Loving-Kindness Meditation: A Form of Gratitude

Jon Kabat-Zinn provides an extended loving-kindness meditation that incorporates gratitude for the love of the people in your life who are close to you.  It also involves self-love and kindness towards others who may have hurt you in the past.

Jon makes the point that engaging in loving-kindness meditation on a regular basis equips us to deal with the ups and downs of life.  It especially enables us to tone down our anger or rage towards another person who may have hurt us.  Our expression of gratitude and kindness helps us to restore equanimity in our lives.

Feeling the love

The loving-kindness meditation offered by Jon begins with capturing the essence of the love that a really close person in our lives shows toward us.  It involves basking in the ways that this unconditional love is expressed towards us while appreciating what it means to be loved for who we are.  Once we have captured these feelings of being loved, we can express kindness towards this person by repeating Jon’s words in a conscious, meaningful and personal way:

May they be safe and protected and free from inner and outer harm. May they be happy and contented. May they be healthy and whole to whatever degree possible. May they experience ease of well-being.

Loving-kindness towards yourself

Jon’s meditation moves onto expressing loving-kindness towards yourself. This involves moving beyond any negative thoughts, self-criticism or self-loathing and being open to loving yourself as you are, taking your cue from those who love you unconditionally.

It is often difficult to embrace self-love and kindness towards yourself but the practice develops a healthy self-regard that enables you to rise above the thoughts that would otherwise drag you down.  The meditation involves recognition of your basic humanity.  By using the above-mentioned kindness phrases towards yourself, you are wishing yourself safety, happiness, good health and overall well-being.  In other words, you are  being kind to yourself.

Loving-kindness towards someone who has hurt you

In the meditation that Jon provides, he progresses to having us think about someone who has actually hurt us in some way.  He is not asking us to forgive that person but to acknowledge their basic humanity, just as we have done for our self.  This entails moving beyond the hurt to expressing kindness to the person involved through using the kindness phrases provided above.  This loving-kindness meditation helps to dissolve our hurt and anger and to see the person as connected to us through our universal humanity.

Expanding the field of loving-kindness

Jon suggests that the field of loving-kindness can be limitless.  We can expand our focus in the meditation to include people in the immediate world around us or in the broader world – focusing on individuals or groups, e.g. expressing loving-kindness to people who are experiencing the trauma of a hurricane or to volunteers helping to fight poverty.

You do not have to extend your field of awareness during this form of meditation – you can choose to restrict your focus at any point.  You may find, particularly with an extended meditation, that you become easily distracted.  In this case, as Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests, you can notice your distracting thoughts and imagine them as bubbles that burst as they reach the surface of boiling water or burst as a result of you popping them.

Loving-kindness meditation helps you grow in awareness of, and gratitude towards, those around with whom you come into contact on a daily basis.  It opens you up to appreciating the significant others in your life and to extending positive thoughts to the broader community, so that your awareness of your connectedness expands.  This form of meditation can also help to reduce anger towards others who may have hurt you – it enables you to expand your response ability in the process.  As you grow in mindfulness through loving-kindness  meditation you increase your awareness of others and empathy towards them.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Meditation for Letting Go

Sometimes we can become consumed by anger and be captured by the thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations that accompany anger.  Meditation provides a way to let go of anger and its associated ill-effects.

The catalyst for your anger may be that someone did or said something that you considered unfair.  It may be that what was said or done frustrated your ability to meet your goal of helping other people to achieve something important.  You could feel aggrieved that the thought, effort and cost that you incurred for someone were unappreciated and/or devalued.  It could be that comments made by someone else are patently untrue or distort the real picture of your involvement.

The harmful effects of sustained anger

The problem with anger is that it is such a strong emotion, that we tend to hang onto it – we do not let it go.  We might ruminate endlessly on what happened, providing justifications for ourselves – our words and actions.  We could deflect the implied criticism by denigrating the other person’s intellectual capability or perceptual capacity.  We could make assumptions about their motivation and even indulge in conspiracy theory.

