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Mindfulness involves deliberate awareness of the flow of our present moment experiences. In this book, counsellor and writer Padraig O’Morain provides exercises that will help you practise mindfulness immediately and explains how mindfulness can deepen many areas of your life, including your relationships.
If you have never practised mindfulness, this book will show you how to start. If you already practise mindfulness, this book will deepen and broaden your approach.
Light Mind includes a guide for the use of mindfulness in counselling, drawing on O’Morain mindfulness workshops for counsellors. It also includes a chapter on mindfulness in sports, an area in which the value of mindfulness has been recognised for some decades, especially in tennis and golf.
Padraig O'Morain is a counsellor and men's columnist.
The author has confronted the gurus: Anthony de Mello, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Thich Nhat Hahn and Tolle. He presents mindfulness meditation in clear language. You can immediately practise and see positive results through acceptance of where you are now. He explains nonjudgmental awareness and the difficulty of not embroiling oneself in mental mazes. Kindness is shown to be potentially infectious and good for you. Be kind, he admonishes. Maintaining your presence of mind in the moment is a powerful weapon for inner peace is his main message. He asks the reader to be mindful during daily routine tasks in order to instill activity with changing and refreshing energies. Awareness is enjoyable, relaxing, and liberating: this is how to cope with impatience. He demands "mindfulness in relation to the to-do lists with which we torment ourselves".
His methodology comes directly from Buddhism and Hinduism: attention to the breath as the supreme meditation, and also the body scan using the concentration on breath as you scan your own body for tension locations. This can be done while having a relaxing walk, or while standing still. His personal counsel is to build your own Shangri-La of peace amidst the busy world. Such a meditation routine aids sleep, reduces panic and gives more emotional control. Anger and resentment are treated as unmindfulness. Rumination and depression, he treats in the mindfulness sphere of mood and thought. OMorain is addressing the average reader, not chronic cases when he states: "Catastrophising can make current emotional experience worse than it needs to be. It can throw a person into a depression or into a blizzard of anxiety." His comments on memory adopt the Buddhist tenet of alaya: that the storehouse of memories are not all bliss, many needing time to be processed but safer kept locked in the cellar as it were-he might have developed this topic.
Mindfulness entering the arenas of suffering, pain and trauma find him at full stretch. Meditation cannot but offer something positive if practised. It is as old as Psalm 46: "Be still and know that I am God". But he does not force mindfulness as a panacea. It may not work in serious injury, may not palliate every psychiatric disorder; it is not an anaesthetic, is not the answer to everything except for the fairly camper, it might well prove to be euphoric.
- Books Ireland, Summer 2010
Mindfulness is an idea that seems in vogue at the moment in both religious and secular circles. To some it may seem a vague concept and we are not sure that OMorain helps when he defines it as involving "deliberate awareness of the flow of our present moment experiences". OMorain himself is a counsellor and he also writes for various Irish newspapers. He has written one book already, Like a Man : a guide to mens emotional well-being while his Irish Times column has been published as a collection under the title Thats Men. This book is directed at a wider readership and is a guide to mindfulness for both the beginner and the established practitioner. He considers mindfulness in the context of everyday life, in workshops and in sport, particularly tennis and golf. Reading the book one discovers that mindfulness derives from the Buddhist tradition. OMorain seeks to tutor the reader through a series of exercises, mental and physical, and to show how this can help us in times of stress, in our relationships, coping with the hustle and bustle of everyday life and the rest of lifes challenges.
- Books Ireland, February 2010
A timely book, this. People are stressed in recession and need to learn to live deliberately in the now. Mindfulness, the author summarises, is an intentional and accepting awareness of what I experience right now.
No jumping ahead and asking oneself supposing this or that happened, and then, and then? Yes, we have to be calmly sensible in planning ahead, but not catastrophising. Many of the fears into which we put so much energy, never happen. Pay attention to the experience of the present moment. Buddhism made [such] mindfulness central to its practice and early Hindu texts allude to it.
