being mindful

being mindful of beauty around me. a daily dose of awe creating a habit of noticing things, being mindful of anything around ...

being mindful of beauty around me. a daily dose of awe. thus creating a habit of noticing things and being mindful of anything around …

(1) I recently read some things about mindfulness that made me doubt. “The space between an emotion and a reaction, an impulse and an action, a stimulus and response. That space allows us to do something very important — make a choice.

(2) Somewhere in my not so reliable memory, I remembered mindfulness as watching the emotion, and to let it go. Like a train that races past you without leaving a trace 2 minutes later. This works for me. I feel the sadness when treated badly in traffic, and go into watching mode, seeing the constructs of mind. It has become a habit and those constructs often don’t even appear any more.

(3) I also remembered Pema Chodron in ‘when things fall apart‘ talking about being mindful. I looked up the passage without effort. I underlined it in 2009 with a clear mark in the margin next to it: “Not causing harm requires slowing down enough to notice what we say and do. The more we witness our emotional chain reaction and understand how they work, the easier it becomes to refrain.
And also: “… Instructions on mindfulness or emptiness or working with energy all point to the same thing: being right on the spot nails us. It nails us right to the point of time and space that we are in. When we stop there and don’t act out, don’t repress, don’t blame it on anyone else, and also don’t blame it on ourselves, then we meet with an open-ended question that has no conceptual answer. We also encounter our heart.

(4) Lama Drimed, an Englishman who made some time for me in 2004 to teach me meditation, put a lot of attention in being aware of my breath, counting it, being mindful of it.

(5) In ‘the miracle of mindfulness‘, Thich Nhat Hanh (I always have to check the spelling) in chapter 3  talks about dedicating 1 day per week to  mindfulness: “… While still lying in bed, begin slowly to follow your breath-slow, long, and conscious breaths. Then slowly rise from bed (instead of turning out all at once as usual), nourishing mindfulness by every motion. Once up, brush your teeth, wash your face, and do all your morning activities in a calm and relaxing way, each movement done in mindfulness. Follow your breath, take hold of it, and don’t let your thoughts scatter. Each movement should be done calmly. Measure your steps with quiet, long breaths. Maintain a half smile. Spend at least a half hour taking a bath. Bathe slowly and mindfully, so that by the time you have finished, you feel light and refreshed.
Afterwards, you might do household work such as washing dishes, dusting and wiping off the tables, scrubbing the kitchen floor, arranging books on their shelves. Whatever the tasks, do them slowly and with ease, in mindfulness. Don’t do any task in order to get it over with. …

This is all quite complicated to put into practice.

(5) goes out of the assumption of constantly being aware. Keeping your awareness all the time. This is possible. We create a habit of it. Whether it is practical, I do not know. It’s like being in ‘observing mode’ all the time. I can do that when being in a train and watching out the window. I’ve done it often. But I also have to admit to say that this train-observing never tackled my anger.

(1) seems very difficult too. The space between an emotion and my reaction to it is 0.3 seconds.

(2) I made the habit of seeing a stop sign in my mind while in traffic when feeling sad. Emotions always precede mental constructs. Anger is a mental construct when sadness changes into fear. A fear of losing something that is mine: “My priority, my lane, … my being on time” I realized long ago that I can not be mindful all the time, that my reaction time is much faster than the interrupt coming from the observer. A habit changes behaviour. We learn habits consciously, then they become part of our programming. I think that (1) wants to say the same thing without talking about reprogramming your habits. It is possible but I have no idea. (4) also wants to create a habit. Although it is most of the time just a tool to watch yourself, see what is going on in your brain.

(4) is the primer before you can do any of the other possibilities. You have to become aware of your mind, how emotions and thoughts and opinions all work together. How thoughts are automatic, coming from past experiences and not from ‘self’, whatever that would be, and how we identify all the time with our mentally constructed conceptual sense of self.

(5) is all the way all the time. As a teacher I’m reminded that one should not frighten the students the first 15% of the course. They should get familiar with the matter before anything that looks difficult (but often isn’t) should be tackled.

Perhaps being mindful also means

to see the sunset when you are sad,

and to see beautiful condensation lines from planes,

and flowers and clouds and smiles

and birds flying,

and music in an elevator

and funny situations

or rabbits or squirrels playing in the early morning

This too is mindfulness. We should not forget that mindfulness is not only about sadness, anger, fear and greed. Most of the time, and much easier to practice, it is about beautiful things that we have taken for granted, hence forget to even notice, but remain beautiful regardless.

Who/What is that thing that takes things for granted?
I think part of it is the habit taught by society at an early age
to repress our emotions, regardless of their nature.
There is also our comparing mind, that doesn’t see beauty as unusual anymore.

We should be mindful of these bad habits too,
and reprogram then into a permanent source of happiness in our lives.

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31 thoughts on “being mindful

  1. I really enjoyed these observations Bert!!

    These are truly the same struggles we all face as we begin to take accountability of our actions and inner world.

    As I am steadily facing these same emotional challenges, there have been some successes that come about by the consistency of a daily meditation practice, that cannot be reproduced otherwise.

    Thich Nhat Hanh speaks , in true Zen form, of an end product in the “day of mindfulness” instruction, that is impossible for the one that does not have ample experience synthesizing the strengths of equanimity gained in meditation with their own personal daily life.

    I have noticed that if I am trying to deal solely with the reactionary emotions, it is much too easy to become overpowered. Since we are already seeking to deal with the metacognition of these experiences, success here demands that we begin to identify the existing mental conditions that become fertile ground for aversion to run rampant and mindfully challenge these solidified mental constructs. You have aptly pointed to one scenario that we all have issues with, which is traffic. I know that my construct here is “get there…unimpeded…any distraction is unthinkable…and certainly inexcusable.” My construct is creating a mental environment opposed to compassion and the tighter I grasp at this, the easier it is for anger to arise.

