I am not mindfulness expert, but I am an enthusiast. Consequently, I jumped on the chance to avail of the free, online, guided meditation sessions being offered by world renowned mindfulness guru Jon Kabat-Zinn to support people through the global pandemic. Thousands of people across the world are participating in this magical experience. It is a wonderful thing that even at the worst of times, I have been able to take the opportunity to reflect and begin to incorporate true mindfulness into my life.
I would like to invite you and all the M-Powered community to join me in this! To get started, I’ve put together a 7-day mindfulness challenge based on the 9 mindful attitudes that Jon Kabat-Zinn promotes.
Below are our activities for our 7-days of mindfulness challenge! Don’t forget to follow along on Facebook and Instagram and share with us your mindfulness experience and what you like to do to combat stress and burnout in this unprecedented time.
1. Monday for the Beginners’ Mind
Today, focus on keeping your attention in the present moment, with a fresh and open mind. Usually, we are so preoccupied with the activities of our daily lives that we don’t even notice the days and weeks slipping by. We are so full of thoughts, ideas, convictions, beliefs that we don’t even realise how much these things can limit us from seeing and understanding more, about the world and about ourselves. This is the “expert mind”, the mind that believes it knows everything and so refuses to see what it does not know.
Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “in the expert mind there is very few possibilities, but in the beginners mind the possibilities are infinite”.
I try to practise the beginner mind by turning it into a game for myself. I take something familiar, like my husband and children, and challenge myself to look at them like I have never seen them before. It allows me to see them anew and makes me feels refreshed, excited for life, and grateful. This has been especially important now as we are spending all our time together! It helps me to remember to never take my situation for granted and to appreciate and invest in family time and bonding.
Challenge: Choose one person or one aspect of your life (it could even be a task at work). Imagine that this is the first time you are seeing this. Can you notice something new?
2. Tuesday for Suspending Judgement
We judge all the time and the stress of the present situation can cause us to be even more judgmental. We judge our experiences: They are either good or bad. We think of what we like or dislike, we divide the world into what we want and don’t want. We often think in black and white terms. But seeing the world in such a binary way can lead to frustration and negative feelings.
When we focus on being non-judgemental, we try to truly understand the situation and why we feel the way we do about it. We are not just aware of the situation, but self-aware of our reaction to it. We are discerning, but draw no categorical conclusions.
And so, set aside your judgement. Understand that others react to the stress of this pandemic in different ways. When we truly let go of judgement, it can be such a release!
Challenge: Whenever you feel that you don’t like something, and you want it to be different, try to just accept it instead. For example, you may think “I wish it wasn’t raining, I want to go for a walk” but instead try to accept the situation and think “It is raining so I will use an umbrella on my walk”.
3. Wednesday for Acceptance
Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “Unless we accept things as they are, we will try to force things as they are not”. For me, this is the next step beyond suspending judgement. Acceptance does not mean to be passive and non-responsive. As a matter of fact, acceptance can be the first step towards action.
Let’s take the present situation as an example. Many of us have been profoundly impacted by the virus, personally and professionally. This is a very difficult reality to accept, and instead we can get caught in the trap of “If only” or “I wish”. We can ruminate on how things used to be, if they will ever be like that again, or what we would be doing if we were not in lockdown. This kind of wallowing can even lead to bitterness and rejection of the safety guidelines. It is not easy, but by accepting the current situation and all the constraints it puts upon us, we can then start to focus on what we can do, instead of what we cannot. It allows us to take steps to make the most of the current situation. And it is through this acceptance of the situation, and of the safety rules, that we will best survive this situation and overcome it quickly.
Challenge: At the end of the day, think of one thing that you have had difficulty accepting. Why is this so? What will happen if you change your attitude?
4. Thursday for Letting Go
Letting go is something I find challenging and that I must work on every day. Jon Kabat-Zinn says that letting go is really more like letting be:“It means allowing things to be as they are and not being too caught up in having to have them be a certain way”. He tells the story of a technique used to catch monkeys in India. A banana is put in a hollow coconut through a small opening. Of course, the monkey wants the banana, so it puts in its hand, but the opening is not big enough to pull out both the fruit and its hand. Their reluctance to let go of the banana makes it easier to sneak up and catch them. The only way for them to remain free is to let go of the banana.