As the author points out, being mindful is not easy. You have to pay attention to whatever is going on for you right now. We need help in learning to wait and give things time. Even in our age of stress, this is possible, actually saves time in the end and is enriching. Padraig OMorain helps us to accept that you drift away and then bring yourself back kindly to awareness. The word kindly typifies the gentleness that should characterise the art of mindfulness.
OMorain gives a simple example of mindfulness in our attitude to the weather. Have I labelled wind and rain as bad? If so, I may face a wet day by being hunched and having a grim expression. Mindfulness enables us to learn the alternative attitude. The goodness of practising mindfulness takes time to become an habitual way of life for us. It helps us to be aware of the ordinary and good to which we may have become blinded because of familiarity or routine.
The author also engages us with the use of mindfulness in sport where people tend to be unduly self critical, worried about failure and fantasising about the result of either winning or losing. Indeed such concerns can affect our socialising about which many of us worry unnecessarily. Sections about mindfulness in anxiety and depression are most interesting. This book could enable life-enhancing experiences in many areas of relationships.
- Angela Macnamara, The Irish Catholic, 4th February 2010
One day about 20 years ago I was browsing in a bookshop at lunchtime when I came across a book on Buddhist meditation. I bought it - I still dont know why - went for a coffee and read a chapter on mindfulness, something I had never heard of before. That day, mindfulness practice became part of my life.
And its a terrific tool to counter daily stresses. For instance, if I am in a blizzard of work my tension levels fall immediately when I deliberately become aware of my breathing, of sounds around me and so on. In relationships, mindfulness has given me that vital space in which to realise it would be better to keep my mouth shut than to say something stupidly unhelpful.
And do you ever drive from Point A to Point B unsure of how you actually got there? Me too - but mindfulness has helped me to cut down the amount of unconscious driving I do and that, literally, is a life saver.
The list goes on but the bottom line is that mindfulness, which costs nothing, has brought me immense benefits over the years and thats what I call a good deal, recession or no recession.
Mindfulness has become widely recognised as a key to our emotional and mental wellbeing. Some people use it to reduce stress, some to combat boredom, some to improve relationships and some to deal with challenging situations at work.
So what is mindfulness? It involves taking your attention away from the past and future and from your imagination and instead becoming aware of what is going on right now
You can do this easily as you go about your daily life.
Notice with your senses:
What you are seeing and hearing.
That you are breathing, standing, walking or sitting or lying down.
The air against your skin as you move along.
Your mind will keep drifting out of the present so you need to keep bringing it back.
Mindfulness has been used for thousands of years in the Buddhist tradition to improve peoples experience of life. It lowers anxiety and stress and provides an antidote to brooding (which can lead to depression).
It also helps you to avoid endlessly repeating distressing or unhelpful thoughts, images and mental scenes. Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now and A New Earth, says we need to "realise deeply that the present moment is all you ever have."
Here is a basic mindfulness exercise.-As you do it, your mind will drift away but just bring it back gently Take a few moments to notice your response after each question:
Whats happening around you right now?
What do you hear?
What do you see?
How do your clothes feel against your body?
How are you breathing - long breath, short breath, rough, smooth?
Why would you want to get in touch with your here-and-now experience in this way? In Buddhist psychology the answer would go something like this: When something happens - a thought, rain, waking up during the night, seeing a colleague at work - we have a reaction.
That reaction is made up of memories, emotions, thoughts, physical feelings. We can get swept away by these, to our detriment. By practicing mindfulness we can spot this happening, free ourselves of our automatic reactions and make better choices. Here are two examples:
- I see my unpleasant colleague at work. Automatically, I cringe. With mindfulness of my breathing and of what I am seeing and hearing I remain self-possessed. My colleague is still unpleasant but no longer has the same effect on me.
- Its the middle of the night. I wake up. Automatically, I torment myself with fears, worries, resentments, regrets. With mindfulness I notice the feel of the bedclothes, the warmth of the bed, my breathing, my tummy going up and down and I have a better chance of getting to sleep.
Mindfulness costs nothing. Try it out and see.
Staying in touch with your actions - Padraigs tip for staying mindful are:
Start of day
When you get up in the morning, and before the usual rush of thoughts hits you, just pause to notice your breathing. As you walk away from the bed, notice your feet against the floor. As you brush your teeth, just notice what you are doing. Each time your mind drifts away, bring it back to what you are doing. This will give you a better start to your day.