An associated problem with indulging in angry thoughts and sensations is that it harms both us and our relationships.  We are harmed because the negative emotions consume mental and emotional energy, distract us from the present moment (and all that is good about the present) and destroy our equanimity.

Indulged anger can lead to retaliation that harms the relationship with the other person.  It can also contaminate our relationships with other people who are important to us such as our partner, a friend or our children.  As a result of our sustained anger, we may appear aloof, critical, grumpy or unsympathetic to these important people in our life.

A meditation for letting go

Diana Winston offers a meditation podcast on letting go.  She emphasises the fact that when we indulge a strong emotion like anger, the bodily manifestation of this can be experienced as tightness, tension or soreness – a physical expression of holding on.  We can even experience shallowness of breath as we hold the negative emotions in our bodies.

The first level of release through meditation is to focus on your breath – the in-breath and out-breath.  This mindful breathing can be viewed as letting go with each out-breath, releasing the pent-up thoughts and emotions that make you uptight.

As you progress your meditation and begin to restore some semblance of relaxation, you can then address the “holding on” in your body.  Through a progressive body scan, you can identify the parts of your body that are giving expression to your anger – you can physically soften the muscles (facial, back, shoulder, neck or leg muscles) that have become hardened through holding onto your anger.

Once you have become experienced in meditation, you can then begin to reflect on your response to the negative trigger that set you off.  This opens the way to look at how you responded and whether there was an alternative way of responding other than defensiveness or attack (flight or fight).  You might discover (as I did recently) that active listening would have achieved a better outcome, an improved level of mutual understanding and reduced stress generated by angry thoughts and emotions.

Taking this further, you could explore a powerful mindfulness meditation that can help you overcome ongoing resentment by enabling you to put yourself in the position of the other person to appreciate how they experienced your interaction – to understand their perspective, their feelings and their needs in terms of maintaining their identity (their sense of self-worth, competence or reliability).  The Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) recommends this meditation practice for handling residual emotions and resentment resulting from a conflictual interaction.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection we can practise letting go of anger and other negative emotions by focusing on our breath, bodily sensations, emotions, thoughts and behaviour in an interaction.  Through the resultant self-awareness, we can improve our response ability.  By exploring the interaction experience from the position of the other person, we can also increase our motivation and our options to behave differently for our own good and that of the person with whom we have interacted.

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Developing Inclusion through Mindfulness

In a previous post, I discussed the six core traits of inclusive leadership and acknowledged the role that mindfulness plays in developing inclusion in our thoughts and behaviour.  In this post, I would like to develop this theme further.

Inclusion involves openness and receptivity to what is different and diverse.  It is the foundation of real knowledge, insight and wisdom.  It involves more than being sensitive to diversity but also valuing and embracing it.  So, it entails not only a way of thinking but also a way of being in the world.

Through mindfulness, we can become aware of our implicit biases and emotional responses to people who are different from us.  We are then better able to manage our habituated responses and increase our response ability.

So much of our bias is unconscious and conditioned by our social, cultural, geographical and educational environments and associated experiences.  One way into our biases is through meditation on our emotional reactions to people and situations that challenge our view or perspective of the world.  Our feelings of discomfort can portend our inner bias and raise awareness of our tendencies to exclusivity.

If we can stop ourselves from reacting automatically, breathe deeply and consciously, notice and name our feelings, we can respond more appropriately and, eventually, act in a more proactive and inclusive manner.  If we reflect on the pattern of our thoughts and actions when we meditate, we can isolate negative emotional responses to a particular person or group.  Having identified the stimulus and the nature of our reaction, we are better placed to manage our response.

When we reflect through meditation on our thoughts in particular situations, we can more readily isolate our assumptions and stereotypes and understand how they are impacting our behaviour.  Through this increased self-awareness, we are better able to develop inclusive thoughts and actions.

Research has demonstrated that loving kindness meditation, which typically incorporates self-compassion and compassion towards others, can mitigate unconscious bias.  This approach to developing mindfulness places increased emphasis on similarities and entails expressing desire for increased well-being, happiness, equanimity and resilience for others.  Development of positive intentions towards others builds an inclusive frame of reference and affirmation of diversity.

