About Learning Mindfulness
The training of mindfulness is training to live in ‘what is’. Often we don’t want our lives ‘as is’, because invariably there are some parts of our lives that cause us emotional pain. So we ‘close our eyes’ to much of our life experience, and over time we become accustomed to a constrained life, confined to experiencing only a small part of ourselves.
Jack Kornfield has identified 4 areas as the foundation of mindfulness:
- Awareness of body and senses
- Awareness of heart and emotions
- Awareness of mind and thoughts
- Awareness of the principles that govern life
In Kara’s mindfulness courses, we experience mindfulness of the body through the body scan, mindful movement (yoga), and walking meditation. We experience mindfulness of our senses through listening meditation, mindful eating, sitting in the paddocks, being with the llamas, and being guided to notice more of what comes in through our senses.
We experience mindfulness of heart and emotions as we explore how our minds interpret and react to our experience. Kara has been training in Compassionate Communication (aka Nonviolent Communication) for 5 years, and brings these practices into cultivating awareness of how our emotions point to the life within our hearts. A heightened awareness of your heart and emotions is a pathway to greater self-compassion and compassionate connection with others.
As we practice mindfulness each day, we can begin to notice patterns in our thinking, and how our thoughts affect our emotions and our body sensations. We can begin to see the possibility of not being consumed or controlled by our thoughts. In Kara’s mindfulness courses, Kara addresses the neuro-physiology of the brain and its stress response, and the human mind’s tendency to be like “Teflon for the positive and Velcro for the negative” (Rick Hanson). Mindful awareness of such thinking patterns helps us to meet them with compassion and wisdom.
With daily practice in mindfulness meditation, we are training our brains to be increasingly able to bring awareness to the present moment, and we are then able to notice more of the thinking going on in our mind. We can be doing something, like washing the dishes, and suddenly notice that we have been lost in thought for the past 10 minutes of dish washing. In that moment we have woken up – we notice how we are in this new moment.
Increasingly, with practice, you contact a moment of choice – the choice to let go of a thought, or perhaps to investigate a thought with more space and clarity than if you were just ‘lost’ in your thinking. A lot of our thinking only brings us tension, anxiety, and discontent, and as you begin to see these thoughts, you can let them go. Other thoughts come back again and again and may be worth looking into; Kara teaches techniques for investigating thoughts with skill, kindness, openness, and compassion.
Learning about the principles that govern life, is coming to see through your mindful experience, that we always respond to our experiences (what we do, what we think, what we feel) in one of three ways:
- we want more (grasping);
- we want it to stop/push it away (aversion);
- we space out/pretend it isn’t so (delusion).
When we are lost in these reactions, we usually suffer. By getting to know this inner landscape, we can recognise what’s happening, offer ourselves compassion around this very ordinary human behaviour, accept it for what it is, and thus lessen its grip on us. The stories that come with these reactions often exacerbate our stress and get in the way of us seeing our life as it is.
There is a misconception that learning mindfulness is learning how to empty the mind of thoughts in order to be peaceful and relaxed. This is not what mindfulness practice is about. Mindfulness practice is about learning to remember to wake up to what is going on, and learning to meet whatever is there in each moment with increasing wisdom and compassion.
Anne Ihen and Carolyn Flynn ‘Mindfulness. A contemplative approach to living in the moment.’ (2008)
Jack Cornfield ‘A Path with Heart‘ (1993)
Rick Hanson http://www.rickhanson.net/