Choose one or two habitual behaviours and decide when performing them you will maintain awareness of what you are doing, rather than daydreaming or getting caught up in fears or anxieties.
Examples: Using the telephone, going up or down stairs, using a computer keyboard, tidying, washing up.
Awareness of breathing
As you go through your day, notice your breathing. Are you breathing with your chest or your tummy (abdominal breathing is usually more relaxing)? As you breathe, can you feel movement in your diaphragm? Can you feel the air entering and leaving your nostrils?
- Irish Examiner 5th March 2010
Mindfulness is everywhere. The past 10 years have seen an enormous increase in interest in the concept of mindfulness throughout many countries in the Western world, including Ireland. More specifically, the past decade has seen a substantial increase in both professional :Had public interest in the practical application of rnindfulness-based psychological techniques in everyday life, in order to relieve psychological symptoms, treat psychiatric disorders and enhance individual wellness.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is, essentially, a careful awareness of ones own thoughts and feelings. The concept of mindfulness, as the term is presently being used, finds most of its roots in Hindu and Buddhist psychology, where it is known as sati and forms an important element of meditative practice (Brazier, 2003). The aim of mindfulness practice is to promote connection with, and awareness of, bodily and cognitive states and processes. Mindfulness involves observing and her than judging, changing or acting.
There are very many ways to practice or cultivate mindfulness. One simple way is to provide a verbal label for certain predetermined phenomena throughout the course of the day; e.g., one could decide to mentally label the position of ones body each time it changes throughout the day (i.e. "standing", "sitting", etc). Similar techniques can be equally applied to emotional and cognitive phenomena, labelling each one as it is observed but not trying to change, interpret or linger upon it.
In Buddhist psychology and spirituality, cultivation of mindfulness is an important component of meditative practice (e.g., mindfulness of breathing) and is linked with both meditation for the attainment of calm (samatha) and meditation for the development of insight (vipassana) (Kabat-Zinn, 2005). In recent years, mindfulness has also been recognised as a uniquely valuable component in many programmes of psychotherapy, for at least some individuals (Segal et al, 2001; Germer et al, 2005). Therapeutic modalities which now commonly incorporate at least some element of mindfulness include cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) (Kumar, 2002), dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT) (Palmer, 2002; Robins, 2002) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) (Hayes, 2002).
Light Mind: Mindfulness for Daily Living
In this book, Padraig OMorain provides an informative and extremely useful overview of the concept of mindfulness and some of its practical applications in everyday life. The first chapter provides an especially useful introduction to the concept of mindfulness, noting that it involves not just an awareness of the present moment and a non-judgmental attitude, but also kindness towards oneself. This is a critical point: Mindfulness involves not only calmness, awareness and a non-judgmental attitude, but also kindness towards oneself and others. Its this combination of qualities that appears to give mindfulness-based practices their unique strength and broad-based applicability across multiple psychological states and across differing cultures and traditions.
In further chapters, Mr OMorain explores many of these issues in greater depth, providing especially involving accounts of the usefulness of mindfulness in counselling, psychotherapy and mental health settings. There are also clear, pragmatic mindfulness exercises for the reader included throughout the book, as well as some very welcome notes of common sense, including the advice that mindfulness, although powerful and extremely useful, does not provide answers for everything.
Overall, this is an excellent book, clearly written and immensely informative, just as one would expect from this author. OMorain is a counsellor who writes regular newspaper columns and also occasionally writes for IMN. In addition, he is author of Like a Man: A Guide to Mens Emotional Well-Being (Veritas, 2007) and Thats Men (Veritas, 2008) - a collection of his columns for The Irish Times.
Light Mind: Mindfulness for Daily Living displays the clarity and precision that one has come to expect from Mr OMorains newspaper columns, as well the depth and breadth of analysis that one expects from his previous books. Above all, however, this is a practical, thoughtful and immensely mindful book, which, white not shying away from the challenges of mindfulness, conveys a clear sense of purpose and value in mindfulness-based practice, and will undoubtedly encourage many readers to try out some of these techniques for themselves.
