The 8 Essential Foundations of Mindfulness
When building a house, the foundation is a crucial element. Without a stable foundation, all your hard work is at risk of cracking and crumbling down around you.
In mindfulness the attitude that you bring to your practice is your necessary foundation. Get this part right and you can build your ability to relax, find mental clarity and abide in inner peace.
These eight foundations will create a strong stable foundation in your mindfulness practice.
In mindfulness practice, aim to develop the attitude of an impartial witness to your experiences. If you spend some time paying attention to the thoughts that dart in and out of your mind all day, you may be surprised to see just how often you pass judgment about things, people and situations.
The mind tries to sort and file everything into neat compartments. I like, I dislike, I want, I am, he is, she is, good, bad and so on.
It does all this quickly and automatically, so flash judgments about all that we encounter become habitual, even automatic. Often, we’re not even aware we’re doing it, but this unyielding flow of judgmental thoughts makes it difficult to find any peace within ourselves.
To experience mindfulness, you need to become aware of the mind’s habit of judging and step back from it.
Suspend judgments, labels and categorizing. What does that mean? It means we simply see our judging thoughts as just that – thoughts. We don’t have to believe them or buy into them and we don’t take them all that seriously.
If a young child finds a cocoon, he may be tempted to try to break it open in his eagerness to see the butterfly emerge.
An adult though, knows not to touch the cocoon. He knows it can’t help the butterfly—and in fact, it will sabotage its transformation.
The adult knows that the wise action is to have patience. To let things unfold in their own way, in their own time. With patience, the butterfly will eventually emerge. Likewise, with patience, your mindfulness practice will improve in time. There is no need to try to force it or rush it; we can simply allow the process of any kind of improvement to unfold.
There is no hurry to get anywhere or achieve anything— there is no goal or finish line ‘out there’ in the future. The goal is to be fully present, in the moment and to be fully engaged in only whatever is presenting itself in the here and now. Any idea of striving for some future goal will only impede your practice.
You may have come to mindfulness practice in the hopes to achieve certain results (like more happiness or health), but let go of these desires during your practice and simply allow this moment and where you’re at to be enough.
3. Beginner’s Mind
Too often we let our thinking and beliefs about what we “know” prevent us from seeing things as they really are. If you’ve ever caught yourself tuning someone out while they were talking because you were already sure you knew better, then you know that attitude. You’re sure you’re right, so you’re really not giving their point of view a chance.
As they speak, instead of paying attention to their words, you’re forming your counter-argument. We’ve all done it, and when we’re doing this we’re not open. We’re rigid and closed-off.
In contrast, a beginner’s mind is open and receptive, willing to experience everything as if it were the first time. It does not try to guess what the other person is going to say or assume it already knows better. It reserves judgment. Try this next time you find yourself wanting to judge what someone is telling you: listen and think, ‘hmmmmm, isn’t that interesting?’
Likewise, when cultivating a beginner’s mind with our own thoughts and experiences, it opens us to beauty and richness of the present moment.
When being mindful, ‘listen’ with an open mind, free of expectations of what you think is supposed to happen. Allow yourself to experience what presents itself as if it were the first time, without expectations of what it should be like.
For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them. ― Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace
Normally, we go through our daily lives and everything has a purpose. We do things to accomplish something, to get something or to go somewhere. This attitude is bred into us from childhood— to do things purposefully and have an outcome—but in practicing mindfulness this attitude can be an obstacle.
Mindfulness is unlike our other activities—it’s the opposite of doing. It’s non-doing. In a way it does take work and energy, but of a different kind.
Mindfulness is simply being. Being with ourselves and being in the moment—with whatever arises. When you take time out to practice mindfulness and make plans like ‘I’m going to get more relaxed now,’ ‘I’m going to manage my pain,’ or ‘I’m going to be a happier because of this, you’re already undermining the practice.
You’ve already set goals and made plans, you’ve already determined what you should be doing or where you should be—which is telling yourself the present moment is not okay.
When you’re practicing mindfulness it’s counter-productive to strive for any result in particular.
See if you can let go of that subtle desire for a better future. Instead, you simply start focusing on this moment, and accepting this moment just as it is.
Acceptance is seeing things as they are in the present, and having an attitude of allowing life to be as it is. In mindfulness practice we cultivate acceptance by taking each moment as it comes and being with it fully.
