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So You Think You’ve Mastered Mindfulness ... Now What?

by Simon Cole(more info)

listed in mind matters, originally published in issue 224 - August 2015

I meet a lot of people who have become disenchanted with mindfulness, either because they think they’ve ‘done it’ and it hasn’t made any difference, or because their life doesn’t work quite the way the book seems to assume and they just can’t get it in the way they think they should.

I also meet a lot of people who believe they have ‘got’ the mindfulness bit - and they probably have - but “is that the end of the road?”

If you are in the ‘don’t get it’ group, this is for you first.  And if you are amongst the “is that it?” fraternity, I’ll come to you lower down.

So, you’re disenchanted, and it might be down to you, or it might be because there’s nothing in it anyway, or it could be your mind’s just too pre-occupied to do it.  

A question first - what did you expect?  I’m not being frivolous, that’s a serious question.  Here’s why.  If you had in your mind an idea about what the result was going to be, then you’d already lost.  Why?  Because along with that idea went a ‘picture’, of how you would feel different, how life would be different.  That ‘would be’ (whether it was ‘would be’, ‘could be’, or ‘might be’ doesn’t matter) was already carrying you out of the present and into the future and mindfulness only operates with the present.  Mindfulness is about now mind.

There’s another aspect to this as well.  If you release yourself from expectations, the energy you put into fulfilling them becomes available, so you can make more of where you actually are.

Simon Cole 224 Mastered Mindfulness

Doing and Being or Being and Doing

Next question - what are you trying to do?  If the answer to that is anything at all, then I need to explain about do and be in relation to mindfulness.  For most of our lives we prioritize doing over being.  We have all sorts of excuses - “it’s the modern world”, “I’ve got to earn a living”, “I’ve got to get this organized for kids / spouse / mother / my friend. But what is happening is that the doing has the upper hand over the being.  Mindfulness needs things the other way round.  Being must have the upper hand over doing.  And it’s not that we stop doing things, but we’re being first.  It’s an attitude of mind.  We are being ourselves doing what we are doing, conscious of living and doing, rather than just doing, while living is something we notice if we are lucky.

If you can manage not to expect anything in particular when you are wanting to practise mindfulness and then look on yourself as being who you are and it just happens you are doing this or that, with the doing secondary in importance to you who are doing it, then you will already have got a lot closer to mindfulness.

Pause for Just a Moment

If you need a routine to get you in the mood, try this:

  • Stay still - standing, sitting, or lying doesn’t matter;
    • Take three long breaths slowly - diaphragm breathing not chest breathing, making sure you breathe right out as well;
    • Now gradually shorten your breaths until you are breathing at a normal rate - a count of ten breaths to get to normal breathing would be about right;
    • As your breathing is slowly subsiding to a normal rate in this way, let it be like you are coming down a gentle slope and arriving in a flat open space;
    • Stay here in this open space for a few more breaths.

The whole thing need take you less than a minute, though you could go on longer if you wanted to.  When you’ve finished, just carry on with what you were doing only now, keep in your mind that sense of being at the bottom of the gentle slope in a clear space.

When you have started to experience being, and so, doing, rather than doing and hardly being, and you are getting used to not tripping yourself up with your expectations, then you might come to the question - now what?  Is mindfulness an end in itself? 

Well, it can be, because you will gradually begin to notice a greater feeling of ease with yourself, with others, with your life.  But it doesn’t have to be an end in itself, because the ability to be focused only on what is occupying you and to have that now mind are essential for a practice of meditation.  And the starting point for meditation can be that mood-setting routine you’ve just tried.

Four Rewards

What does regular meditation offer?

  • At its simplest - a way to relax, really relax, with your whole being - buddhists call it “peaceful abiding”;
  • A way to slow your system down, but not so that your reactions are dulled or your performance impaired, if anything the opposite because of the energy it will give you back;
  • An opportunity to ‘sit with yourself’ in an accepting and open way;
  • A setting for an internal dialogue which leads to greater self-understanding and gives direction.

In our Western culture, notions like “beginners mind” and “mind observing mind” are hard to relate to.  The idea of our identity and existence being no more than an awareness of a moment of living is difficult to grasp.  And it may not be what you want.  

The last two effects of meditation on my list above, and which are part of the meditation practice from Stillness in Mind, come from the world of Western therapy and personal development.  We can think of them as being ‘therapeutic with yourself’, in the same way as we understand the therapeutic benefit of talking therapies in our culture - not always as a mental health intervention, but also a means of maintaining balance in a topsy-turvy world… and in a world changing as fast as ours is, keeping your balance is all-important.

"In walking, just walk.  In sitting, just sit.  Above all, don't wobble" (Zun Men).

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About Simon Cole

Simon Cole BA(Econ) MA(Counselling) PMBAP(Senior Accred) is a therapist, counsellor and meditation teacher at Le Sentier Tranquille in southern France. A philosopher, poet and walker, he seeks to help others along their own path of self-discovery and development. He is author of Stillness in Mind: a companion to mindfulness, meditation and living, published in 2014 by Changemakers Books www.stillnessinmind.com and Themed Meditations… along the quiet path both available on Amazon.

He may be contacted via simon.cole.france@icloud.com     www.stillnessinmind.com     www.life-counselling.co.uk

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