The present situation is a big lesson in letting go. If it weren’t for coronavirus, I would be flying to Sicily today for my annual rock-climbing trip with my best friends. It is something I look forward to so much every year and I couldn’t have imagined not going. Mindfulness has helped me enormously to get past the disappointment I initially felt, to leave behind that “banana” and to enjoy being free instead.
Challenge: Throughout the day, be attentive to “bananas” that can occur. When you notice them, try to let them go or at least consider what would happen if you did.
5. Friday for Trust
This attitude is quite complex. It is about trusting but not being naïve. Kabat-Zinnadvises us to start by practising trust in ourselves. This is something we often do automatically. We trust our bodies without having to think about it. We trust our lungs to breathe and our heart to beat. So, why don’t we always trust our intuition? If it is telling us something, why don’t we listen?
Right now, it is so important to be conscious of what our body and intuition are telling us. Working from home with non-stop video conferences and calls, it sometimes feels like my mind is about to explode by mid-morning! I have a choice. I can either ignore this feeling and keep working (which is my default reaction) or I can trust myself and what my body is telling me – “Kasia, you are not able to work anymore” – and take a proper break.
Challenge: Whenever you feel tension in your body or your inner voice is telling you that it is time to rest, trust this intuition. Even if it is at an inopportune time.
6. Saturday for Patience and Gratitude
“Things unfold in their own way” – Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Despite knowing that my own impatience will not speed things up, I often feel impatient anyway. This is especially so right now. I want this pandemic to be over, I want to get my work done quicker, I want my sons to get their homework and chores done quicker. These desires prevent me from being present. I am so focused on getting to the point when things are done, I miss the here and now. By practising patience, I can develop an appreciation for the present moment.
In many ways, this goes hand in hand with gratitude. We take so much for granted: Our health, safety, family, friends, etc. Being patient and present allows us to truly consider what we do have, not what we want, and to develop gratitude.
Challenge (this one is also for me!): Let’s cultivate patience with ourselves! Whenever I am frustrated with something that I think should be done but is not, I will say to myself, “It’s ok. I will be patient”. I know already that I will use this when I look at my messy wardrobe and get annoyed with myself! For gratitude, try to list three things you are grateful for at the end of each day.
6. Sunday is for Non-striving and Generosity
A non-striving attitude is one of the hardest to implement in our western culture. In a nutshell, it means not having check lists or agendas (things we tend to be a big fan of at M-Powered!). Kabat-Zinn says that the longer your to-do list is, the more time you need to spend practicing not striving, not doing and, instead, just being. It also means not trying to make yourself feel anything other than what you are actually feeling at any given moment. The present moment is enough, you are enough, you have everything you need. This attitude is very healing and rejuvenating. And look at the world right now: COVID-19 is an awful thing, but it also proves to us that it is possible to slow down, live moment by moment, and without a never-ending to-do list.
Generosity is also linked with this idea. It’s about giving ourselves over to life, giving people what makes them happy, not with an agenda or strategy in mind, but simply because it puts joy into the world.
Challenge: Today, we have no to-do list. We just experience the moment. No more, no less. It does not mean that we do nothing, we just do what feels right in the present moment, without agenda. Part of this may be practising generosity by making someone else happy for no other reason than to spread joy.
I hope that, like me, you enjoy learning about and practicing these attitudes and that you will follow me on this challenge! Jon Kabat-Zinn says that by practising one attitude, the other eight can come naturally as part of an interconnected state of mindfulness, so even if you struggle with some of them, know that you are still making progress. You can learn more about each attitude in this video.
I hope to see you on Facebook and Instagram following the challenge and please do share your own relaxation techniques with us and with the wider M-Powered community by tagging us and using the hashtag #mpowered. Now is the time to share and promote positive and supportive feelings while we all tackle this pandemic together!