Do you have the patience to wait until the mud settles and your water is clear? – Lao Tzu
Mindfulness is both a way of life and a practice. Although some benefit can be seen after even very brief exposure, life changing paradigm shifts tend to happen primarily through dedication, diligence and devotion.
- Dedication implies a commitment and persistence over time
- Diligence implies concentration and effort – one of my teachers, Jon Dilley, defines it as “sustaining incremental changes over time”
- Devotion implies an enthusiasm for, care, and even love
To be dedicated, diligent and devoted means to decide firmly on a course of action – to make a vow to practice and follow through. After reading this line, do you find your attention drifting? If you saw the title of this post and read this far anyway, you have probably already gone further than most. With all the pressure we feel from society telling us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, put on our big girl/boy pants, and start adulting, it’s no wonder that our minds shut down at the first mention of these concepts.
Self-discipline is a loaded word because, well – who really likes discipline? It implies punishment and we prefer reward and reinforcement. We like yes much better than no. But all self-discipline really means is “the regulation of oneself”. Mindfulness involves noticing and examining impulses. Through the cultivation of greater awareness and acceptance, we come to realize our thoughts and feelings are here, yet they do not necessarily require immediate action. Exercising willpower is draining, but developing awareness and making space is freeing. It allows an expression of our deeper values, rather than a repression of our thoughts and feelings.
Research shows that mindful people exhibit higher levels of conscientiousness (a trait of being dependable or responsible). When we become more aware of our emotional signals, we make space to respond more skillfully. There is also some evidence that mindfulness may help to improve executive control, or the ability to inhibit automatic or impulsive behaviors. Mindfulness doesn’t make a person less emotional, rather it allows us to relate to emotions more choicefully.
New practitioners sometimes say to me that mindfulness practice feels like an indulgence to them. I believe that succumbing to the seduction of the ego – taking anger out on others, beating ourselves up for a perceived imperfection, avoiding our problems by overdoing – is the true indulgence. Practicing mindfulness is simple, but difficult and requires courage and determination. Sliding seamlessly into the familiarity of our harmful patterns and habits is easy and takes no effort at all.
Anger comes from the same impulse that causes us to eat too much, drink too much, talk too much, gossip, or feel too proud. Basically, it comes from a place of self-indulgence. It comes from mindless mind. – Charlie Ambler
We don’t have to be shaming task-masters with ourselves in order to be dedicated, devoted, and diligent. When we approach practice with self-compassion, it means we have our own best interest at heart. A child might desire to eat dessert for every meal, but we don’t indulge that impulse because we want them to be healthy and well. We also don’t judge or punish them for wanting cookies. Instead we kindly and skillfully find some inventive ways to get some nourishing foods into their diet wherever possible. Relating to ourselves like someone we truly love is the best approach to developing a deep, nourishing, and sustainable practice.
At all times and in any situation,
How can I make mindfulness my constant habit?
Thinking thus I will desire
To meet with teachers and fulfill the proper tasks.
By all means, then, before I start some work,
That I might have the strength sufficient to the task,
I will recall the teachings upon carefulness
And lightly rise to what is to be done.
Just as flaxen threads waft to and fro,
Impelled by every breath of wind,
so all I do will be achieved,
controlled by movements of a joyful heart.
– Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva
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Meiklejohn, J., Phillips, C., Freedman, M.L. et al.(2012). Integrating Mindfulness Training into K-12 Education: Fostering the Resilience of Teachers and Students. Mindfulness 3: 291.
Mitchell, J. T., Zylowska, L., & Kollins, S. H. (2015). Mindfulness Meditation Training for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Adulthood: Current Empirical Support, Treatment Overview, and Future Directions. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 22(2), 172–191.