The model of mindfulness that I want to present
involves these three core elements of intention, attention, and attitude. And I want to talk
about each of these. This is the definition from our book: Mindfulness is the awareness that arises out
of intentionally paying attention in an open, kind, and discerning way. So this is all we’re trying
to do. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with meditation practice. We practice so we can remember to
be this way moment by moment. So, first I’ll speak about intention. Intention
is simply knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing – what is your aspiration, your vision,
your personal goal? Intention really sets the compass of our heart. It says this is the direction I want to go
in – not necessarily, I must get there – but this is the direction I want to head. It’s not a destination.
It’s not goal-oriented. We’re not striving to get a certain place. We’re just setting the compass of our heart.
Jon Kabat-Zinn says: Your intentions set the stage for what is possible. They remind you from moment to
moment of why you are practicing. He says: I used to think meditation practice was so powerful that as
long as you did it at all you would see growth and change. But time has taught me that some kind of personal
vision is necessary. I’ll give you a very simple example that happened
last year. I was teaching in Europe for two weeks, and it was the longest I’d been away
from my little boy, Jackson. And as I was flying home, I was having all these feeling of guilt. He was
7 at the time, and I felt like it was too long to have been away, and should I have done this and it, was it
wrong? And I realized guilt wasn’t really helping, so I made a very clear intention – when I get home,
I just want to be with my son. And I want him to know mom’s home and that
I love him and he’s safe. And that’s it. I’m not going to check email. I’m not going check my mail.
I’m really going to focus. I was getting home on a Friday night, and I figured Saturday we were going to spend
the entire day together and that was it. And we were going to go to the beach. So we woke up the next morning, and I start
packing up for the beach and making the perfect lunch, the perfect picnic, and getting all
his stuff and really excited to show him how much I love him. And he, you know, in the meantime was like,
‘Hey Mom, come look at this. Hey Mom, Mom.’ I was like, ‘Okay, just a second,’ still doing
my thing. Yeah, you know this isn’t going to turn out well. And so we’re starting to go, get ready to the beach
and I’m like, ‘Hey Jackson, let’s go,’ and he’s like, ‘I don’t really want to go to the beach.’ I was like,
‘Honey, come on. It’s beautiful. It’s sunny. We’re going to the beach.’ He’s like, ‘Okay,’ puts on
his bathing suit. We’re walking out the door, and I’m, like, five steps ahead of him. And I get to the car, and I
look back, and he’s sitting down on our front porch, and I’m like, ‘Jackson.’ And I feel that kind
of contraction in my body, a little bit of impatience. And he’s just sitting there, and I start noticing the tension
in my body, of I have an agenda, and I have a plan, it’s going to be wonderful. Luckily, I’d been teaching mindfulness for
the past two weeks straight. So I had this moment of awareness and I reflected: What’s my intention?
Oh yeah, I just want him to know that I love him, that I’m home. And so I walked back over, and I
sat down next to him. And he was looking at these ants – that’s actually why he was sitting there.
And they were pretty extraordinary. And I sat down next to him, and I just sat there quietly, and I was breathing,
and I was with him. And he kind of leaned his little body into my body, and I could feel the sun on
our backs, and I could feel us resting, us connecting. And that was, that was it, that was the most important
thing. So our intention reminds us what is most important. And it can be that simple. So present-moment awareness is essential if
we’re going to see clearly, right, that’s the definition of mindfulness. And yet, what we found – in
fact, this study was published I think two years ago, with 650,000 subjects – is that our mind wanders
approximately half the time. They found that 46.9% of the time your mind is wandering. That’s a lot
of your life. So part of this practice is learning how to attend in the present moment. And it doesn’t mean
we shut out our thoughts. It doesn’t mean we no longer have any thoughts – we have 12 to 50,000
thoughts every single day. You’re not going to make those go away. What we start to do is change our
relationship to thinking so that we can rest more in the actuality of the present moment. So we don’t
believe our thoughts so much. I love this quote from Emo Philips. He says, “I used to think the brain
was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.” Right?! Right. Don’t believe your thoughts. So the intention with mindfulness is that
we train and stabilize our attention in the present moment so that we can see clearly. I actually
believe one of the most healing dimensions of mindfulness is just that our mind and our body are in
one place. It’s exhausting – it’s exhausting to be sitting here and have your mind racing all over the place.