As we grow in mindfulness, we see our biases in a clearer light, understand their impact on our behaviour and become more open and able to adopt inclusive behaviour.  Developing inclusion in our words and actions can be achieved through mindfulness if we consciously employ meditations that invoke acceptance and inclusion.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Mindfulness for Leadership in the Digital Age

Many of the presentations during the Mindful Leadership Online Conference, 17-26 October 2018, focus on what it means to be a leader in the digital age.  Sky Jarrett, for example, discussed Thriving As a Leader in the Digital Age, and highlighted the role of mindfulness in achieving this goal.  Her presentation drew on her experience with Accenture – a global consulting firm – where she is an Executive Coach and Mindfulness Instructor.

As the digital age continues to advance relentlessly with the advent of artificial intelligence and robotics, leaders are faced with new and demanding challenges and the uncertainty that derives from continuous technological, ecological and economic disruption.  Life and work are becoming more complex with the generational shift and the growth in mental illness in the home and the workplace.

Thriving as a leader in the digital age through mindfulness

Sky identified how mindfulness can assist leaders to not only survive the digital era but to thrive and achieve greatness in their chosen arena of activity:

  • Calmness – mindfulness is necessary to develop calmness and equanimity in the face of organisational and community turbulence.  Sky likens the calmness developed through mindfulness meditation to the calm of the “eye of the storm”.  She suggests that the incorporation of mindfulness practice in the life of an executive is an “imperative” like the change from analogue to digital. It is critical for a leader to be grounded and not unsettled by digital turbulence if they are going to lead effectively.
  • Trust – Sky points to the fact that we are operating in a trust economy as part of the macro environment of the digital age.  Trust underpins relationships which are the lifeblood of an organisation or community.  Trust is built through integrity and consistency.  Increasingly, followers look to leaders for guidance, transparency, support and reliability.  Mindfulness builds self-awareness and self-management which are foundational to integrity and the development of trust.
  • Connection and collaboration – the digital age is the era of connectivity. Individuals, groups, organisations and communities are collaborating locally and globally – even competitors are collaborating to achieve common goals.  The complexity and speed of change means that leaders can no longer be isolates steeped in knowledge and relevant experience – they will become increasingly dependent on collaboration with others as change outpaces their ability “to keep up-to-date”.  Mindfulness helps a leader to experience, understand and value connectedness to themselves, others and the world around them.  It also enables them to build the capacity for collaboration and enlightened action in the world.
  • Self-improvement – for many years now, we have focused on externalities including the continuous improvement cycle in organisations.  The time has come for leaders to focus consistently on self-improvement, to take themselves as the the improvement project.  This will require developing emotional awareness through mindfulness and reflection on their thoughts and actions so that a leader can enhance their response ability.
  • Bodily intelligence – Sky suggests that leaders will need a greater connection to their bodies in the digital era.  Bodily intelligence, also termed kinaesthetic intelligence, will enable leaders to sense bodily when things are not right and to take constructive action.  Somatic meditation will assist leaders to enhance their bodily intelligence and to develop the leader’s capacity to trust their body’s intuition (“gut feeling”).
  • Being present – as we have reiterated in this blog, the capacity to be present is an essential skill of leadership, no matter what the era.  However, the digital era places greater demands on leaders to be genuinely present to others when interacting.  The challenge to being present in a digital era characterised by incessant “noise” and disruptive communication, is potentially overwhelming.  Mindfulness builds the capacity to shut our the noise and to fully focus on the person and task at hand.

There are many demands on leaders in the digital age, but as we grow in mindfulness we can bring calmness and equanimity to any situation, build trust and connectedness, focus on improving ourselves through reflection, more readily access our bodily intelligence and become more fully present in our daily interactions.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Insights from Mindfulness

Matthew Brensilver teaches about the relationship between mindfulness and mental health based on his many years of research into treatments for addiction and resultant behaviours.  In one MARC meditation podcast he offers two key insights that derive from mindfulness.

