Mindfulness Primer: Introduction
There’s a subtle but significant distinction between “accepting what is” and “driving change”. How that distinction plays out in your life determines the degree of fulfillment you experience. The winningest proposition, however, is to drive change from a position of full acceptance of what is.
It’s a paradoxical approach, and one that transcends logic. As such, it is a path that eludes most people. But when you are in that zone, or when you see someone who is in that zone, you recognize it in a way that surpasses conventional understanding. It’s the ultimate “x” factor that’s hard to miss and even harder to ignore.
To root yourself in this powerful approach, you need only master one skill: mindfulness.
For the next 5 days, we will explore the fundamental aspects of this widely talked about but greatly misunderstood method of empowerment.
Mindfulness Primer: Awareness
So the question is: How do I “accept what is” AND “drive change”? Answer: Mindfulness. This series of posts is designed to introduce the key concepts to this paradoxical approach to empowerment. Today’s topic: Awareness.
Throughout our lives, we have exhausted much time, energy, and resources driving change in our lives. Even if our efforts towards positive change are successful, our experience of fulfillment from that “win” is rarely enduring. Instead, something else typically stands revealed as an area for improvement.
From this platform of unrest, the idea of accepting a “less than ideal” situation seems, well, unacceptable. After all, if we don’t take steps to change what we are unhappy about, how will we ever be happy? One glaring fault in this logic is that life is in a constant state of change without us ever doing anything. Another is that the same situation that was once viewed as a source of happiness can be the very same situation that later on is viewed as a source of frustration.
Yet despite these points of fact, the idea of accepting an uncomfortable situation challenges us at a primal level. If we fail to negotiate that automatic response, we are bound to spend our lives chasing, and never finding, enduring fulfillment. That’s where mindfulness comes in.
At the core of mindfulness is presence awareness, so it only makes sense to start there. One point that rarely gets mentioned in discussions of presence is that presence is always the case: it is only our awareness of presence that shifts. In this way, presence is our natural state of being, and maintaining a point of awareness on presence is the skill we must cultivate on our journey to mindfulness.
How do we do that? The most immediate path I have found is rooted in the mundane activities of everyday life. The innocuous activities that fill our day such as cleaning, dishes, laundry, washing your hands, walking up a flight of stairs, or any other sort of highly automatic activity, are ripe with the opportunity to flex and strengthen presence awareness simply because they do not conceal any “hidden agenda”. In this way, we can more easily let down our guard and open to learning what these activities have to teach us about fulfillment.
In other words, even if we do not like doing the dishes, we can recognize that the activity itelf is neutral and that our dislike of the activity has nothing to do with the activity itself but is entirely derived from our own preconceived biases. This recognition allows us the opportunity to set our biases aside for a time and fully accept that there is an activity of doing the dishes.
Ready to give it a shot? While engaging in the mundane activities of your everyday life, maintain a point of awareness a half-step “back” from the activity. A more tangible way of achieving that is by maintaining a point of awareness on your breath while you are doing whatever mundane task is in front of you to do.
Next, slow the activity down, and watch each small movement you make in performing that activity while maintaining a point of awareness on your breath. Don’t be surprised if a smile paints itself upon your face. Another time, try mentally “stepping backwards” through the entire chain of events that had to take place in order for you to be there doing the activity, all while maintaining a point of awareness on your breath. Notice the miracle of it all, as well as the absurdity.
Eventually you may arrive at a point where it seems that you are merely an observer watching the activity “do” itself. It is a humbling and empowering state of awareness.
Engaging in our lives in this way is hardly practical, but it’s not something that we need to do all the time. Much like exercising, presence awareness is like a muscle we can strengthen over time. Initially it helps us learn by practicing it in dedicated blocks of time, but as we get more adept at the art of awareness, we can more expertly integrate it in micro doses throughout our day (more on that in a couple of days).
Tomorrow, we will look at the aspect of “accepting what is” on our journey to mindfulness.
Mindfulness Primer: Acceptance
So the question is: How do I “accept what is” AND “drive change”? Answer: Mindfulness. This series of posts is designed to introduce the key concepts to this paradoxical approach to empowerment. Today’s topic: Acceptance.
As mentioned previously, accepting “what is” can be difficult when we are faced with a challenging or uncomfortable situation. This difficulty is compounded when the situation involves another person as opposed to innocuous activities, so for the purpose of this primer, we are going to maintain focus on acceptance in regard to our activities.
Many activities in our everyday life can carry a sense of burden or hardship. This arises in part because our sense of autonomy is threatened when faced with a “have to” as opposed to a “want to”. That threat interferes with our capacity to experience fulfillment.
