Sunday, 21 November 2010

The Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness

"If you continue this simple practice everyday, you will attain some wonderful power. Before you attain it, it is something wonderful but after you attain it, it is nothing special." Shunryu Suzuki 

When I think of mindfulness, or perhaps the lack of it, I think of an excitable young sheepdog let loose in a field of sheep.

Chasing in every direction and driving the sheep into frenzy, the young sheepdog frantically searches out sheep, rabbits, people, sticks, and runs after every scent it catches on the wind. It knows it should be doing something it’s just a little confused as to exactly what.

Then there is the older and wiser sheepdog. It will simply sit quietly sniffing the air, catching the scent of everything that’s going on. Head to one side, ears up, observing, listening. Then, at the right moment, with thrilling speed and accuracy it will circle the flock and take them to their destination. 

For me, that’s the difference between a lack of mindfulness and mindfulness.

So much has already been said on the subject. Books have been written, scientific studies undertaken, training courses developed and of course, for Buddhists it’s a lifetime’s work. So there are many other people who are far more qualified to talk about mindfulness than me.

On the other hand, I’m a human being with a mind and I believe every human being has experienced moments of mindfulness. So in the tradition of the ‘Beginner’s Mind’ I’m going to just say what I think are the two main ingredients. 

Those two ingredients are so simple it will probably seem like practicing mindfulness is nothing special. That I believe would be exactly right. In fact that would be an excellent definition of mindfulness, ‘practicing nothing special’. However, the results of practicing mindfulness can be profound. They cannot really be described in words but once you experience them, they are never forgotten.

So here are my two ingredients, straight from my own beginner’s mind:

1) Sit in a relaxed, upright position.

2) Observe, feel, listen.

So now the questions begin. Should I cross my legs, should my eyes be open or closed, how long should I sit for, how do I observe, what do I listen to...? See how the mind constantly searches, constantly runs after the scent on the wind? Really, all you need is to observe, feel, listen, just don’t chase after the sheep.

When we sit and simply observe our thoughts, observe the world without chasing after everything that comes into our attention, mindfulness settles on us like a butterfly. In time and with regular practice, the answers to many questions simple settle on us too. 

It’s true, mindfulness takes time to develop but the rewards are profound. If it’s something you would like to experience, don’t put it off forever, it’s really very simple.

Image courtesy of AlicePopkorn


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