In the podcast, he suggests that meditation practice itself is a form of training that opens us up to the potentiality of mindfulness.  It enables us to pay attention to our everyday experiences, getting in touch with our sensations and thoughts.  Matthew describes mindfulness as accepting our human condition in all its facets with openness and equanimity.  He maintains that this mindful stance generates two key insights.

Insight 1 – the difficulty of being human

If we learn through meditation to accept whatever comes our way, taking things as they are, we come to realise how difficult it is to be truly human.  This openness to experience from one moment to the next means accepting what is with equanimity – even if this involves challenges to our sense of self, career disappointment, interpersonal conflict or ill health.

It takes real courage to face the reality of our lives with full awareness, not hiding in denial or diverted by resentment.  Life often turns out to be very different to what we imagined or hoped for. Matthew states that mindfulness demands that we “make peace with the human condition” and live our lives with genuine acceptance moment to moment.  This is hard to do, even if we are able in the midst of things to express gratitude for what we do have or for the positive experiences we have had in our lives.

Insight 2 – we underestimate the capacity of our hearts and minds

Matthew suggests that our innate capacity is often obscured by aversion to difficulties, striving for “success” or the negative emotions generated by the everyday challenges of work and life.  Fear, for instance, can stop us from being creative and pursuing opportunities for personal growth and development.

Matthew argues that “sustained intention and attention” that develops with mindfulness enables us to tap into our real potential, including the ability to offer unconditional love and appreciation.  If we are able to maintain “continuity of awareness” we are able to access our full potentiality.

For Matthew, mindfulness involves not only being aware of our thoughts and emotions from moment to moment but also the ability to “pour awareness into our body” so that we are in touch with our bodily sensations as well.  He suggests that meditation helps to build this awareness because it offers the opportunity to “experience the dignity of upright posture” while, at the same time, feeling “the pull of gravity” on the rest of our body.

As we grow in mindfulness, we come to realise the difficulty of facing our human condition with equanimity, while at the same time experiencing the depth and breadth of our human potentiality.  Meditation practice helps us to accept what is and to more readily realise our full potential.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Cultivating Equanimity through Mindfulness Meditation

“Equanimity” connotes peace, balance, composure and acceptance in times that are good or bad.  The word itself can conjure up a sense of serenity. It is possible for some people to experience equanimity on a regular basis because of their personality or lived experience and education.

It is also possible to cultivate equanimity through both general meditation practice and more specific meditation that focuses on developing equanimity when confronted with life events, both those that are experienced as bad and those that seem good to us.

Diana Winston offers a meditation podcast on Practising Equanimity which is designed to help us focus on life events that may be a source of disturbance to our equanimity so that we can learn to be with them without rancour or inflated elation.

Experiencing equanimity

Diana, in the prelude to her equanimity meditation, refers to the definition of mindfulness promoted by the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) at UCLA:

Mindful awareness can be defined as paying attention to present moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is.

She particularly focuses on the words, “a willingness to be with what is” – which, in one sense, defines equanimity.  So often we can be absorbed by what has happened in the past (with resentment, disappointment or bitterness) or obsessed about the future (with anxiety, agitation or disturbance).  In the process, we lose our sense of equilibrium and the experience of equanimity.

What we experience as good can also disturb our equanimity because it may be so good that we never want it to end – we want to hang onto the experience and become overly attached to it to the point that we are resentful when it ends.

So being present in the moment and accepting fully “what is” can be very  difficult.   Meditation can enable us to develop a sustained sense of calmness but we can still be put off balance by adverse events or experiences.  Our perception of the global situation may also upset our equanimity.

If we can learn through equanimity meditation to just be with whatever is present in our lives, we can reduce our emotional response, develop creative solutions and take informed action to create change rather than” working from reactivity”.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation practice and specific equanimity meditation (focused on a disturbing or mood-altering event), we can increase our “response ability” and experience clarity and calmness.  Diana’s meditation podcast provides the opportunity to begin this journey to cultivate equanimity.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Being Grounded

So often we can be off-balance, caught up in concerns about the future or worry about the past.  Alternatively, our minds can be racing from one thought to another.

