Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programme, has identified nine aspects as the core of mindfulness practice. By practicing these qualities and cultivating them within us, they can help us to live a more mindful and alert life, a life in the “here and now” and with all that comes with it: the ups and the downs and the in-between.
The beginner’s mind
The beginner’s mind or the explorer’s mind perceives everything as if it were for the first time: getting up, taking a shower, eating breakfast, greeting the partner, seeing the sun, decorating the Christmas tree. This attitude to life carries with it a unique kind of magic that acknowledges that every moment is indeed completely new and fresh, that it has never existed before and never will exist again. Now, just at that moment, the fullness of life unfolds before us, and this allows us to break out of the autopilot, of old thinking patterns and boredom. With a beginner’s mind, there are countless possibilities open to us, and wonder and curiosity become the gateway to this present life. When we welcome every moment as fresh and new, we open our hearts to the miracle of “life”, to the extraordinary in everyday life.
Being amazed and curious
If we are wide awake at each and every moment and if we are curious about what is coming, then we step away from expectations and desires and can live our lives like an explorer discovering foreign lands. Thus, the daily sports programme becomes a real and therefore unique experience of our body and our attitude towards the latter. The evening meal with the family becomes a very special get-together of different personalities and their current moods. If we allow ourselves to be open and curious and to drop our own agenda and our idea of how things should be, the pure life – in its fullness and as it is – unfolds before our eyes. Like a little child, we can open our eyes and be curious about this big world and our life, as every moment is exciting and unique.
Our everyday life makes it difficult for us
This attitude to life requires being awake and aware. In fact, it is really difficult to apply this, and it requires practice and a clear intention.
For example, if my son has been grabbing the same book to read before going to sleep for weeks, and his sister is moaning “Not this story again!”, then she is only saying out loud what my mind is thinking. If my children are arguing who gets their teeth brushed first – even though the cause of the dispute is actually a pleasant one – then my thoughts revolve around “Not again … Every evening the same fighting. I can’t bear it anymore.” When the washing machine is beeping for the third time today and is waiting to be emptied, I am at first annoyed by the renewed interruption of my activity. Doing the laundry again, how boring.
Our everyday life has in the word itself how it usually feels: every day is the same.
The power of mindfulness practice
When we consciously choose to look at the moment with a beginner’s mind, without waiting for the desired or expected result to come true, we can cultivate an inner curiosity, calm our judgmental mind, and experience the day with more joy. An open attitude, which, of course, also perceives states of mind such as boredom, annoyance and impatience, allows us to stay in the present moment and perhaps be surprised. Only in this way can I perceive with what enthusiasm and daily deeper understanding my son absorbs the bedtime story, and enjoy myself being there with him. Only in this way can I demonstrate the children with patience and understanding how to resolve a conflict (Who is “first” today? Why is it not important to be “first”?). To show them how to resolve a conflict peacefully and hopefully they will soon do it on their own. Only then can I make the conscious decision to use the laundry as a mindfulness exercise for coming back to the senses (What does the texture feel like? Which colours and shapes do I see? What does it smell like? What sounds do the clothespins actually make?).
It’s not easy to train the beginner’s mind, but it’s always worth remembering and trying it out. Then maybe the day and the moments will be different than originally thought. In addition, a day full of curiosity and openness contributes to feeling not so exhausted at the end of the day and frustrated by everyday – supposedly meaningless – tasks, but feeling awake and inspired by the abundance of this life.