Mindfulness is a skill that requires cultivation, in the same way that academics, our vocation, sports, or music do. Because mindfulness involves the mind, most people tend not to think of it in these terms. But in reality, there are a number of useful parallels we can make, particularly to our hobbies. Understanding these parallels can motivate us to improve our mindfulness skills, as well as to explain mindfulness to people in our lives who are curious about it.
1. Learning a new skill is a mix of theory and practice. Developing a new skill starts with someone explaining the basics of it to us — how to move our fingers to play the piano, or how to swing a tennis racket. But of course, just knowing the theory isn’t enough — we also have to practice by doing exercises. Mindfulness is the same way. Our in-class program provides exercises for children, and our training courses provide exercises for adults. By repeating these exercises, Mindful Schools helps children and adults cultivate the skill of mindfulness.
2. Every day is different. In whatever we do, we have good days and bad days. Some days at work, our mind just isn’t as sharp as others. If we play the piano, our fingers just may not move the way we want, or our timing may be off when we play our favorite sport. Other days everything comes very easily. We have all experienced these ups and downs, which are part of life. We need to accept them without holding onto ideal versions of ourselves from our best days. Again, mindfulness is the same way. Depending on what’s going on in our life, our mind may be more distracted on some days, and clearer on others.
3. Practice brings improvement over time. Even though we have ups and downs, as we practice a skill over time, we’ll find that our down days aren’t as bad. For example, a “bad day” for someone who’s been playing tennis for a week will be quite different from a “bad day” for someone who’s been playing tennis for years. In fact, the beginner will probably look at the more experienced player’s bad day and wish for that on any day! The benefits of mindfulness are not as externally obvious, but the same trends apply. As we develop our mindfulness, we can increase the space between stimulus and our reactions, giving us the ability to respond skillfully and to access peace more easily, and often.
4. As our skill level increases, we can recover more easily after breaks. When we are beginning to learn something, every day of practice matters a great deal, and we tend to forget quickly. But as we gain experience, our skill becomes more robust and we are able to bring our level up more quickly even after a long break. Someone who played music rigorously as a child can channel that experience even decades later. A similar example from the realm of mindfulness is the ability to concentrate mindfully for longer periods of time, or to apply mindfulness more readily in challenging real-world situations. It’s worth practicing more when we can, because we will be able to recover our skill more easily when the inevitable lapses in practice time come our way.
5. Improvement takes effort. In our first attempt, we wouldn’t expect to play the piano like a concert pianist, nor to play tennis like a seasoned pro. This is so obvious to us that we spend many hours each week, often for years, to increase our skill level at our hobbies. What if we took the same approach to developing our mental strength, setting aside similar lengths of time to practice and cultivate mindfulness? We would be far better equipped to handle stress, to increase our own well bring, and to improve our resilience by growing our sense of gratitude. Clearly, mindfulness is a hobby that worth adding to our list!