    By mindfully practicing appreciation and loving-kindness there is an expansiveness of our experience that can melt away the rigidity of habitual mental constructs. This expansiveness also provides the flexibility for different reactions to surface under the same circumstances.

    As I have enjoyed reading so much of your postings, I know all of what I wrote is already a part of your practice. I just wanted to contribute to your awesome post.

    Thanks Bert!

    Peace
    Loren

    • Thank you for your elaborate comment. As I read this right now, I realize how deep the ocean is between understanding the truth and realizing it. I’m still on the shore of understanding by mind and metacognition. Often the victim of the wind and the waves.
      Although meditation can give insight and constructively reprograms mind, the realized being probably does not need it anymore.
      My practice has been far away in the past 3 months. Time to start again – on a daily basis. I most definitely need it 🙂

      • “Victim of the wind and the waves”. Now that hits home.

        My wife and I talked about your post after I read it yesterday. We talked about how imperative it is to, day by day, step by step, bring that loving-kindness into the way that we approach every single activity. To replace every existing method of interaction and conceptualization with loving-kindness.

        What a journey to see that in fruition. I will never give up though. When the details of life seem to cloud over progress, we still maintain a connection to that place of strength that carries through.

        Peace
        Loren

  2. Hi Bert!

    Thank you for sharing this insightful article!

    In my opinion you have made a very important point, here, in reminding the reader (me) that mindfulness also means to be/ stay aware of the beauty that is already there as oposed to only be aware of the beauty in situations that seemingly lack it.

    How often did I see people in the train or bus on their way home, reading their newspaper and books or, more often nowadays, playing with their mobile phones and not even recocnizing the awesome sunset the wagon is heading at… How often may I have been one of them…

    If I got you right in also making a point of that making it a habit to be mindful (like conscious breathing, looking out for the beauty that sourrounds us, counting to ten before blurting out in reaction to something uncomfortable, etc) I can absolutely relate from my own experience. I call that healthy habits and those actually work for me to change rather unhealthy patterns.

    Note to self: For a start, why not making it a habit to, for example, look outside the bus window for at least five minutes on each way home and take in every beautiful thing I see?

    Much love,
    Steffi

    • Thank you for this great idea of looking outside the window, when in public transport, or as a passenger in a car, or why not from your own home (preferably not on the ground floor). The landscape becomes a mix of beauty and awe, inspiration and neutrality, and patches of ugly, necessary to accentuate the others.
      My ground criticism of mindfulness is that you cannot slow down your reaction. You can defuse it, but being mindful is always slower than the machine language in the brain. Hence the necessity of bringing mindfulness into the realm of the habit. The habit is the machine language of the brain.

  3. Mindfulness is many things and after reading this I am reminded that it is the sense of joy I feel simply looking at birds, butterflies and a small child asleep……the not taking any of it for granted and I do find myself with a half smile often…..now I know why :). Great post

    • In the end mindfulness is about feeling life the way it really is. I suppose that once there, the tool mindfulness disappears. Being mindful of happiness, beauty around you and awe is easier than being in the present moment when things go wrong …

  4. I look at mindfulness as simply really paying attention and living in the moment. I have always liked Thich Nhat Hanh and believe him to be a very special person with so much to teach.
    Thanks for this reminder,
    Scott

  5. I wrote on acceptance today as I had watched a YouTube video of a Native American storyteller say that there is no such word as “why” in her Native language.

    • Acceptance of the present moment does not mean there is no need to change things or to make plans … but it is true that we can change a why into a how …
      How do we solve the problem, in stead of why is there this problem.

  6. It is very, very hard to catch that moment between the stimulus and the response, the emotion and the reaction, especially (at least for me, with anger and irritation). It is possible but one must be in a state of calm to make it easier to do this. Meditation helps. Pema Chodron says if we can do this, we can communicate with love and compassion rather than negative emotions. I wonder also about whether one is being mindful when sad. I feel this frequently, more mindful than perhaps when happy, but the great masters talk of the joy they feel. Which makes me feel like I am a very unmindful person. Judging…

    • Once the state of irritation and frustration is there, I feel helpless. Only, I can not shout at people and say, please help me there is an overload. Gordon Ramsay in the kitchen when things go wrong, and the smoke alarm goes off and people walk in the way. “OVERLOAD”
      If I would be alone, and nobody would add to ask questions even politely, I would handle it. I can just not ignore their presence and asking questions while overload is there. Overload is overload, and everything on top of that makes it worse.
      If any overload happens in different situations, one can walk away in order to calm down. But when at the same time something needs to be done to the oven, the fire alarm, the children, somebody walking around when I’m there with a smoking 200 degrees hot thing in my hand …
      you cannot just drop it and walk out. So, I have to learn to handle overload. It’s not anger, it is overload.
      Equally, I’m very unmindful.
      There is light: I see what is happening, but there is nothing I can do about it (yet?)

      • Exactly. I see what is happening but can do nothing to stop except those few times (very few) I can stop– but it is very difficult. Overload is a real challenge and I overload easily. Which is very unmindful.
        But you have many happy mindful moments you have written about so I think you mindful. The answer, I think according to Pema Chodron, who claims to have very noisy meditations, is meditation.
        P.S. A beautiful photograph!! You have leaves! Not here yet.

  7. Perceptions are always so interesting to me! I’ve always considered mindfulness to be attentiveness to the magic all around me. The other stuff is either someone else’s or my own delusions blown up out of proportion to my ability to manage them. Then it’s back to the awareness of the magic of the moment – the miracle of life, itself.
    Thanks for the post – and the beautiful image!

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