The relevance of mindfulness to clinical care in Ireland
The practice of mindfulness finds its roots, as Mr OMorain notes, in both Buddhist and early Hindu traditions. And yet, the concept of mindfulness seems as fresh today as it ever was, despite a lengthy history over many centuries in the myriad psychologies of India and Asia. So what, then, is the relevance of mindfulness-based techniques for clinical care providers in 21st century Ireland?
In the first instance, it is readily apparent to most providers of healthcare and psychological services in Ireland, that recent years have seen greatly increased ethnic and cultural diversity in the Irish population in general, and, in particular, amongst mental health service-users and individuals seeking psychological assistance. These demographic changes have created a clear need for greater understanding of different psychological traditions, including non-Western ones (Kelly, 2008).
Western-style psychotherapies have also recently started to incorporate mindfulness-based practice more explicitly than heretofore (Mace, 2008). These therapeutic techniques include, amongst others, CBT and DBT, both of which have substantial roots in various elements of traditional Buddhist psychology, including the cultivation of mindfulness. To date, depression is probably the psychiatric condition for which the role of contemplative and mindfulness-based techniques has been explored in greatest depth. Williams et al (2007), in particular, describe "mindfulness-based cognitive therapy" for depression, which combines mindfulness-based techniques from Buddhist traditions with Western cognitive therapeutic approaches to depression. This involves a combination of mindfulness-meditation, psycho-education and cognitive therapy in order to reduce symptoms of depression and promote sustainable, balanced recovery
In addition, "Buddhist psychotherapy is increasingly practiced by certain psychotherapists and counsellors, and these approaches may, subsequently, offer a different and challenging perspective in more conventional Western mental healthcare settings (Epstein, 2007). This may also lead to a situation where patients of more traditional mental health and psychological support services are engaged in mindfulness-based therapies with other therapists. Background knowledge of the psychology underlying these therapies may be of assistance to psychiatrists and psychologists providing care within the more traditional frameworks.
Finally, recent years have seen increased scientific and public interest in the neuroscience of contemplative practice and, especially, the effects of long-term meditation on the brain (Kelly, 2008; Hanson, 2009). These developments, along with increased interest in the usefulness of meditation for psychotherapists themselves (Simpkins and Simpkins, 2009), suggest that mindfulness-based therapies are likely to be the focus of increased research, teaching and clinical activity in Ireland for many years to come.
- Dr Brendan Kelly, a senior lecturer in psychiatry at UCD, Dublin
- INTRODUCTIONS AND EXPLANATIONS
Mindfulness? Whats that?
Mindfulness is awareness of the present moment, but thats not all.
Mindfulness is living in the here and now, but thats not all.
Mindfulness is knowing what youre doing when youre doing it, but thats not all.
Mindfulness is all these things, yes, but it is also acceptance, curiosity, a non-judgemental attitude towards your experience and, perhaps the really difficult part, an attitude of kindness towards yourself.
Here is a description of the mechanics of mindfulness: Take your attention away from the past and future and away from your imagination. Become aware of what is going on right now. Notice with your senses: what you are seeing and hearing; that you are breathing; standing; walking or sitting or lying down; the feel of the air against your skin as you move along. Your mind will keep drifting out of the present so you need to keep bringing it back. It is bringing your mind back to the present that makes up the basic practice of mindfulness.
Note that I said the basic practice of mindfulness. You could become aware of what is going on for you in the here and now and you could judge yourself very harshly for feeling whatever it is you notice you are feeling. But mindfulness involves an acceptance of experience. Mindfulness doesnt say, Well, I feel anxious now and thats bad. Mindfulness just says, I feel anxious now. Mindfulness is non-judgemental towards most of our experience (I will explain that most in Non-judgemental awareness below). So mindfulness doesnt say, Its raining and thats awful, especially because I am walking along the street and thats awful too. Mindfulness says, Look, its raining and Im walking along the street. Mindfulness doesnt bother tying itself up in a knot because its raining. Mindfulness doesnt call you a fool for drifting away into fantasies a thousand times a day. Mindfulness just takes you back into the moment, kindly. It takes a kind interest in your foibles, your faults. Again, there is more on this below under Kindness.