We try not to impose our ideas about what it should be, or what we should be feeling, or what should be happening. Instead, we are just open to whatever is. We accept it—as is– because it is the now.
Having an attitude of acceptance in your daily living practice of mindfulness doesn’t mean you have to be passive. You can still take action or make changes. You just do it from a place of acceptance.
For example, if your car breaks down on a deserted road you can resist what is happening. You can cry, scream it’s unfair, or you may begin to panic. You can slam doors and kick tires. The reality is this, though: you don’t have a problem – the car has a problem. The car is no longer moving. That’s what is.
You also don’t have to resign yourself, sit down on the side of the road and do nothing.
You can recognize fully that you want to have the car fixed and get to your destination. But you can narrow your life down to the moment; accept what is, and take action from there. Maybe you call the NRMA or flag down another car, but you do it from a place of allowing instead of resisting.
During mindfulness or meditation practice, there may be all kinds of emotions, impulses and thoughts– both negative and positive. With an attitude of acceptance, you don’t resist them and you also do not cling to them. You allow them to be—whatever they may be. You’ll find that when you don’t resist impulses and feelings, they tend to subside more quickly.
Imagine if you were holding onto a large balloon that was being filled up with helium. As it grows, it threatens to lift you off your feet into the air. Your first instinct may be to hold the balloon tighter and resist the tug, but the only way to truly free yourself of the struggle is to let go.
In mindfulness practice it’s essential to cultivate an attitude of non-attachment—the ability to simply let go of thoughts. As we pay more attention to what’s going on inside of our own heads, we begin to discover the mind often clings to, buys into and follows certain thoughts and feelings, or we may try to suppress or wrestle with them.
In mindful awareness, aim to simply watch thoughts and objectively observe them. Non-attachment means neither resist nor cling to thoughts. Think of your thoughts and feelings like little clouds floating through the vast sky of your awareness.
Observe them arising, floating through and then disappearing. There is no need to try to hold them back or control them. If you have trouble letting go of the thoughts, then observe your ‘non-letting go’.
As we learn to no longer attach to thoughts or feelings, over time they lose their hold over us. That is, we are able to choose whether or not to ‘play them out’ or simply let them go.
In your practice, aim to foster a sense of curiosity. How do you feel emotionally? What kind of thoughts are going through your head? What does your body feel like at the moment? What happens when you focus all your attention in the present moment? How does that change how you feel?
When we were children were had a natural curiosity about everything. Children are born scientists who aim to explore, question and understand what’s around them.
Aim to take the attitude of a curious child. Note that this is a light and open attitude – not a serious or heavy one. For a wonderful mindfulness practice you can make it a habit to regularly ask yourself, “‘what’s going on inside me right now?’ and then take a moment to truly tune into your state of mind, body and being.
Whatever experience you notice, investigate it with a curious mind.
Curiosity doesn’t condemn. It simply watches.
8. Present Moment Awareness
The secret of awakening into mindfulness is to be fully present in this moment and to unconditionally accept this moment as it is. That means to pay attention to only what is present now– just this breath, just this step, what you see and feel.
Welcome this moment as it is – go into it deeply. Mindful awareness can only be realized in the now. Time is a source of enormous noise making activity in the mind.
Take away time from the mind and it loses its hold over us and starts to become more still. Too often our minds have us caught up in planning for, and always looking for our fulfillment in the future. This idea that one day we’ll ‘make it’ when we get ‘there’ creates so much mental chatter.
We’re always chasing a happiness that is just around the corner. When it comes to the past, the mind constantly brings up all our old conditioning and history, judgments and resentments regrets and the whole story of ‘me and my life’- Also the source of much inner noise.
You can drop all of that in an instant by becoming immersed in your present moment experience.
Life is only ever happening in the now. Everything that’s going on, all of your experiences and thoughts and emotions are happening now. If you ignore the now, you are short changing your life. When practicing mindfulness – bring awareness to the present moment, whether walking, hugging a loved one, meditating or doing some mundane chore like the dishes.
Because the great majority of our mind chatter is derived from thinking about the past and future, you may notice that the mind becomes very still and calm, yet very much alive, when you’re living in the present moment. After all, you can only exist in one moment at a time— why waste any of them?
As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out the present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care, and love – even the most simple action.
– Eckhart Tolle
I hope these tips help you to discover and deepen mindfulness in your own life! I wish you all the best.