So part of this practice is learning how to just let ourselves rest in the present moment and know that where
we are is okay. This is enough. So this is a picture of a monastery
that I visited when I was first learning about meditation. And when I first went there, I didn’t know anything
about meditation. I was about 19 or 20 years old, I didn’t speak any Thai, and this beautiful monk invited
me in for this 12-day silent retreat, and he didn’t speak any English. So he kind of, you know, made
it clear that I was supposed to attend to my breath going in and out of my nostrils. I said, I could probably
handle that – pay attention in the present moment to the breath. So I’m sitting there, and guess
what I noticed? It’s not so easy. My mind wandered. And it
would wander off, and I’d bring it back. And I would try harder, and I would try harder,
and I would try harder. And I got really impatient and really frustrated, and I would sit there, and I would
breathe, and my mind would wander off. And eventually I was like, damn it, Shauna, what’s wrong
with you? Why can’t you do this? And who do you think you are to try to be a meditator? You’re not
a meditator; you don’t know what you’re doing. And then all of the sudden, by like, the second or third
day, I was looking around at everyone else at the monastery, and I’m like, who do they think they are?
And, you know, just this judgmental mind of like, tension and contraction. And then this monk, on day four,
flew in from London, and he spoke English. And I said, ‘can I please have an interview with him?’ Because
you’re in silence the whole time too, so it’s just you and your mind. It’s uncomfortable. Yeah. I remember now, Anne Lamott, who is
one of my favorite authors, she says, “Your mind is like a dangerous neighborhood, you don’t want
to go there alone.” So, it’s me and my mind alone, and it was
dangerous. And this monk came in, and he said, ‘How’s it going?’ and I was like, ‘Not so well.
This is what’s happening: I’m getting really angry at myself and anxious and judgmental and striving, and I’m
trying.’ And he looks at me, and he goes, ‘Oh dear.’ He’s like, ‘You’re not practicing mindfulness.’
He said, ‘You’re practicing frustration, anxiety, impatience.’ And then he said these five words that really
changed my life. He said, ‘What you practice becomes stronger.’ What you practice becomes stronger. We know this now from neural plasticity. We
know that your repeated experiences shape your brain. What he said was that when you practice
paying attention, how you practice is important, your attitude. Are you paying attention with acceptance,
with openness, with curiosity – what does it feel like to be hot or to have your mind wander off?
With kindness, with gentleness, with warmth, with a sense of trust. This is what’s happening right now,
and it’s okay, because it’s just what’s happening. I might not like it, but it’s already happening, so can
I be present with it and kind? These qualities, these attitudes, it doesn’t
mean that you feel happy all the time. It doesn’t mean that everything’s okay all the time.
What it means is that you have this big pot of experience and that whatever is arising, you’re holding with
kindness. You’re holding your fear with kindness. You’re holding your sadness with kindness and with
curiosity. You’re interested in your own experience. You’re interested in what it feels like to be alive. Sometimes I think of it as like I’m my own
parent and like my little Shauna’s coming to me and saying, like, ‘I’m really angry right now.’
And I’m like, ‘Tell me about it. What’s going on?’ Right? I’m not trying to make it go away. I’m not trying to tell her she needs to
feel happy and joyful all the time. And I’m holding it with kindness, and it’s okay. With my patients, there’s a way in which whatever
they bring into the room is absolutely okay. It’s absolutely okay. I first have to get there
with myself, though. I first have to allow myself to be absolutely okay with however I’m feeling. This is just
what I’m feeling right now. This is just what’s happening right now. And it’s okay. And I can be with it.