A few years ago, I went on an 8-week course in Mindfulness run by York Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. Since then (as I’ve mentioned before in these blogs), Mindfulness has been a part of my life, but not a part of everyday – what is known as ‘practice’. This weekend, I went on a ‘7 Pillars Practice Day’ to remind myself of the ‘7 Pillars’ of Mindfulness, and to see if I could get back into practising Mindfulness.
The ‘7 Pillars’ are the foundations of Mindfulness. They are: Non-judging; Patience; Beginner’s Mind; Trust; Non-striving; Acceptance; Letting Go.
The day reminded me of many things, including of the richness of language and associations that we each have. We all hear see and hear things differently and bring different stories to our experiences.
I thought of how ‘mindfulness’ sounds like having a ‘full’ mind, which doesn’t seem to fit with meditation. But one of the things I like about Mindfulness meditation is that it is not about emptying the head of thoughts (impossible for me, and many others), but rather about being aware of thoughts as just thoughts. Being ‘mindful’ means acknowledging the thoughts but practising coming back to the breath. And the good news for people like me who aren’t always good at breathing deeply, is that breath happens, whether we think about it or not – we just have to notice it and engage with it.
From the ‘7 Pillars’, I found myself particularly caught up with ‘Beginner’s Mind’. In the world of innovation, where I’ve sometimes worked, this is also known as “fresh eyes”. In my work as a Facilitator and Coach, I know the value of being outside, looking on. It means that, sometimes, I can see things about a situation or an organisation that other people (who are inside) can no longer see. And I can, sometimes, ask questions that other people feel unable to ask. I can certainly always try to ask open questions and to ‘hold lightly’ any suggestions or comments I make.
Interestingly, this weekend, I found myself thinking how uncomfortable I can be with being a ‘beginner’; how much I want to get past the painful stage of not knowing people, places or how to do something. And yet, I know how important it is to stay in touch with this place – to always remember what it’s like to be a beginner (to not know the language, the acronyms, the rules), and how hard it can feel starting out. But, also, how exciting it is to start afresh, to start something new, to learn.
Of the other ‘pillars’, ‘Non-judging’ is hard, as many of us are brought up to be critical and judging – often most harshly ourselves! And, ‘judgement’ is so prized and so necessary in life and work, that it can be hard to know when to suspend judgement and to wait. I can see that this connects with many other of the ‘7 pillars’ including ‘Patience’, ‘Trust’, ‘Non-striving’, ‘Acceptance’ and ‘Letting go’. It feels so hard to be patient, to trust, to let be, accept and let go. This feels like a life’s work, but I suppose that’s why it’s called ‘Mindfulness Practice’.
And my last thought for now is how to practice, but not to strive? Now there’s a challenge!