At front and center stage of Buddhist psychology is mindfulness: moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness. By bringing neutral observation to life, the habitual tendency to categorize into good versus bad or like versus dislike gives way to open exploration, understanding, and wisdom. Mindfulness is to know and see things as they are arising and passing. It’s a way of being that invites you to be completely vibrant and awake to your own life.
Our conditioned nature is to cling to what we want, be averse to what we don’t want, or be blind to what is happening. This tendency compels us to turn away from our fears. Mindfulness invites you to apply neutral attention so you can turn toward and work with that which you resist. When you accept things as they are, you are able to take a pause, assess the situation, make wise choices, and assume wholesome action. “There’s a sense of freedom when we accept we’re not in control. Pointing ourselves toward what we would most like to avoid makes our barriers and shields permeable” (Chodron 1994, 119).
Mindfulness is to welcome what’s here, regardless. At every twist and turn, you’re invited to let go. You learn to relinquish control not by trying to change the situation, or even yourself, but rather by changing your habitual compulsion to grasp, avoid, or deny. You place your attention on your relationship to what’s occurring. Are you holding on for dear life, running away for fear of being caught, or shutting down to hide from being seen? “Paradoxically, you move toward discomfort, rather than away, in order to break free” (Marotta 2013, 101).
Through mindfulness, you become awake to the present moment, as it is only in the present that you can truly come to know yourself. You let go of the delusion that you should be somewhere other than where you’re at or someone other than who you are.
Mindfulness starts from the perspective that you are already intact and whole, regardless of your assorted faults or defects. This gentle and kind embrace allows you to turn around and welcome your emotional landscape; concentrate on the work not on the results; look on the inside not on the outside; see problems as challenges and crises as opportunities; and stay in the present rather than be lost in past regret or future worry.
It’s not about following the prescription that leads from point A to point B; rather it’s answering the invitation to drop into your heart, to keep coming back, to love yourself as you are. Resistance is the provocation to close down; acceptance is the summons to open up.
Notice the quality of your mind. Are you grasping on to what you want; averse to what you don’t want; or not looking at what is happening? When this occurs, ask yourself: “Does this lead to struggle or discontent?” Next ask yourself: “What am I doing that’s unskillful?” In this pause, incline the mind toward skillful action. Choose how you wish to respond that leads to ease of well-being or happiness. Make an intention to meet every encounter with greed, aversion, or delusion with the presence of mindfulness.
Chodron, P. Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living. Shambala, 1994.
Marotta, J. 50 Mindful Steps to Self-Esteem: Everyday Practices for Cultivating Self-Acceptance and Self-Compassion. New Harbinger Publications, 2013.