It’s important to have practices we can turn to every day to keep us grounded — practices that cultivate calm and focus and connection, particularly with ourselves. Because this is our foundation for having meaningful days, and thereby a meaningful life.
In MBSR Every Day: Daily Practices from the Heart of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction authors Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D, and Bob Stahl, Ph.D, share valuable tools for helping readers reduce suffering and savor greater peace. They note that MBSR has a variety of benefits. For instance, it reduces anxiety and chronic pain. It also boosts psychological well-being and enhances quality of life.
Here are three simple but powerful practices from MBSR Every Day to try.
Being a Beginner
Goldstein, a clinical psychologist and Psych Central blogger, and Stahl, the guiding teacher at Insight Santa Cruz, share this quote from Japanese Zen priest Suzuki Roshi: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” Beginner’s mind is all about engaging “with curious and fresh eyes,” according to the authors.
This is key because after a while we get used to our surroundings. And it’s like we shut our eyes (ears and nose). We get bored. We become ungrateful. We become indifferent. At one time, walking was the greatest, most amazing act and accomplishment. Today, it’s rare that we bask in the awe of our bodies.
Beginner’s mind helps us return to wonder. It nudges us to use our senses fully, which is really how they’re meant to be used, anyway.
How can you approach each day with beginner’s mind? How can you eat your next meal with beginner’s mind? How can you hear a symphony with beginner’s mind? How can you take a shower with beginner’s mind? Or kiss your spouse, or dance, or write, or walk to work? How can you experience the mundane, day-to-day of life with beginner’s mind?
Beginner’s mind also helps us break out of our routine so we can figure out if we even like what we’re doing. Do you really like what you’re eating? Do you really like the exercise class you’re taking? Do you really like the people you’re hanging out with? It helps us pause and pay attention and really see. From here we can make conscious decisions that support our health and well-being.
Embracing Your Imperfections
Being human is being imperfect. That means making mistakes, saying the wrong thing, being selfish, being unreasonable, flaking on a commitment, failing a test, and all sorts of other missteps and messy qualities.
But we forget this. And we berate ourselves when we don’t measure up to the impossible standard of perfect. And we create needless pain and suffering.
Goldstein and Stahl suggest embracing our imperfections with these three steps:
- Acknowledge that you’re imperfect, that everyone is imperfect.
- Notice any judgments and negative thoughts. You might be thinking, “Yes, but I have many more imperfections than most people, or I’m just not following these practices right; I can’t do this.” If a negative thought arises, recognize it as “an automatic, habitual thought pattern.”
- Bring kindness to the moment. Bring attention to what you’re feeling. It’s probably a physical feeling that’s connected to an emotion. This emotion might be shame, sadness, disgust, anger or fear. Put your hand at the location of your feeling. Imagine it’s a baby. Or imagine that you’re a baby or child. Tell this part of yourself something supportive or compassionate. The authors give this example: “I care about your pain, and I love you just the way you are.”
Befriending Your Breath
According to Goldstein and Stahl, bringing awareness to your breath “can widen the space between stimulus and response, which allows us to break from routine, open up to freedom, and choose to pay attention to the wonders all around us.”
Bring beginner’s mind to your breathing. Where do you notice your breathing most? As the authors write, is it at the tip of your nose, inside the nostrils, the chest or stomach? Is it somewhere else? Is it a whole-body sensation? Right now does it seem shallow or deep? Or is it somewhere in between? Is there a difference in temperature as you inhale and exhale?
Goldstein and Stahl suggest setting an intention to focus on your breath from time to time during the day. For instance, notice your breath while you’re in line at the grocery store. Notice it while you’re at work. Notice it while you’re talking to your partner. Notice your breath as you’re nodding off to sleep.
Sometimes, the smallest shift in perspective can make a big difference. Sometimes, simply pausing, refocusing on our breath and treating ourselves with kindness can be transformative — especially when we practice it every day.
Woman enjoying fresh air photo available from Shutterstock