The Three Tenets of Mindfulness
Written by Sue Fuller-Good (MSc Physio WITS) Physiotherapist with a special interest in the mind-body connection
One of the easiest forms of meditation is Mindfulness. In its simplicity it is easy to use and is everlastingly available. It provides the tools to live consciously.
This article unpacks just a few aspects of the practice to make it easier to understand.
The three tenets of living mindfully are so simple they seem almost not worth the literally thousands of studies that have proved them to be true. They are so simple in their wisdom, that scientific minds around the world keep testing and retesting them to make certain they really are as life changing as they are. They include: curiosity, compassion and non-judgement.
Living the happiest and most brilliant life possible, must include certain strategies. In Western society and especially society where survival is not the only driver, there are many ideas thrown at us: “Success underpins happiness”, is one of these. Most people never think about what success really is for them. They get brain washed by the school and university systems and start chasing external signs of success.
But, what if success is an inside job? What if it has more to do with your inner state and living your purpose and your dreams than getting awards and certificates and a bigger pay cheque? What if feeling content is more successful than coming first?
I developed my own strategy as I plundered through my life, which included mindfulness practice and a really healthy dose of self-awareness, body awareness and emotional intelligence cultivation. The strategy is based right from its centre in the three tenets of mindfulness practice, as described by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn: curiosity, compassion and non-judgement. My understandings of these fundamental attitudes have been formulated by my own particular experiences. I am certain that these 3 ways of encountering the world can change your existence completely. I will unpack each one.
Curiosity takes us back to our childlike state. Children are filled with curiosity. They ask endless questions and listen with a ‘beginner’s mind’. They don’t start from the premise of: “I already know that,” instead they don’t know and so they listen with an open mind. They don’t feel the need to defend their point of view and prove their rightness and so they listen with wonder and to discover.
I learnt the real meaning of curiosity from my son. He was about two years old and one day I was watching as he watched a colony of ants which had moved in around some crumbs on our patio. He sat for the longest time on his little haunches, chubby hands under his chin and watched them. Surprisingly, for a child, he kept his hands clasped under his chin and just watched with fascination. He had no agenda for them. He had no preconceived idea about what ants are supposed to do and so he just watched and discovered. He didn’t expect them to pick up the crumbs and take them to their nest, the way I would have done, because I thought I knew what ants do. Instead, he perched in the now, discovering these particular ants and found out how they moved and behaved.
When he finally bored of watching and stood up, I saw the light in his eyes. He truly was filled with wonder. Wonder for being alive and wonder at the wonderful world in which he existed. That was the moment that the true meaning of curiosity became clear for me.
What if you could take that level of curiosity into your own life and work and allow it to underpin every minute of every day? Imagine the juice life could offer you!
Human beings are consumed with the need to be entertained and to consume things, and I wonder if this is because they are missing all this sensory stimulation that is freely available but requires attention. I wonder if all the extreme stimulation that is available is actually dulling our senses to the simple pleasures in life. A music video, a modern song, a movie, all provide such intense stimuli and the more we engage with such strong stimuli, the less we get to notice the less overt stimuli. It's almost as if we become addicted to strong sensations and lose our sensibility for more subtle ones. The intensity is going up as technology improves and we are the losers. It’s never going to go backwards, so we have to give ourselves the chance to step off the bus of development a few times a day and raise our awareness and sense the subtle sensations.
Watch one of your favourite old movies someday and see how dull and un- stimulating it looks compared with what you have come to expect from a movie. Look at the old ABBA clips and see how amazingly different they look when compared with how they looked when they first came out in the 70’s. The music is still as intoxicating, but we have come to expect so much more from sound and sight.
If only we could slow down our quest for more and take more pleasure in what is already ours, ripe for the picking and freely available.
We name everything. We were taught to do that since we were children. We categorise everything. Things are either good or bad, likeable or not likeable, worthwhile or not. When something appeals to the masses, it goes viral as the judgement of “worthwhile” and “nice” lights up the sky. By the same token, if something is not worthwhile or likeable, the “no” judgement spreads like wild fire. This is our culture and our training. It's hard to do it any other way! But what if there was another way? What if real happiness depended on us suspending our judgement?
