Beginner's mind--It is useful to approach mindfulness with the freshness of a beginner’s mind. Our expertise clouds our ability to pay attention to the moment. We are predispositioned to give importance to particular sensations and thoughts over others. Each moment is new and fresh. By invoking the quality of the beginners mind we notice the moment with fresh eyes.
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities,
but in the expert's there are few."
~Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Master~
Non-judging--Non-judgment arises when we pay attention on purpose to the moment. Judgment may naturally arise as a “wanting or not wanting.” Judgment acts as a veil that prevents us from seeing things objectively. This veil colors our experience with stories and shoulds about how things ought to be. Our judgments can send us on whirlwind of distraction that only serves to reinforce our view of the world. Mindfulness invites us to pay attention to judgment in the same way that we notice a sound outside the window -- we let the sound arise without a story or label. In the same way a sound appears and disappears, so too do our judgments. In noticing the judgment, we are liberated from the grip and free to make choices. One of the largest pitfalls comes when we begin to judge ourselves for judging. It creates a vicious circle of judgment that can only be interrupted through accepting ourselves for judging.
Acceptance--Acceptance is the active recognition that things actually are the way they are. It is sometimes misunderstood as the passive sense of determinism and powerlessness. Acceptance of the present moment leaves space for discernment and the ability to act with wisdom. Acceptance can be difficult when things are not the way we want them to be. Through acceptance, we know where we stand in relationship to what is occurring. Through mindful acceptance, we can shift our relationship to what is occurring in ways that can be profoundly healing and transformative.
Attachment- The attitude of non-attachment can be equated to ‘letting go.’ Attachment to things being a certain way is painful and letting go is the doorway to freedom and relief. Letting go (or “letting be”) means not being caught up in having things be a certain way. When things are not the way we wish and we continue to cling to our version, we invite suffering into the mind. In India, there is common technique used to catch monkeys. It involves tying a coconut to the base of the tree and then creating a small hole in the top of the coconut and placing a banana inside. The hole in the coconut is just big enough for the monkey to reach in, but when it attempts to take the banana, its hand gets stuck. The monkey is attached to having the banana and will refuse to let go. The monkey’s desires have anchored it to the tree and thus it is trapped.
Patience- Patience is an important cornerstone of mindfulness. Having patience stops the hurry and the rush. When we are racing to get somewhere, we are never actually where we are. A mind hung up on where we want to be isn't fully in the moment at hand. The cultivation of patience allows us to recognize life events unfold in their own way. It gives awe and beauty to what might have gone unnoticed. With patience, we may be better able to appreciate our experiences, look on the positive side, and notice the small things. Even the mundane, when given your complete attention, becomes full of wondrous details that teases the essence of life. To have patients is to take the path of wisdom. On this path we are in direct connection to our life passion, thus, we observe roadblocks and challenges as small detours to our ultimate destination. Patience is the lens from which we can observe experience, emotion, and thought without engaging with it.
Non-striving--Non-striving is allowing things to be held in awareness without needing to engage with them. It goes hand and hand with patience and is an unusual position for the modern world to adopt. In a society that values and rewards productivity, non-striving can feel alien. Mindfulness is about being present and not try to get anywhere other than here. A common pitfall is to try to muster a particular state of bliss or a special state of relaxation into being. Instead, be with the unfolding of life moment to moment without any agenda whatsoever. Striving isn’t to be confused with non-doing or non action. Action is the driving force behind every great human achievement. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were skillful in their approach and well-intentioned passion. Mark Williams writes, “Doing mode is not an enemy to be defeated, but is often an ally. Doing mode only becomes a ‘problem’ when it volunteers for a task that it cannot do, such as ‘solving’ a troubling emotion. When this happens, it pays to ‘shift gear’ into ‘Being’ mode. This is what mindfulness gives us: the ability to shift gears as we need to, rather than being permanently stuck in the same one.” (Williams 36)
“Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are.” (1)
Non-striving can also be thought of as deliberately paying attention to each step in the process. Lao-Tzu once said “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”(Tao Te Ching). Non-striving is the attitude we adopt to traverse the moment. Each step is noticed with the same careful persistence as the previous one. These steps add up to the signature accomplishments of our lives. The Tao Te Ching presented non-striving or wu wei as being in harmony with the natural processes of life. Sometimes referred to as action-without-action, but it’s better understood as "action that does not involve struggle or excessive effort." (6) Today we might call that ‘being in flow state’, that experience you have on a run when your focus dials into the moment and everything else fades out of perspective.
All in all, non-striving can seem very paradoxical. To explore more on the topic, look into the writings of Lao-Tzu. The Philosopher Alan Watts has a poetic take on the principle of Wu Wei. And for a more scientific reading, check out Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work on MBSR and how his program uses the mindful attitude of Non-striving to support individuals seeking relief.
For navigating a topic on meditation, one must be weary of supernatural claims. The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh is free from any such claims and explores mindful meditation in a concrete way. For grasping some of the more abstract concepts around mindful attitudes, turn to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s video “Mindful Attitudes.” A great resource to get a full picture of mindfulness meditation is Sam Harris’ book A Guide to Spirituality without Religion. Harris dives into several concepts like consciousness, gurus, and the illusion of the self that come up when discussing meditation. He is a neuroscientist and long time meditator who addresses mindfulness and secular spirituality in a mature tone without making any unfounded claims on the merits of meditation.
(1) Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Wherever You Go, There You Are Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. Hachette Books, 2014.
(2) Williams, Mark G., et al. Mindfulness: an Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World. Rodale Books, 2012.
(3) Tan, Chade-Meng, and Colin Goh. Search inside Yourself: the Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace). HarperCollins Publishers, 2012.
(4) Mingyur, Yongey, and Eric Swanson. The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness. Bantam Books, 2009.
(5) “Paramahansa Yogananda.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Oct. 2017,
(6) “Wu Wei.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Nov. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_wei.