In 2007 I travelled to Phoenicia, NY to attend a mindfulness workshop with professor and author Jon Kabat-Zinn. For almost ten years now, I have continued to “struggle” with the practice of it. Mindfulness is a difficult word to wrap your head around, and I catch myself bouncing back and forth between being mindful and mindless many times throughout the day
As Jon Kabat-Zinn defines it, “mindfulness is not about sitting in lotus position, but more of living your life like it actually mattered.” One of the popular ways to become more mindful is to develop a meditation practice (lotus position not required), which can help wake us up from the unconscious, robotic, task completing automation many of us feel we are stuck in.
In Tibet, the word for meditation is “familiarization.” It means to cultivate intimacy with yourself.
“Your true nature — your inner nature — is what’s in there — god, love, peace, truth, kindness — there are questions of who we really are! But we think we is me. Each of us just wanting to sit in our own bubble.”
– Krishna Das
My own mindfulness often loses out to mindlessness when I’m driving. I find myself driving in my own little bubble, while traffic, other drivers, and my impatience lead me to feel as if I may just “pop.” It is difficult for me to “cultivate” any sort of intimacy with myself while driving.
In order to get my mind off the actual task of just driving, I have been listening to a series of lectures by musician and writer Krishna Das (though I realize this isn’t really being mindful). I immersed myself in his numerous lectures on Spotify about meditation, mindfulness, and chanting in hopes of better understanding the concepts of mindfulness for my busy mind as, almost 10 years after starting the practice, mindlessness still often had the upper hand over mindfulness.
“If something upsets me during the day, or if the day isn’t going the way I imagined it would go, I just need to close my eyes and breathe. I realize that there are so many more beautiful experiences in life than negative experiences in life if you really just allow yourself to experience them. When you do that enough times, you actually just start learning how to BE love, and that begins to permeate within yourself.”
– Paul Chek
5 Steps to Cultivating Mindfulness
You may not associate willpower with mindfulness and meditation. It sounds aggressive, doesn’t it? What happened to flowing with life?
Krishna Das believes that willpower “in its simplest form is doing what you really want to do. To do that… you have to DO. Willpower lets you to get involved in things to go after those things you really want in your life.”
As renowned meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg says, “the most important part of the meditation practice is sitting down to do it.” That is why you need to have some level of willpower. You need to actually do it. You need to actually practice it. If you don’t have the willpower inside of you to practice it, then you are just someone talking about it, and talking about something isn’t cultivating it.
- Plant the Seeds
You could read all the books about mindfulness and meditation you want (or listen to all the lectures on Spotify or Audible about it), but all of that just keeps the mind busy. You need to train it, and you do so by planting the seeds.
Planting seeds can take only five minutes a day. Turn your phone off, put it in another room, and sit (or lie) for 5 minutes every day. There is nothing else to do. Just that. Just witness your breath. When you find yourself thinking about other stuff, just take it back to your breath. This may happen 5, or 500, or 5,000 times in the 5 minutes, and that is fine.
Krishna Das believes that “by developing a personal practice, sincerely, you begin to plant seeds.” Over time, those seeds begin to grow. In the Bhagavad Gita it says, “Even the slightest bit of effort in the opposite direction than everything else is going — which is usually out through our senses, especially the eyes, and the mind— the slightest bit of effort to turn the attention to within is a really huge thing.”
- Practice: The Process of Ripening
Many people stop practicing because they don’t feel anything different. They assume they will see immediate benefits, like they might when making drastic changes to their diet or when beginning an exercise regime. We want satisfaction quickly these days. We like “Likes.” We want it delivered now. We want drone delivery service. For most people, early on, mindfulness doesn’t offer that same instant gratification.
Krishna Das related it to the idea that if you put some fruit in the sun to ripen, you don’t just leave it there and assume it will ripen after 5 minutes. Through practice, our lives ripen. Our aspirations, our desires, the things we long for in the deepest part of our hearts come toward us.
They come to fruition, you could say.
He concludes, “More importantly, things that tripped us up or prevented us from that success go away. You’re shifting the way you live every day. Practice allows for a daily course correction. What becomes important to you begins to shift in you. You begin to make decisions based on that.”
- Peace of Mind
Krishna Das also writes: “Peace of mind is very important. It’s underrated. We are so busy all the time. We are so anxious to connect — to take us away and out of our bullsh** and into something more exciting or pleasing. To connect with something. We just don’t know how to be at ease with ourselves. Just be. At ease. With ourselves. Peacefully. I mean, I don’t know about you, but it wasn’t something they taught me growing up.
The way the spiritual path is presented in the West is very much like our society is – very goal oriented. I’m going to be the best meditator or have the best downward dog in the world! If you try to do that you may develop the ego of a meditator.”
So what is the 5th step? Well… being!
Siddhartha Gautama (before he became known as the Buddha) stopped his much-disciplined meditation and breathing practices because he felt that he wasn’t where he wanted to be. He then supposedly sat under a tree and while he was sitting there a memory came to him when he was a boy. He was sitting under a tree on a beautiful sunny day and he was watching his father work in a distant field. His body went into a high state of “being” and, as he was recalling that memory in the present, he was overcome by the same feeling from the past. It was a state of natural well-being. A simple, easy, and relaxed state of contentment.
During one of his lectures, Krishna Das describes this “state” like he was reading it directly from a book. Siddhartha says “this feeling did not arrive from the joining of the senses and this pleasurable object, nor was it the pushing away the object with our senses, and it didn’t come up because of a cause. It arose naturally.”
Try your best not to get caught up in having expectations about “how you are cultivating mindfulness” or “what you may see” or “how you may feel.” All of that is just creating a “busy mind.” Keep planting seeds and see what grows naturally from it.
We often are our worst enemy. We trip ourselves up all the time. For some of us, that happens every day. We need to take time to look at those issues and consider why they arise. Cultivating mindfulness can help us become more aware of what triggers these thoughts and gain some distance from them.
After the Buddha had that experience under the tree, he grabbed some food and decided to break his fast. It was at that time that some of his “followers” started to leave him, believing he had lost his mind.
“Love and happiness are not outside of us. It’s who you are and who I am.”
– Krishna Das
Strengthen the willpower.
Plants the seeds.