When we embody a state of acceptance, we transform situations from a threat to an ally. So how do we do that?
Years ago as I was first trying to swap out my conditioned patterns of resistance with open acceptance, I developed a whole arsenal of tools for aligning with seemingly oppressive situations. I needed a lot of tools at that time, and not every tool worked in every situation. Below I cover the top three strategies I used when I was first learning the art of acceptance.
One simple but powerful tool was simply changing the wording I used: instead of saying “I have to . . . (do the dishes, for example)”, I started saying “I Get to . . . “ That simple switch would change my whole energy. I would open to the situation, align with it, and learn from it. This simple swap was all that was needed to peak my sense of adventure and curiosity, even if all I was doing was the dishes. I know it may sound a bit ridiculous: it still leaves me in disbelief. But every time I engage this tool, I am always surprised that it still holds true as a path to alignment.
Gratitude was another original go-to tactic of mine. When I would become aware of resistance towards a situation, I would course correct by saying something like: “I’m so grateful for this obstacle for showing me more deeply to myself.” Just saying that would help me to relax and align with the situation.
Another powerful tool was surrender. Conceptually, surrender gives the impression of defeat or weakness, but I assure you there is no greater tactic for empowerment than surrendering fully to whatever it is that needs done. I recall one experience where I was cleaning my kitchen, and as I sensed resistance towards the activity, I had the insight to give myself over to it completely.
Part way through I recall feeling a sense of deep sacredness regarding the activity. By the end, it was as if I had cleansed my soul in the process of cleaning my kitchen. I was glowing, and filled with such an incredible sense of aliveness. Irrational: yes. But the lessons that unfolded throughout the rest of that day put it all in a context that actually makes a lot of sense.
You see, the intention I had practiced while cleaning carried over into every other activity. I was responsive and compassionate, and I could see that the intense quality I had brought to cleaning set the stage for intense quality interactions in all areas of my life. I saw how when there is intense quality in this moment, each moment will be one of intense quality, and the resulting life situation can only be one of intense quality and fulfillment.
Acceptance can be easier when we understand that the subtle empowerment woven into acceptance has little to do with the “thing” you are accepting and everything to do with that moment of shifting away from what you are doing and on to how you are doing what you are doing. That shift is the key to enduring fulfillment which develops as we strengthen and lengthen those experiences of acceptance and presence awareness. In this way, what we are ultimately accepting is not the obstacle before us, but our own sacredness.
Tomorrow, we will integrate mindfulness in micro doses throughout our day.
Mindfulness Primer: EDL Meditation
So the question is: How do I “accept what is” AND “drive change”? Answer: Mindfulness. This series of posts is designed to introduce the key concepts to this paradoxical approach to empowerment. Today’s topic: EDL Meditation.
Previously in this mindfulness primer, I shared insights on how to begin cultivating presence awareness. Then we explored accepting “what is”. Today, we are going to combine them into a mindfulness activity I call “Everyday Life Meditation” (or “EDL Meditation” for short).
Basically, EDL Meditation uses everyday habits and happenings as triggers for mindfulness. The crux of these micro-meditations is simply this: spontaneously notice one breath consciously many times throughout our day. To help us do that, we will use the situations, experiences, and mundane activities in everyday life as cues to awaken from a conditioned habit of complete identification with thought and activity.
We begin by identifying a cue, and when we become aware of that activity (before, during, or after), our only task is to notice one breath consciously. The key here is to select something that you do at least half a dozen times a day so that you integrate awareness, acceptance, and the breath regularly over the course of a day. This strengthens our awareness muscle, and makes us far more likely to respond rather than react when something goes awry.
The structure of EDL Meditation is simple: “Every time you become aware of ( ), notice one breath consciously.” Fill in the blank with anything that stands out to you as an effective cue. Below is a short list to get you started.
You will notice that many of these cues are rooted in resistance. Rather than resist “what is”, we use EDL Meditation to accept and align with “what is” by becoming aware of resistance and noticing one breath consciously. In this way, resistance becomes our ally on our journey to mindfulness, and EDL Meditation is the vehicle that takes us there. So let’s get started!
“Every time you become aware of ( ), notice one breath consciously.”
- Feeling burdened
- Checking the time
- Walking through a doorway
- Striving towards a goal
- Feeling disappointed
- Thinking something you’ve thought before
- Wishing you were doing something else
- Looking in the mirror
- Feeling afraid
- Entering an intersection
- Opening the refrigerator
- Checking email
- Questioning why
With EDL Meditation, we weave presence awareness and acceptance throughout our day. This helps us be more creative, inspired, and response-able, promoting greater experiences of peace, joy, and fulfilment.
