I am halfway through an 8-week mindfulness course run by psychologists at the Queensland Cancer Council. It entails one morning per week in class and over 50 minutes daily practice, plus other homework, also a full day session ahead – quite a serious commitment!
Much has been written about mindfulness
(eg Jon Kabat-Zinn, Russ Harris), so what can I add? Besides, the
method of learning is “experiential”. They say reading about it
is like reading a menu, and falls far short of tasting the food. So
far I have found it to be a process of discovery and much more
exciting than one might expect from sitting doing nothing!
From the start we were instructed to
sit still for about 40 minutes and focus our attention on the breath
(or other physical sensations). Pretty soon we struggling students
were asking the teacher how to stop our minds from wandering. The
response was like: Ha ha it’s impossible! “That’s what minds do.”
As far as I have heard, even the wisest, most enlightened Zen masters
continue to encounter intruding thoughts.
The task is to notice the distraction,
and gently bring the mind back to the focus – again and again. It
seems a paradox that while we try to be disciplined about keeping
focus, we are also instructed to stop striving and judging, but
rather to trust and be patient. The key is to foster a “beginner’s
mind” which meets each moment with kindness and curiosity.
According to one guru, the mind is like an ecosystem, and practising mindfulness is like introducing a new species. Ecosystems often resist new species, hence the significant
challenge. (Gill Fronsdal.)
The intention is to be present in the moment, and the outcome is increased awareness of the processes of my own mind, leading ultimately to greater choice in my responses. I am interested in this as training for more effective use of my mind, which leads on nicely from the cognitive rehabilitation sessions I recently completed. And yes, I do feel very much like a beginner trying to trust and work patiently towards this goal.