If we lack awareness in the present moment, we will miss opportunities, make poor decisions, create work and  stress for ourselves and find that our productivity, either at work or at home, suffers.

If we are grounded, small annoyances and setbacks do not disturb our equanimity and we can manage larger challenges more effectively because we are able to choose an appropriate response, rather than be caught up in the whirlwind of our thoughts and activities.

Ways to develop groundedness

Being gounded is important and underpins mindful living.  We need to stop our frenetic activity and  take time to get connected with nature or tuned into our body.  Another form of groundedness is to engage in mindful walking where we get in touch with the ground, or the floor if we are walking inside our house.

We can tune into our body through mindful breathing, a body scan or other form of somatic meditation.  Breathing is so fundamental to living that most mindfulness experts praise the benefits of mindful breathing – it has a calming effect, can be undertaken any where and is  a good way to begin most meditations.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Another form of meditation that enables you to become really grounded focuses on the energy that surrounds us – in the air, in nature, with people and animals.      Through this approach,  you are able to get in touch with the energy of the universe and experience the connectedness this entails.

As we grow in mindfulness through regular practice of different forms of meditation, we can become grounded more easily when we are in a stressful situation, or exposed to a negative trigger, or are becoming nervous when we have to perform.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Gratitude in Times of Difficulty

Having gratitude in times of difficulty can increase resilience and overcome depression, anxiety and despair.  Gratitude changes the quality of life that we are living as we gain better control over our thoughts and feelings and learn to accept what is.

As you develop this practice, you start to see things that you had not noticed before, the taken-for-granted things in your life.  Diana Winston recalls noticing the way sunlight reflects on a plant and the assorted colours that were in a painting on her wall.  She attributes this increased awareness and associated thankfulness to taking the time to slow down and meditate on the place where she was – very much a form of open awareness meditation.

So, mindfulness and gratitude go hand-in-hand, in a two-way reinforcement.  As you meditate, you become more aware of what you are grateful for and your growing gratitude, in turn, helps you to be more aware of positive experiences and people in your life.

Gratitude in times of difficulty

We so often miss the simple things of life that are before us and can act as a stimulus for gratitude.  In times of difficulty, it can be very hard to look beyond what we are experiencing and suffering from and, yet, the simple things in our life can be easily noticed and employed to pull us out of our self-absorption.   When we are experiencing difficulties, we often can’t see beyond what is challenging our equanimity.

Somatic meditation can be very helpful in times of challenge, whether the challenge relates to health of our body, our mental state or an external negative stimulus.  Adopting a meditative position, in the first instance, enables us to get in touch with our breathing and provides the stillness to observe our own body as we undertake a body scan and progressively release the tension within.

This physical grounding and release provides the foundation to turn our minds to what we are grateful for.  A recent experience may become the focus of your appreciation.  For example, in a recent meditation, the focus of my gratitude was a conversation I had the day before with a long-standing colleague and close friend.  I recalled the ease of the conversation as we were “shooting the breeze”, the deep connection through shared experiences and convictions, the exploration of new terrain, the supportive challenge to perspectives, the mutual respect and admiration and the challenge to identify what gives me a “buzz” at a time of semi-retirement.

Reflecting on this recent experience made me realize the warmth of the interaction and the things that I value about the friendship which lie below my consciousness because I have never attempted to express my gratitude for this profound connection.  Our meeting was not only a face-to-face conversation, but also a meeting of minds – a source of mutual enrichment.

As we grow in mindfulness through gratitude meditations, we start to see things that we have taken for granted, appreciate more deeply and explicitly what we value in our experiences and friendships and  strengthen our inner resources to deal with the challenges that confront us.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Mindfulness: Commitment to Awareness

Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his presentation provided as part of the  Mindfulness & Meditation Summit, focused on the theme, Fully Embodied as You Are.  Jon is the author of a number of books, including Coming to Our Senses and Full Catastrophe Living.