Mindfulness helps you break free of old patterns of thinking and reacting. It helps you to see the world and yourself in a fresh way every day. Why does this matter? Because so many of our difficulties arise from following old habits of thinking and behaving. And because the ability to take a fresh look at these habits and at our experience broadens our choices enormously. There is more on these old patterns below under Wakening up from the trance.
For now, think of mindfulness as an intentional and accepting awareness of what I experience right now. The rest of this book is about how to cultivate that awareness and about how mindfulness benefits the human condition.
A NOTE ON HISTORY
Mindfulness as practised today was developed in the Buddhist tradition, but references to what we call mindfulness can be found in earlier Hindu texts. Buddhism made mindfulness central to its practice. In English, the word mindfulness has been used since the late nineteenth century to translate the Buddhist concept of intentional and accepting awareness of present moment experience. Psychologists have been interested in mindfulness and in Buddhist psychology in general since the early twentieth century. According to Mark Epstein in Thoughts Without a Thinker, the great American psychologist William James told a Buddhist monk, whom he spotted in the audience while giving a lecture, that This [Buddhism] is the psychology everybody will be studying twenty-five years from now. James timing was out, but as the century progressed concepts from Buddism were increasingly borrowed by the West.
In the Christian tradition, the Bombay-born Jesuit, Anthony de Mello, taught mindfulness at retreats, workshops and through books such as the classic Awareness. His constant admonition to all who listened was to wake up to reality and get in touch with your own self through the cultivation of awareness.
Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical School has had a major influence on the acceptance of mindfulness in the health professions through his programme, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, for people suffering chronic pain and stress. Through his books , my favourite is Wherever You Go, There You Are , Kabat-Zinns influence has spread far outside the health sector.
Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, has tirelessly promoted the practice of mindfulness from his base at Plum Village in France and through books such as The Miracle of Mindfulness.In the past decade, Eckhart Tolles book, The Power of Now, has popularised the practice of mindfulness far and wide.
MINDFULNESS IS A PRACTICE , ALWAYS
Mindfulness looks simple: just put your attention on whatever is going on for you right now. Anyone can do it! Well, yes, anyone can if they put the work into it. This appearance of simplicity is deceptive; mindfulness doesnt come naturally. Try to remain mindful , be intentionally aware of your present moment experience , for just one hour and I know you will find it impossible to do. Actually, try to do it for five minutes and you will probably find you have dipped out of mindfulness and into the imagination a hundred times.
Thats why mindfulness is a practice. As simple as it may look, you must deliberately choose to practise mindfulness every day. It is a journey, not a destination. You will never reach a point at which you will be mindful without effort or intention for the rest of your life. This impossibility of maintaining intentional awareness all the time may have something to do with the ceaseless electrical activity going on in our brains. It may also have something to do with the endless stimulation we receive through our senses. That stimulation continues even when we are asleep, otherwise the sound of a child crying or a phone ringing would have no effect.
As humans, as I will explain elsewhere, we connect one thing to another (see Associations and tags , when labels take over reality in the chapter The Moment). So you try to be mindful as you walk through your house, but theres that side table in the hall that you got from Aunt Ida when you moved in, and now youre back in Aunt Idas garden as a child and theres Uncle George smoking his pipe, surrounded by that smell of tobacco you have always associated him with and then remember they had that donkey you used to ride around on ... suddenly you realize what has happened: for a few moments there you fell right out of your mindful state and into a series of linked memories. These memories are stories you tell yourself about your life. They play a role in maintaining your identity. That is why you will go back to them often, even as you practise mindfulness.
However, does the impossibility of remaining permanently mindful condemn us to failure? No, to practise mindfulness you dont have to be mindful all the time. What matters is to return to awareness again and again. Through returning to intentional awareness again and again we experience the benefits of mindfulness. This explains why practitioners of mindfulness are always warned to avoid reprimanding themselves for drifting away into distraction. You could reprimand all you like and still drift away. So accept that you drift away, then bring yourself back kindly to awareness each time you notice that you have wandered off. That wandering isnt failure, its just the way things are, so accept it. And remember, when you notice you have drifted away, you have already returned to the moment.
