Sunday, July 3, 2011

THE POWER OF PRACTICAL MINDFULNESS

What good is mindfulness if it doesn’t make any difference in one’s practical living? In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous it is written, ‘The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it.’ Yes, one day at a time.

Here are 10 'commandments' for making mindfulness a practical reality in one’s daily life:

1. Live one day at a time ... and one moment at a time. Most of our problems arise because we try to do more than that. All religions and spiritual philosophies teach the importance of living one day at a time ... indeed, one moment at a time. It is the only sensible way to live. Remember, at this very moment you are creating your tomorrow.

2. Do one thing at a time ... and forget about ‘multitasking’. Follow the advice of Saint Paul who said, ‘This one thing I do’ (Phil 3:13 [KJV]). Zen says the same thing. When you’re washing the dishes, just wash the dishes. Do nothing else. Think of nothing else. Just wash the dishes. Ditto when you’re eating, walking, etc. It’s that simple! Now, take a look at the picture of the woman (pictured immediately below). With her multiple arms and hands she looks like a modern day Ganesha! Pitiful! Just like so many of us. Despite what you may have been told, the brain can only ‘thinkone thought at any given moment in time, and can only handle one cognitive function at a time. So-calledmultitasking’ is nothing other than ‘switch-tasking’, that is, toggling between one task and another ... each time with a startup cost. Multitasking makes us feel efficient but actually slows down our thinking, erodes our attention, and makes us more stressed out, depressed and less able to connect with others.


3. Be ever mindful of your thoughts and feelings. Note, especially, any negative thoughts or feelings of anger, hostility or resentment. Don’t identify with those thoughts and feelings. See them for what they really are – a passing stream which you merely observe ... and observation itself is an instrument of change. Don't judge or condemn yourself for the presence of any such thoughts or feelings. Simply note what is going on, and gain insight into what is happening in, and as, you. Do not mechanically go along with negative thoughts and feelings that arise. Impersonalize those thoughts and feelings ('There is anger,' as opposed to 'I am angry.') By bringing misery and anguish up to full awareness, you destroy their supposed 'power' over you ... for awareness brings understanding.

4. Practise being relaxed throughout the day. Take a few seconds every few minutes to be inwardly still. Mindfully note any tension which may have developed in your mind or body. Let that tension flow away. Imagine it passing down through your body, through your feet, and right into the ground or floor. Sprinkle one-minute periods of calm and quiet throughout your day ... and prefer quietness and silence to noise! Inhale and exhale three long, deep breaths at regular intervals throughout the day. Relax the mind by imagination and creative visualization. Mentally ‘take a trip’ ... but not when, say, you are driving a motor vehicle or operating heavy machinery!


5. Practise emptying the mind at regular intervals throughout the day. Simply let go of all negative thoughts and feelings. Say to yourself, ‘I am now emptying my mind of all anxiety [or fear/anger/resentment, etc].’ Drain the mind of all impure thinking, and do not carry the day into the night. Do not identify with anything. You will cease to suffer when you refuse to identify with anything negative. Remember this – insight and understanding, combined with a sincere desire for positive change, destroy painful negatives.

6. Meditate for at least 15 minutes at least once during the day. (I find first thing in the morning and later in the evening best for me, but do what works best for you. As the Buddha said when explaining to the Kalama tribespeople what was his authority, ‘Let experience be your guru. If what I say accords with that, accept it, if not, discard it.’)

7. Accept the inevitable. Shit happens. Life is hard, and often unfair. Certain inevitabilities occur in human experience, and those who overcome adversity have generally learned how to get along with the inevitable.

8. Choose to be happy. Yes, happiness, which is formless, is a choice. As my mentor Dr Norman Vincent Peale often said, we are all in the ‘manufacturing’ business, that is, we manufacture either our own happiness or our own unhappiness by the thoughts we habitually think ... regardless of what happens to us! And never forget this spiritual truth – it is impossible to be unhappy in the present moment, for all unhappiness is rooted in either the past (in the form of memories) or the future (in the form of anticipations and fears). In the words of Alan Watts, 'all ego-centric action has an eye to the past or the future'. If you live completely in the present moment, 'letting the past and the future drop out of mind', the ego will drop away with them. Hence, mindfulness is the way to freedom (that is, happiness).


9. Get your mind off yourself. Many of our problems ‘die from neglect’ when we focus on others rather than ourselves. Self-centredness, self-obsession, self-absorption – so many maladies of mind and body result from these things! Learn from the Buddha. There is no ‘self’, so why give this damn imaginary thing so much power over the person you are? Get outside your self. Get out of your own way ... for your own good. In the words of Vernon Howard, 'Life is real only where you are.'

10. Never forget that all things pass. Yes, everything is impermanent, including you. Very few people on their deathbed wish they had spent more time at the office. Life is short. Seize the day!


(This previous post of mine sets out a simple form of mindfulness sitting meditation.)


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