I’ve long been a fan of Elisha Goldstein’s work on mindfulness because, more than any author on that topic, he seems to communicate the practice in a way that doesn’t totally overwhelm me and make me want to run the other way. With Forrest Gump.
I know this isn’t a very sophisticated image, but I keep going back to Homer Simpson in the Simpsons movie on his roof trying to hammer down the roofing, and the cameras zero in on the nail as he says to Bart, “Steady …. Steady … Steady …” and then he whacks the hell out of something: his eyeball instead of his thumb.
I can’t help but compare that image to how I do meditation. I start out right: easy … easy … but then I somehow getting really turned around. Kind of like my son David who, for Halloween this year, was Bart Simpson. But his mask was so thick and suffocating that he couldn’t see a thing, ran straight into a tree, and spent the rest of the night passing out candy instead of begging for it.
In his book, A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Elisha and Bob Stahl first define mindfulness:
Mindfulness is about being fully aware of whatever is happening in the present moment, without filters or the lens of judgment. It can be brought to any situation. Put simply, mindfulness consists of cultivating awareness of the mind and body and living in the here and now.
And then they discuss the two kinds of mindfulness: formal, which involves setting aside some time each day to sit, stand, or lie down and focus on the breath, sounds, senses, emotions, or bodily sensations; and informal, which means bringing mindfulness to daily activities like eating, exercising, doing the dishes, or homework with the kids.
Although I’ve been sitting still for ten minutes concentrating on my breath, I don’t really see that I’m making any progress. I get to about two breaths and my mind is off running with Forrest Gump again. So I’m delighted that Elisha and Bob emphasize the informal practice of mindfulness, because I do feel as though I’m getting somewhere there. I mean, I still zone out every other minute. But now I realize I’m zoning out, which is substantial progress. And occasionally I can even catch what I’m zoning out and why. And I try, really try, like try as hard as Homer when he’s at the top of his roof with that nail, to aim for these eight attitudes of mindfulness that Elisha and Bob list in their book:
- Beginner’s mind. This quality of awareness sees things as new and fresh, as if for the first time, with a sense of curiosity.
- Nonjudgment. This quality of awareness involves cultivating impartial observation in regard to any experience—not labeling thoughts, feelings, or sensations as good or bad, right or wrong, fair or unfair, but simply taking note of thoughts, feelings, or sensations in each moment.
- Acknowledgment. This quality of awareness validates and acknowledges things as they are.
- Nonstriving. With this quality of awareness, there is no grasping, aversion to change, or movement away from whatever arises in the moment; in other words, nonstriving means not trying to get anywhere other than where you are.
- Equanimity. The quality of awareness involves balance and fosters wisdom. It allows a deep understanding of the nature of change and allows you to be with change with greater insight and compassion.
- Letting be. With this quality of awareness, you can simply let things be as they are, with no need to try to let GO of whatever is present.
- Self-reliance. This quality of awareness helps you see for yourself, from your own experience, what is true or untrue.
- Self-Compassion. This quality of awareness cultivates love for yourself as you are, without self-blame or criticism.