A BASIC MINDFULNESS EXERCISE
I recommend a basic mindfulness exercise to people who attend my workshops and to counselling clients. The exercise involves connecting with what your senses bring to you. Cultivating awareness of present moment experience by connecting with your senses has been recommended as a practice for thousands of years, going back to the time of the Buddha. The body is always in the here and now, as Zen teacher Cheri Huber6 has pointed out. Therefore, to take the royal road to mindfulness, practise awareness of what your senses bring you in the moment. Use this basic mindfulness exercise (based on the Buddhas Four Foundations of Mindfulness), or your own version of it, several times a day to connect you with your here and now experience. Use it also if you feel agitated or bored or when you lie awake at night trying to sleep.
- Begin by noticing your breathing. You dont have to breathe in any particular way. Just notice your breathing. It might help to notice the breath entering your nostrils or your mouth and leaving again. If your mind drifts into imagination, memory or worries as you do this, just bring it back kindly to noticing your breathing.
- Now notice your posture. Are you sitting, standing, walking, lying down? Just notice.
- Notice your hands. Are your fingers bent or straight? What do your hands feel like? Are they warm or cold? Can you feel a breeze against your skin?
- What about your feet? Can you notice how they feel against your shoes or against the ground?
- Notice sounds. What are the nearest sounds you can hear? What are the furthest-away sounds you can hear?
- Notice your current emotion. Is it pleasant, unpleasant or neutral? Just notice, then back to your breathing.
- Is there a thought in your mind? Just notice, then back to your breathing.
- Now go back to noticing your breathing once more. Again, if your mind drifts into imagination, memory or worries, just bring it back kindly to noticing your breathing.
This basic exercise will take you into mindfulness whenever you do it. It doesnt matter whether you follow this sequence exactly. All that matters is connecting with your senses from time to time, those senses through which everything you know has been transmitted to you, but which we all so easily ignore in favour of the demands of the mind. Whenever I refer in this book to the basic mindfulness exercise, this is the one I mean. As you see, you can do it walking along a street, sitting at a desk or cooking a meal. Or you can close your eyes and really relax into this exercise. It is also good to do if you are awake in bed at night, but I will have more to say about this in How mindfulness improves your chances of a good nights sleep.
Use this exercise first thing in the morning, a few times during the day and if you are awake in bed at night. It will bring you straight into the mindfulness zone.
ACCEPTANCE , THE HEART OF MINDFULNESS
Mindfulness involves the intentional awareness of your present moment experience. This is the same as saying that mindfulness involves acceptance of your experience, but what does acceptance mean? It means that I face, rather than turn my back on, my experiences. In particular, instead of avoiding uncomfortable experiences, I turn towards them.
Lets say I feel tired following an interrupted nights sleep. Refusal to accept the tiredness might involve any of the following: cursing my bad luck at the interruptions that left me feeling this way; moaning on and on about how tired I am and how I wanted to be in good shape for today; taking a sleeping pill and going back to bed; and many other possibilities. In this case, a refusal to accept involves tormenting myself in many ways. The fact is, I am tired. In mindfulness, I note this and get on with things as best I can.
Lets move on to an emotion such as shame. Many people have shame inculcated in them as children , sometimes parents know no better. Because the experience of shame hurts, they may bury their awareness of it or seek to deflect other peoples attention from it, for instance, through anger or boasting. But the unacknowledged shame stays and goes on influencing the persons life, eating away at their peace of mind. From time to time the shame breaks into awareness. Indeed, practising mindfulness may very well allow this buried feeling to surface.
