Waiting for spring time

by Berenice Boxler

At the beginning of the year I was in Northern Germany on a retreat. Silence, meditation in sitting, walking and eating and in movement. Imagine a movie apparatus projecting a movie onto a collection of people. There will not be much to recognize, as there are too many forms, colours, movement, sounds. If the same movie is played onto a white wall, then you will start to see the content. This is exactly what happens in a retreat: no television or smartphones, no alcohol, no books and no talking – „silence as the real teacher“ (Jake Dartington). External distractions and routines are reduced to a minimum, so that one can see the inner processes (= films) more clearly. Only then can we see the tricks of editing and the art of putting it all together.

On one of the mindful walks, my attention turned to the landscape: grey and muddy, withered branches, well-kept but flowerless gardens, dirty horses in the pasture, everywhere puddles and rotten leaves. The houses were beautiful and you could see that the people here take great care to keep everything in order.

The brain is always working

Nevertheless, I was able to catch the following thought, which appeared again and again: „How beautiful will this look, once everything blooms!“ In my imagination I saw laughing children in summer dresses on the swings, flowering hedges, the pond full of plants and the house “Am Rosengarten” in all its glory.

And again and again I could see the lightning-fast functioning of the brain: external impressions (here: seeing) –> judging –> imagination and ideas: „what if …“ or „I think it would be more beautiful like this…“. Everything, but not the non-judgmental perception of the present moment: Right now it is so.

Life is happening now

But the practice of mindfulness does not consist in judging and criticizing these trains of thought. It‘s about recognizing how we humans function.

Realizing that we want to change things and situations that we do not like – even if only in our imagination. Realizing that we judge everything and everywhere. Realizing that we are nearly always working towards a goal, waiting for something (spring for example). Realizing that this moment in its supposedly imperfection is life. Realizing that there are so many beautiful and exciting things to experience right now: the beautiful eyes of the horses, the clear air, the voice of the body (cold!), the connection with other people, nature in all its wet green and brown colouring.

Right now it is like this, and there is nothing missing. With this realization, we can stop waiting, and live our lives, just as it unfolds.

Non-judging: one of the 9 qualities of mindfulness

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 in-between.

These qualities can be applied to all circumstances of everyday human life. There is no goal, no endpoint. It is not about learning these nine aspects, ticking them off a list and then living a happy life forever. This is not possible, because the nature of our brains and lives is such that we can grow, learn, fall down, and start anew each day. Every moment is new, every situation is different, and the point is to just take that one present moment as it is – with an open heart and a loving and attentive view. These nine aspects can be a valuable hold for a life in mindfulness.

1st aspect: non-judgment

Mindfulness is the „awareness that comes from being intentionally attentive to the experience unfolding in each moment, without judging it.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

Without judgment – this means that we should not immediately evaluate everything in and around us, put it in drawers or categorize it into „good”, “bad”, etc.

Only with an open attitude and without any prejudice is it possible to really perceive what is present in our lives. Each judgment distorts the image by putting a filter over it. That sounds understandable and simple: Without a filter, the image is pure and genuine, just as it is.

But we constantly evaluate: „This is really uncomfortable outside with the wind and the drizzle!” or “What is this noise outside? I can’t focus on my work!”, and so on. Our brain is judging always and everywhere, it criticizes, praises and evaluates. This is normal, this is how our brain works. In ancient times this judging and evaluating brain helped us survive in a constantly dangerous and unsecure world. Judging everything simply means that we are human and have a human brain.

Mindfulness does not ask us to stop this judgment, because this would simply not be possible. Mindfulness, however, teaches us to notice our constant tendency to judge and then consciously free ourselves from it. This creates a choice as to whether we want to believe our inner – judging – voice or recognize: “This is a thought. This is judging.” The more we practice non-judgment, the more open and free we become of letting things and people be as they actually are; without filter, without category, just the pure being.

Practicing this non-judging can be an extremely rewarding and exciting activity. We will probably switch into automatic pilot again and again, forgetting this higher level of awareness that allows us to observe ourselves think. However, with some practice – and a lot of patience and gentleness when we wander off again – we may catch ourselves more and more in our daily judging of people and situations. This can be a very liberating and enlightening process which will bring us a little closer to reality each time, just as it is revealed in front of our eyes: “It is raining and windy outside at this moment.” – “There are loud sounds outside.