A quote from his book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, throws some light on his chosen theme for this presentation:

Mindfulness practice means that we commit fully in each moment to be present; inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness, with the intention to embody as best we can an orientation of calmness, mindfulness, and equanimity right here and right now.

So fundamentally, mindfulness is a commitment to cultivate awareness so that in any given moment we can embody calmness and the clarity that comes with progressively waking up to full awareness.

We grow in mindfulness through meditation practice which can take many different forms or as Jon describes it, “many different doors to the one room”.  Just as there are different regimes to build fitness and stamina, there are multiple doorways to mindfulness – mindful breathing, mindful eating, mindful walking, kindness/compassion meditation, mindfulness yoga and body scan being just a few of the many options.  Jon encourages us to be creative in our exploration of meditation practice.

Awareness through meditation awakens us to our own likes and dislikes, our biases and prejudices and how we harm others, often unconsciously, through insecurity, uncertainty, doubts, mental/physical pain and resentments.

As we become increasingly aware of our internal landscape, we learn to recognise how we place ourselves at the centre of things – it is all about us and our world, our future, our well-being and our security.  In this sense, we each have some of the characteristics of a narcissistic person.  Mindfulness, however, helps us to become more unselfish, interconnected and compassionate.

He suggests two simple practices to increase our wakefulness:

(1) each time you take a seat, see it as a new beginning, grounding yourself in the present;

(2) when you wake of a morning, lie in bed for five to 10 minutes, and practice the body scan so that you can be fully awake and, in Jon’s words, “fully embodied”.

The more we grow in mindfulness, through daily meditation over increasingly longer periods, we leave behind our self-interested focus and become more other-focused and interconnected and more aware of our impact on others.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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From Outer Landscape to Inner Landscape: The Growth of Awareness

In my previous post, I discussed mountains and rivers as a source of meditation and their predominance in Chinese landscape art. I also focused on the Shan shui tradition of landscape painting where the artists expressed their thoughts and emotions about a physical landscape in their painting.  In this way, they revealed something of their inner landscape.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book Coming to Our Senses, describes each of the traditional five senses in terms of a landscape, e.g tastescape and touchscape.  After discussing each of the five senses, he introduces “mindscape” and describes its role as follows:

…ultimately it all comes down to what we call, by extension, mindscape.  Without the discerning capacity  of our minds, there would be no knowing of any landscape, inner or outer.  When we become aware, when we rest in the knowing, we are resting in the deep essence of mindscape, the vast empty spaciousness that is awareness itself.  (p. 234, emphases added)

He maintains that as we grow in mindfulness, we can gradually gain access to mindscape – that unadulterated awareness that is a deep insight into our inner landscape and our outer reality.

With this awareness comes the realisation that everything is passing – our sensations, thoughts and emotions.  They are here today and gone tomorrow.

Awareness increases our insight into our inner landscape and how we tend to cling to things that we want. It enables us to let go of our disappointments generated by the past and fears about the future.

Awareness leads to full acceptance of ourselves as we are – with our bodies and our quirks.  However, being able to access full awareness, mindscape, does not mean that we will not go backwards towards lacking acceptance or engaging in internal conflict.  As Kabat-Zinn points out “that is part of the human condition”.

He goes on to say, encouragingly:

But, there may very well be a gradual shift in the balance over time, from more inner conflict to more equanimity, from more anger to more compassion, from predominantly seeing only appearances to a deep apprehending of the actuality of things. Or there may be so at times  but not at other times. (p. 235)

As we grow in mindfulness, we begin to see things as they actually are – we become less likely to project onto people, things or events, our negative perceptions shaped by our own life experiences.

Accessing mindscape, opens us up to full awareness of our inner landscape so that we can realise our full, creative potentiality, develop deep insight and self-compassion as well as compassion for others. In this state, we can find true peace and tranquility

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of  johnhain on Pixabay