It took me some time to really figure out what mindfulness is, and for a while I was meditating every day thinking I was practicing mindfulness, and hoping for transformation, but in reality I was just meditating….
In this blog we'll look at why practicing mindfulness with the right attitude is so important and learn how it can really transform a personality from anger and impatience to kindness and compassion.
First we need to look at why meditating alone was not going to transform me!
When we talk about mindfulness, we often talk about meditation, awareness and being present…but none of these on their own are mindfulness. They are all important practices, but without the right attitude and intention, you’re really just paying attention.
You can be fully aware, but still judgemental.
You can be present but still unkind.
& you can meditate and feel frustrated. (I’m sure we can all relate to some of these!)
Awareness is often described as switching on the light in a dark room and seeing what’s around you…but if you see how messy the room is and then feel angry by shouting and cursing…you’re not being very mindful at all.
One model of mindfulness which has really helped transform my practice and my life is the I.A.A model from the wonderful Dr Shauna Shapiro, who has taught me so much about mindfulness & self compassion. The three components of this simple model are:
This means knowing why you are practicing. Setting an intention sets the compass of your heart. It’s not about achieving a certain goal or getting to a destination but about the direction of your journey. It could be as simple as “to be free from suffering” or “to be more present”. An intention gives you your reason and motivation to practice in the first place, and to continue to practice moment to moment.
Present moment awareness is at the core of mindfulness. Our mind wanders 47% of the time – that’s a lot of our life our mind spends in different times and places entirely, missing so much of what is going on around us moment to moment. Attention is learning how to show up and attend in the present moment – this doesn’t mean blocking out our thoughts, but changing our relationship to them to notice them as an observer, instead of simply believing them. But as we illustrated earlier, without the right attitude; awareness is just awareness.
Our attitude is fundamental in mindfulness – and is often overlooked or not fully understood to be such an important part of practice.
There is a solid scientific explanation for why attitude is so important.
In the past, science believed that once the brain had matured, its structure couldn’t change – and therefore reshaping our personalities, our thoughts and our habits was impossible. However, it is now widely accepted that the brain’s structure and wiring is not fixed and that you can ’rewire’ the brain by practicing certain thoughts and thought patterns. This is called neuroplasticity and it is helpful to understand this concept when practicing mindfulness because it means that “neurons that fire together wire together”, or in layman’s terms, “what you practice grows stronger”.
Just like the example above of switching on a light in a dark room and feeling angry at what you see; if you continually react with anger, the wiring of your brain will reflect this and you will become an angrier person. Likewise, if when you meditate you meet your thoughts with frustration, you will become a more frustrated person. And when observing your thoughts, if you judge yourself for thinking this way or that; you will continue to be judgemental.
The right attitudes of mindfulness are kindness, non-judgement and compassion. It wasn’t until I really started checking my attitude that my mindfulness practice really started, and as I continued to practice with the right attitude, I noticed I was becoming a kinder, less judgemental and more compassionate person. This has really transformed my relationship to myself, to others and to the world around me.
Meditation is really a practice for life, so this is a safe place to start practicing these attitudes and strengthening these neural connections. Then you will find these attitudes will start spreading into all areas of your life as your brain re-wires and you become kinder, more patient and less reactive.
How do we practice right attitude in meditation?
We need to decide to change the way we speak to ourselves in our head. Decide you will speak to yourself in the way you would speak to a young child; be soft and kind, forgiving and playful. There’s no need to be so serious – getting the giggles from time to time is to be expected!
When you are practicing and your mind wanders off – instead of being frustrated or annoyed with internal talk like “for f*!cks sake! You’re meant to be meditating!!!” try something like this:
“hey Claire, we’re practicing now silly billy. Come on, let’s get back to the breath”
“oopsie, there’s that thought I keep getting, isn’t that interesting but I’m focusing on the breath now – see you later, thought!”
It’s likely going to feel strange, silly and uncomfortable at first…you might cringe or laugh at yourself…and that is because we are so used to speaking in such a negative way inside our heads. & since you are learning a new skill, there will be times you forget…but when you notice you are getting frustrated, see if you can meet this with kindness and lightness too:
“oopsie, I got frustrated! That’s ok, because I’m learning. I’m going to soften and be kind."
As long as your ‘intention’ motivates you to pay ‘attention’, you will be presented with opportunities to practice right attitude over and over again.
The more you practice with right attitude, the more these attitudes will start spreading in your life, it will become more and more natural as kindness and compassion flows freely from you with less and less effort.