Tomorrow we will briefly survey the aspect of integrity, and how we can use it to clearly identify intentions that are aligned with our fullest possible expression of ourselves.
Mindfulness Primer: Integrity
So the question is: How do I “accept what is” AND “drive change”? Answer: Mindfulness. This series of posts is designed to introduce the key concepts to this paradoxical approach to empowerment. Today’s topic: Integrity.
To effectively drive change from a space of acceptance, we need to first clearly identify an overarching intention for our lives. However if we haven’t first resolved conflicts within our thoughts, speech, feelings, and actions, we will be hard pressed to identify an apt intention. Choosing an intention without resolving inner conflicts is like shooting an arrow at a moving target: we end up either consistently missing the mark, or hitting marks devoid of enduring fulfillment.
That critical alignment of thoughts, speech, feelings, and actions is more commonly referred to as integrity, and is an essential aspect of mindfulness.
Integrity and mindfulness have a symbiotic relationship. Mindfulness helps us engage integrity, and integrity helps us root more deeply in mindfulness. Mindfulness enables us to notice any inconsistencies or half-truths between our thoughts, speech, feelings, and actions. Once those inconsistencies are identified, we are empowered to navigate situations more skillfully with an eye towards alignment.
It’s an iterative process of trial and error which requires much fine tuning. During this process, it is important that we suspend “ideals” of right and wrong, and focus instead on accepting the fullness of the situation. From that space of acceptance, we are able to choose what feels most right for us within the context of each situation. Later, we can then explore the results of the action we took, and discover whether our decision brought us closer to, or farther away from, a sense of alignment with what we think, say, and feel is most important to us.
In other words, mindfulness creates an opportunity for us to ask: Did the decision we made set us up for an experience of expansion or contraction? Then we can ask: Does that expansion or contraction feel like something we want to experience more often? Integrity then becomes the “constant” in the equation of our experience of life, giving us a solid platform from which to step regardless of what the situation contains.
Eventually we learn that what feels most right in a given moment doesn’t always serve our fullest experience of ourselves. Armed with this realization, we are then primed to navigate the conditioned behaviors that arise in our day which, if left unchecked, lead us away from an experience of our fullest possible expression of ourselves.
From the platform of integrity, we discover that the roots of fulfillment transcend momentary gratification. The thought processes that got us to our current plateau will not help us take life to the next level. By challenging our decision making process, we open ourselves to an experience of life that far exceeds anything we could have imagined from our current mindset. It’s a fulfilling experience of perpetual discovery, as opposed to the classic “striving and achieving” that exhausts our resources and amplifies an experience of restless angst.
Tomorrow in part 6 of this mindfulness primer, we will explore how to effectively identify an overarching intention for our lives.
Mindfulness Primer: Intention
So the question is: How do I “accept what is” AND “drive change”? Answer: Mindfulness. This series of posts is designed to introduce the key concepts to this paradoxical approach to empowerment. Today’s topic: Intention.
So far on our journey to mindfulness, we have explored how to integrate presence awareness and acceptance using EDL meditation. We also took a first look at the importance of foundational integrity. Today we continue our discussion of integrity as it applies to the process of identifing an overarching intention for our lives.
We can think of an intention as a sort of “mission statement” through which we filter decisions both significant and mundane. Intention empowers us to choose most skillfully, especially in those moments where we are unclear about what to do next.
Intention is an extension of integrity, which is why it was important to address integrity first. Once our thoughts, speech, feelings, and actions are in alignment, we are then primed to identify an overarching intention for our lives that aligns with our values and informs the choices we make.
While there are no real “right or wrong” answers when it comes to setting an intention, there are some key indicators signaling that you have identified one that will help you take life to the next level. For the purpose of this primer, I’ve identified four of the top indicators to help you in the process of selecting an apt intention.
First, an overarching intention sets us up for an experience of success at every turn. As such, it should be founded in discovery versus achievement. In this way, the only factor which decides success or failure are our own feelings about the result. Because it is an intrinsic measure, it is something we have significant capacity to effect.
For instance, my current intention for my life is “to fully explore, experience, and express creativity and insight.” Only I can decide whether or not my decisions are supportive of that intention. If I’m not living up to that intention, and I’m not enjoying that experience of not living up to that intention, then I am empowered to change either the intention or my behavior.