Take grass for example. Most people love grass. They love the green of it and the smell of it when it’s freshly cut. Most people appreciate a beautiful lawn. Sometimes a lawn looks delightful from a distance, but when you get close, you can see it's full of weeds and there are gaps where the grass hasn’t spread properly. How disappointing if you compare that grass to your expectation. Yet, if you compared it to an un-grassed yard, it would be totally different. Grass is available to be enjoyed just as it is if you don’t compare it. If you don’t judge it and if you have no expectations of it.
Imagine your life without judgement. Imagine if your inner critic didn’t evaluate everything you did as either “great” or “dreadful”. Imagine, if your inner world was free of all that judgement and you could just live each moment as it unfolded without that endless commentary and criticism. Imagine if you could meet a person and have absolutely no judgement, only curiosity for them. It certainly would change every encounter and it would make showing up in front of you a million times easier for people. Imagine being able to meet a person as they are that day, not as you thought they were last time you met them and not as you expected them to be. Every encounter would be like a lucky packet, a treasure waiting to be found, rather than a potential disappointment and a source for endless mind chatter.
Imagine if you could enjoy your health and your body without comparing your backside to Angelina Jolie’s, or your smile to Brad Pitt’s. Imagine if you could enjoy your home, your children or your holiday plans without needing to compare them with someone else’s. There will always be someone better than you and there will always be someone worse. No-one is anything like you and no-one has your circumstances, so comparing yourself with someone else is insane!
Why not practice suspending your judgement and being with something or someone for a while before you categorise or judge them? What about practicing letting go of your expectations for a while and just meeting each life event as a virgin experience. Even if you have done something before, it's not the same, so it is unique and incomparable. It wasn’t in the same state of mind, the same time of day, the same state of body. It's never the same.
I have connected my inner judge to an alarm bell. It's almost like, a cow or goat in the mountains which has a bell around its neck. This way, I can alert myself to my inner judge’s presence when it shows up. And it does! All the time, but at least I notice before I get sucked into all its drama and noise pollution.
We don’t want to eliminate any parts of ourselves, so this is not about judging your judge and making it wrong. This is about noticing, really fast, when your judge shows up and maybe inviting it to take a ‘chill pill’. It's about asking your inner judge to wait a while before it protects and defends you with its hard work. It's almost as if you had a bodyguard, who you have to ask to give you some space.
Compassion is a softness of heart, a gentleness of encounter. It’s a heart emotion. It includes tolerance and acceptance of what is. When we start by meeting ourselves with compassion, we change our whole lives. Compassion softens the voice of our inner critic and enables us to grow and thrive without wilting under constantly harsh words and admonishments. Compassion allows us to look at ourselves as if we are enough, just as we are. Compassion allows us to appreciate our efforts and magnificence instead of focusing on what we could have, would have and should have done more, better or differently.
So how do we cultivate more compassion for ourselves and other people? When we meet something with compassion, we meet it with a soft heart. So much of what we do is done with criticism, with harshness, with exacting rules and judgments. It’s very soothing when we can do something, trusting it will be viewed with compassion. When we are met with compassion, we can do whatever we do with creativity and flair and joy.
When you find yourself being judgmental and critical in your self-talk, can you stop and send yourself compassion instead? Maybe start trying. Notice if you feel any better this way. Many people fear it will give them permission to drop their standards. This has never happened to anyone I have met, for most people, their performance goes up when they stop berating themselves. Some are afraid it will make them soft and undermine their resilience, but the research clearly shows us that the opposite is true. The kinder we are to ourselves, the harder we can try and the longer we can go on.
My invitation is that you start working with these 3 tenets, play with them in your own world and in your encounters and notice how they powerfully change your reality.
You can't really lose, but you can gain. And when you gain, your family, your clients and your colleagues all gain along with you!