At Practice Circle, we have worked with Jon Kabat Zinn’s Seven Attitudes of Mindfulness: Acceptance, Nonjudging, Nonstriving, Letting Go, Patience, Humor, Trust, and Beginner’s Mind. In their terrific training manual for mindfulness teachers, A Clinician’s Guide to Teaching Mindfulness, Christina Wolf and J. Greg Serpa add three more: Curiosity, Kindness, and Gratitude and Generosity. When Practice Circle meets this Sunday, we’ll work with the second of these, Kindness.
In recent weeks, I’ve been volunteering to help teach the standard MBSR course with the UW Health Mindfulness Program. Listening to the students discuss their experiences as they are introduced to mindfulness practice for the first time, I’ve been reminded of the start of my own practice more than a decade ago, and of my thoughts and feelings as I first encountered this radically new way of relating to life.
One of the things that has most impressed me has been how hard we can be on ourselves when we begin mindfulness practice. Our discovery of just how challenging it can be to pay careful attention to our moment-to-moment experience becomes just one more thing to judge ourselves for, even to beat ourselves up over. “I’m not doing this right. Why can’t I make myself do this? I’m supposed to practice every day, but I jut don’t want to. What’s wrong with me?”
A natural tendency when we feel like we’re screwing up is to take a defensive posture: “Why do I have to lay here trying to feel my left toe? What am I even supposed to be getting out of this? This is stupid.” This is the stage at which students often drop out of the program entirely.
The great challenge of mindfulness instruction is that it can’t teach us any great secret that is guaranteed to transform our lives. Learning mindfulness is experiential learning. We are gradually training our minds and bodies to respond in new ways to our experience, reshaping our habits, actually rewiring our nervous systems. Like learning a new language or musical instrument, there is no alternative to regular, ongoing practice before we can recognize and enjoy the benefit of what we’re teaching ourselves. MBSR includes the requirement that students practice at least 45 minutes a day during the eight-week program — a grueling schedule for many beginners.
That’s why I like that Wolf and Serpa have added Kindness to the Attitudes of Mindfulness. Throughout our practice, and especially when we’re just starting out, it helps to be reminded that mindfulness practice is about self care. Even when we’re doing things that may be difficult and uncomfortable, ultimately we’re doing them to be kind to ourselves. Through mindfulness practice, we’re learning to be our own best friend. When our minds wander, when we struggle to practice, when we wonder whether we’re “doing it right,” receiving those experiences with an attitude of kindness can help soothe the frustration that often arises.
As the authors write:
The attitude of kindness can act like fabric softener for experience. When kindness is present, judgement and harshness will recede. We see what happens in a different light. Kindness often arises from a deeper and more complex understanding of how the heart and mind work–not just for ourselves but for everybody. We learn to see not only the behavior but also what might have spurred it. For example, if we don’t just see the angry behavior but also the hurt and confusion that caused the anger in the first place, we are more likely to respond with kindness.
I hope you’ll join us this Sunday evening, May 12, at 6 pm Pacific, 7 Mountain, 8 Central and 9 Eastern as we explore the attitude of Kindness. Practice Circle is the SBA’s online meditation and discussion community. We meet via video conference on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Practice Circle is free to attend, and everyone is welcome. Just click this link on Sunday evening to attend.