Monday, February 4, 2019

Continuous Informal Mindfulness Practice

     How often are we in the middle of a project when an unrelated interruption derails our momentum? How do we handle such interruptions? Most likely, we experience some, or even a lot of irritation. Kind attention is unlikely! We do not appreciate disruptions.

     In mindfulness (MBSR) training, we start by learning concentration meditation. As we're zooming our attention in on the felt details of our 'anchor' eg the feel of the breath in our belly, how often is the momentum of our concentration disturbed by a wide range of completely irrelevant thoughts? Are we instructed to become irritated? No! Instead, we practice accepting irrelevant thoughts with self-compassion, then gently, kindly, patiently, with endless perseverance we seamlessly bring attention back to our object of awareness (the anchor).
     Later in mindfulness training, we learn open-awareness meditation ('just sitting'). We allow our thoughts to settle down with a few minutes of concentration meditation, then we practice just sitting by opening our awareness to the most prominent phenomenon in our perceptual field. We rest in awareness itself. When the sound of the clock dominates our perceptual field, we attend to this sound; when an ache in our lower back arises in our perception, we attend to that sensation; and so on. We pay complete attention to whatever arises.

     How can we apply what we learn in formal mindfulness meditation practice to the many interruptions, often by other people, in daily life? 
     First of all, it's useful to recall that we typically feel at least irritable if not outright anger after being interrupted. So we can feel compassion towards ourselves for feeling upset, because we are often busy, and do need to meet deadlines. But we can also feel compassion towards the person interrupting us, because they too are busy, and have their own deadlines to meet. We all work collaboratively. NOTE this is meant to decrease our own & others' suffering and elevate our own & others' quality of life, NOT in any way to encourage repeated inconsiderate behavior from others, nor to turn us into "doormats." We need to wisely use of all our intelligences.
     So what happens if, instead of becoming irritated & angry, we intentionally practice compassionate self-acceptance & acceptance of the person interrupting us, and paying complete attention to them? By complete attention, I don't only mean letting go of resentment, and attending to their request. Complete attention or presence means bringing our entire being - mind, emotions & body - to whatever we're doing. So we gently, kindly, patiently, with endless perseverance seamlessly attend to our colleague's request.
     AND AFTER we've completed this task to our mutual satisfaction, we seamlessly return complete attention to our original task. This is how we can markedly improve our own as well as our colleagues' quality of life, as well as our work efficiency. This is CONTINUOUS INFORMAL mindfulness practice. 

     Doesn't this apply equally to the many times we find ourselves doing tasks that must to be done, yet we judge meaningless or somehow beneath us eg washing & putting away dishes, taking out the garbage, doing the laundry, driving to work, etc, etc, etc?  
     We ALWAYS have the choice between carrying out with complete attention that which is most appropriate in the present moment - OR - doing it with an attitude that essentially sabotages not only our own & others' quality of life, but also the quality of the actual task. Compare how these two radically different attitudes of mind affect your moment-by-moment quality of life!

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