Next, An overarching intention for our lives helps us make choices when we are unclear about what choice to make. It helps us move past uncertainty and arrive at a decision that aligns with our integrity. Knowing there is no “right or wrong” choice, we rely on our integrity to inform us on what feels most right in that moment. If we do not end up happy with the results, that is an indicator that perhaps there are still some conflicts that need resolved amidst our thoughts, speech, feelings, and actions, or that our intention is not aptly aligned with our values. In this way, even a “less than ideal” outcome holds the capacity for refinement and enrichment.
Also, an overarching intention brushes the dust off the lens through which we see our lives. Everyday situations come alive when approached mindfully. Regardless of how many times we have performed a task, there is always something to learn. Usually we think of adventure as doing something new, but I have found equal if not more adventure in simply doing something old in a new way. An apt intention engages curiosity in every situation, and helps us look for what is different about this time than other times.
Lastly for now, an overarching intention for our lives opens up new possibilities, partly because we are not intent on needing one specific outcome, but also because it quiets fear and helps us step in the direction of discovery. Even if we fail to reach a specific goal, we will discover something new about ourselves and the world simply by stepping in the direction of that goal in spite of fear or uncertainty.
In tomorrow’s final installment, we will take a succinct look at how presence awareness, acceptance, EDL Meditation, integrity, and intention all fit together within the framework of mindfulness to provide us with a powerful, though paradoxical, path to empowerment.
Mindfulness Primer: Conclusion
Mindfulness is a paradoxical and powerful path to an experience of enduring fulfillment. Mindfulness answers the question: How do I “accept what is” and “drive change”? Today we conclude our 7-part series on mindfulness.
We covered a tremendous amount of material in these past seven days. Let’s start with a quick recap:
- We began our exploration of mindfulness by noting that presence is always the case, and that mindfulness is a trustworthy vehicle allowing us to shift a point of awareness away from our worldly experience and onto an experience of unwavering presence in which experience unfolds.
- Through presence awareness practices, we began learning how to maintain a point of awareness a half-step “back” from the mundane activities in our everyday life. Throughout this primer, we used our breath as a tangible point of reference enabling us to achieve that.
- Next, I shared three simple ways we can accept “what is” when faced with an experience of resistance or oppression. Through word choice, gratitude, and surrender, resistance becomes our cue to engage presence awareness and shift out of a closed mindset, enabling us to transform situations from a threat to an ally.
- EDL Meditation is a great way to cultivate our capacity to stay rooted in presence awareness while accepting “what is”. Weaving these “micro-meditations” throughout our day helps us to stay rooted in presence awareness and acceptance. From this platform, when unexpected and otherwise “unacceptable” events occur, we are able to respond from a space of curiosity and discovery rather than react from limiting conditioned behaviors.
- The next stop on our journey took us to a discussion of integrity, and we shined a mindful light on the importance of ensuring our thoughts, speech, feelings, and actions are in alignment. Identifying and resolving inconsistencies within our thoughts and behaviors empowers us to navigate situations more skillfully. Ultimately, integrity provides us with a solid platform for us to identify an overarching intention for our lives that aligns with our values.
- Having successfully adapted our thought processes to better fit our current life situation, we finally arrive at an opportunity ripe for discovering an overarching intention for our lives. An apt intention will be one that opens us for discovery, and allows us to experience the fulfillment woven throughout every step of our journey. Now we can effectively drive change.
Accepting “what is” doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about an uncomfortable situation: it actually empowers us to respond to resistance with greater effectiveness. From a place of mindfulness, whatever we ultimately end up doing will be in alignment with our values and our intention.
In this way, change is no longer a futile reaction to unhappiness. Instead, change arises in response to accepting unhappiness and discovering where the true opportunity for change resides. From a platform of full acceptance, we drive change not because we are striving for an experience that seemingly eludes us, but simply because that change amplifies our experience of the fullest possible expression of ourselves.
Though this primer aptly touches on the core structure, there is a lot more to be shared on the topic of mindfulness. Keep in mind that while it only took 7 days to introduce these elements of mindfulness, full integration can take years. In my case it took me about 5 years to fully develop and integrate these processes, and arrive at a stable plateau of enduring fulfillment. One reason it likely took that long was that I didn’t have anyone spelling out the process for me, or supporting or guiding me as I took those steps. There was a tremendous depth of learning that occurred as a result of learning on my own, but if somehow my education can now help to fast track your own journey to mindfulness, I am more than happy to help.
If there’s something that you would like more explanation about, or if you feel I may have left out, please email me. It would be helpful to know how I can make this guide more useful.