Non-acceptance of shame may involve drinking to kill it, fighting with other people so as to replace shame with anger or hiding away. The mindfulness approach takes a different attitude. In mindfulness you note that a feeling of shame has emerged. You make no attempt to run away from it. You allow it to stay as you go about your day. You dont talk to yourself about it or re-run old scenes, but you dont try to push it away either. If your shame is an old, useless feeling from the past, noticing it in this way will allow it to fade over time, perhaps even to fade away altogether. If you feel shame over something you are doing at present, accepting the feeling allows you to make a choice. Perhaps you feel shame because you are doing the right thing; giving evidence against someone in your social circle who has committed a crime, for instance, may lead to a feeling of shame. Perhaps you feel shame because you are doing something wrong, such as exploiting another person. If I accept the shame, in other words, if I am willing to experience it without running away from it, I can then make a clear choice: give evidence or not; go on exploiting this person or not. Acceptance can lead directly to the realization that I need to take my share of responsibility for what I do next.
Acceptance does not mean indifference to bad behaviour. A week before I began to write this book, I watched news footage of the abuse of men at a prison camp in Russia. The footage distressed me; I expect it will never entirely leave my mind. Both the torment inflicted on the men and the arrogant brutality of the guards reflected aspects of the human experience that most of us dont want to have to look at. Mindful acceptance does not mean indifference to the suffering of these men or to the behaviour of their tormentors. Mindful acceptance in this case means I accept my feelings of distress as I look at this footage. It means I am willing to experience this distress without having to get rid of the feeling. To get rid of the feeling I might have to deny what is going on, tell myself the beaten men deserve what they get or switch over to a comedy show. However, if I accept my distress then, at the very least, I can be a witness to these mens suffering, I can be more compassionate in my own behaviour or I can do something like join Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, or perhaps write a letter to my own government asking it to object to the treatment of these prisoners.
Therefore, by accepting my distress, my shame and my tiredness, I influence my own behaviour. Acceptance leads to change and not to indifference. As authors Andrew Christensen and Neil S. Jacobson admirably put it: Change is the brother of acceptance, but it is the younger brother.
Notice what you are feeling right now. Can you accept that feeling without getting into a drama in your head about it?
When practising mindfulness, take a non-judgemental approach to what reality brings you. By doing so you will see things freshly and make new choices. You will stand a better chance of avoiding the repetition of old habits, perhaps habits of fear or resentment, which no longer have any use. But the non-judgemental approach has its complexities too, as well see as we go along.
Lets look at this on a simple level first. Consider the weather. People sometimes feel under an obligation to get upset every time the rain falls, especially during the summer. Somewhere along the line they learned this formula: rain equals unhappiness. To make matters worse, if I label an experience as bad then I am more likely to see the negative sides of it than if I label it as good or neutral. If I label a windy, rainy day as bad I am more likely to go around hunched up, with a look of dislike on my face than if I label it as interesting. But if I label it as interesting I might notice how the leaves blow in the wind, how rivulets of water run along the street and so on. So, if fora moment you take a non-judgemental approach to the rain, if you suspend your judgement on it, you may find that right now it doesnt make any great difference to you whether its raining or not; you may even find the rain rather interesting or you may realise that you actually feel okay, even though its raining.
Lets say you see a neighbour walking along your street who once shouted at your children when they kicked a ball into his garden and who refused to give the ball back. Every time you see this neighbour your blood pressure goes up. Perhaps you succeed in shortening your life a little every time you meet him. Your children, meanwhile, have either forgotten the whole thing or laugh at the memory. Why not suspend judgement on your neighbour next time you see him? Then at least you spare yourself the grief that goes with resenting this neighbour. You might even prolong your life at the same time!
There are other aspects, though, to this matter of being nonjudgemental. Again, lets look at the simple ones first.
When I checked my email this morning, it included illustrations of two possible covers for this book. Which cover did I prefer, the publishers wanted to know? If I had emailed back to say, Actually, I am being non-judgemental at the moment, so Im afraid I cant help you with this, we wouldnt get anywhere. The publishers would make a choice without my input and if I didnt like what I saw in the end, I wouldnt have a leg to stand on. What being non-judgemental in this situation means to me is to suspend judgement initially while I look at the two different covers, keeping my prejudices out of it. I try to keep away the voice that says this or that colour doesnt reallygo with mindfulness. I just look at the two covers with as open a mind as I can and allow a view to come to me. Then I choose , I make a judgement, but only after I have allowed myself to look at the options with an open mind.
