The new year can be an ideal time for getting back to what is most important and meaningful to us. For many, the holiday season can give rise to a complex range of feelings and emotions. The busyness, pressures and stress of social and family demands can easily get in the way of our mindfulness practice and other important forms of basic self-care. Many find that at the turn of a new year they feel determined to make a resolution: to let go of some old habits, develop a new one, or simply begin again with something that’s been hard to maintain in the past. Wherever you find yourself on this scale, I want to offer some encouragement and inspiration for us to get back to basics.
The good news is, the basics are in fact the best aspects of our mindfulness practice.
The power of mindfulness is founded in its most essential function: bringing our attention back from a wandering mind. In the late 1800s, the psychologist William James may have had the foresight into how mindfulness practice would arrive into the mainstream culture when he claimed,
“The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will… An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.”
The truth is, for better or worse, the moment we begin to cultivate the practice of mindfulness, we are immediately confronted by the reality of attention. Much of modern life is driven by seemingly endless distractions. When we find the time to sit quietly–eyes closed, bringing our attention to the sensations of breathing–we also find our attention is often quite scattered and can be hard to pin down.
This reality can create the all-too-often experience of disappointment, frustration and self-judgment, but perhaps we can look at this in a more constructive way. Here, we can remember that the quality of our attention is more important than the object of our attention.
For the practice of the month, I’d like to introduce two key ideas: object and attitude.
This guided mindfulness practice on Back to Basics includes a short introduction followed by a 10 minute meditation.
As we practice, let’s consider both what are we paying attention to and how are we paying attention. Often the object of attention can be portrayed as being more important by emphasizing awareness of our bodies and our breathing.
We can see that focusing on a single object, such as our breathing, allows us to find and place attention. Repeating this over and over again will strengthen and improve our attentional skills and is a core function of mindfulness. Also important, perhaps even more so, is to bring awareness to our attitude of practice. This allows us to see how we meet that object in each moment. For mindfulness practice to provide the greatest benefit we must understand the importance of both. This will serve us to better understand that our present time experience is a relationship to foster, rather than a technique to master.
Dave Smith is Head of Practice at Mindful Schools. Dave began practicing mindfulness in 1994 and is now an internationally recognized meditation teacher and published author on Ethical Mindfulness. He provides consulting for mental health agencies and non-profit organizations, and he speaks nationally at behavioral health conferences. Dave has extensive experience bringing meditative interventions into a wide range of environments including prisons, youth detention centers and addiction treatment facilities.