice is about cultivating awareness, in so doing, you are accepting the unfolding nature of awareness, and the fact that everything you need to know about yourself and your habitual thoughts will become clear over time.
“Be the silent watcher of your thoughts and behavior. You are beneath the thinker. You are the stillness beneath the mental noise. “
~ Eckhart Tolle
Practice Tip: One practice to cultivate awareness is to follow your breath. Take a moment to notice your breath and follow it as it enters your body, feel for stillness, or a pause at the end of the in breath, and then trace its path as it exits your body. Once you’re still, what do you notice about your thoughts? What emotions do your thoughts trigger, where in your body? What do you notice using your five senses?
Live in the Present Moment
Living in the present moment is my third element of a mindfulness practice. It is in the present moment that you cultivate awareness, which then gives you the knowledge and perception to finally allow for total acceptance.
The statement that all life happens in the present moment seems pretty obvious, but is it really? Have you even driven home from work, and after you arrive home – in a moment of clarity, you realize you don’t remember anything about the drive; you can’t remember if you stopped at traffic lights or stop signs? When you begin to look at your thoughts, you’ll begin to notice that most, if not all of your thoughts, are a judgment about something in the past, or a fear about something in the future, all the while, a whole life is playing out and you are completely unaware.
“When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.”
~ Thích Nhất Hạnh
Practice Tip: One practice to bring you into the present is to take a moment to feel your feet; feel your feet in your shoes, or touching the floor. Then wiggle your toes; notice how your toes touch the inside of your shoes, or contact the floor. Now feel your hands; what are they touching? Notice the point of contact to what they are touching. Now continue in this way until you are fully present in your body.
Mindfulness practice becomes the foundation which supports habitual change by giving you an awareness and deep acceptance of your life in the present moment. It is from this place, the place of knowing and accepting yourself fully, that you will begin to shed the habitual thoughts and behaviors that no longer serve you.
For more information on creating your own mindfulness practice feel free to contact me.
Thank you so much for reading!