Another example: a woman wants to buy a dress. Her choice comes down to one of two dresses. One has red stripes and the assistant thinks it suits her very well. However, the woman has a long-standing prejudice against wearing anything with red in it. If she takes a judgemental approach, then, she will say, Well, I never wear red or anything with red in it, so Ill have the other one. In this instance an old judgement dictates her choice immediately. If she takes a non-judgemental approach, she can look at the two dresses, well aware of her old prejudice but opening her mind to the possibility that the dress with the red stripes suits her better than the other. Then she can make a judgement, but one based on an unprejudiced consideration of her choices.
So far I have given you fairly trivial examples, so lets move on to something more serious. Consider the judgements made about the Jews between the First and Second World Wars, judgements of a kind that had been made about them for many centuries, especially in Europe. These judgements ultimately led to the horrors of the concentration camps and death camps. What if enough of those people, who judged the Jews harshly and unthinkingly, had taken a nonjudgemental approach instead, not only in the twentieth century but in the centuries that went before? If a sufficient amount of people could have done that, perhaps those horrors could have been avoided. A non-judgemental attitude can save lives and, if taken by enough people, it can save lives by the million.
Let us suppose now that you are watching television. The camera shows a man taking the hand of a small girl and gently leading her off a beach in a Third World country. The voiceover tells you that this man, a Western tourist, has paid the girls family to have sex with her. Where is your non-judgementalism now? Well, you can suspend judgement for a time. You can ask yourself why would this girls parents sell her and destroy her life in this way? If it is a question of poverty then should the world, or the government of the country concerned, be doing more to alleviate the hardship of the poor? What contribution can we in the West make to this? If its a question of law enforcement, should pressure be applied in that direction? And why is this man free to go to this country and act in this way? Should we, in our country, prosecute men who behave like this abroad? If we have laws allowing for such prosecutions, could we do more to enforce them? Should I contact my politicians or an organisation concerned with this issue to give my support? Just lifting the judgement for a few moments allows you to consider these issues, to inquire into the situation, allowing you to consider what, if anything, you might do about it. On the other hand, a purely judgemental approach might simply lead you to look at this event and say, Thats terrible, and then go off to make yourself a nice cup of tea to help you forget about it.
A non-judgemental attitude adopted for a time , and you will probably find its impossible to adopt it for more than a short time , can actually lead to inquiry and to action. Now let us suppose that you are standing outside a school in your neighbourhood. A woman at the gate is handing out free samples of heroin to the children leaving the school. Is this a case for non-judgemental inquiry? Other parents are as horrified as you. Should you join them in telling this woman to leave and in calling the police? Or should you take a non-judgemental approach and inquire into the ins and outs of what brought this woman here, why a child might take the heroin and how the heroin got here? In my opinion, this is a case in which a moral imperative overcomes nonjudgementalism. In the case of the paedophile you could do nothing immediately. The events depicted perhaps happened six months before they were broadcast. Suspending judgement for a short time may allow you to take some sort of action (demanding a response from politicians, for instance) against this sort of behaviour. In the case of the person distributing heroin outside the school in your presence, you can take action straight away to stop a great harm being done to children. You have arrived at the limits of the nonjudgemental approach. Of course you may later, in a non-judgemental way, consider what might have driven this woman to behave in this way, but that consideration belongs to later.
To sum up, taking a non-judgemental approach does indeed give you a fresh and creative view of the people and events in your own life, and it helps you to make fresh and creative choices. Therefore, 90 per cent of the time, the non-judgemental approach is a particularly valuable element of mindfulness. Of course, we all have to make judgements in day-to-day matters, many times a day, but through suspending judgement for a time we can arrive at better, more rounded judgements in the end.
As we saw in the case of the paedophile above, suspending judgement for a time encourages you to inquire more deeply into situations and into what you might be able to do about them. However, there are some immediate situations in which a moral imperative dictates that the principle of non-judgementalism should be set aside while you act and do what needs to be done. I should end this by acknowledging that this piece is shot through with judgements. Judgementalism is the human condition.
As you go through your day and as you find yourself disliking what you see and hear, try adopting a non-judgemental approach for a time and see what it teaches you.