Thursday, September 22, 2011

Define Mindfulness

This post was written for inclusion in the Mindful Mama Blog Carnival hosted by hosted by Kelly of Becoming Crunchy and Zoie of TouchstoneZ. Participants are writing posts about what mindfulness mean to them. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

It’s funny that Zoie (TouchstoneZ) and Kelly (Becoming Crunchy) would choose this month’s Mindful Mama Blog Carnival topic to be the very one thing that I’ve been mulling over in my mind: What does being mindful mean to you? Now, there are a ton of different angles to answering this question. I’m narrowing it down to three: Define “Mindful”, Being Mindful as a Human Being, and Mindful Parenting. And, since I can’t write short posts about any subject (heck, I can’t even leave Wordless Wednesday posts wordless!), I am going to write three separate posts and take part of this carnival whenever those posts fit into the theme.

What does being mindful mean to you?

When I saw the question popping out of my computer screen, it became clear to me that I had to take a closer look at myself – as a person, as a wife, and as a mother. I’ve not been the peaceful person I want to be, and I must admit that I’ve not even really tried changing. I’ve been following Hybrid Rasta Mama’s posts about her journey through the Mindful Mothering Challenge and really feel that I (and everyone around me) would really benefit if I tried taking part. It’s as if I’ve been waiting for “the right time” or for something to happen in my life that would force me to get up off my lazy butt, quit thinking, and start doing. That’s when I saw that question. It was a sign from the almighty Becoming Crunchy Gods telling me through an email subscription that this was the kick in the pants I was waiting for.

The first step toward becoming a mindful person is finding a definition for what “mindful” is to me. I’ve been mulling the question over in my head for a few days now, jotting down brainstormed ideas, and attempting to form a post or two in my head on the subject. However, being mindful isn’t something that you can just buy a book on and follow the step-by-step instructions to happiness and enlightenment. It’s a habit, a way of life, which you must ease yourself into. You can’t fake mindfulness – it won’t last long. You must truly feel it in your heart and understand it in your mind. I do feel the desire to become mindful and know that this is the path I want to take.

I searched the Web for some kind of guidance. I was lucky to have found the step-by-step guide that I just said doesn’t exist! The Community for Mindful Living follows the “…Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings for Engaged Buddhism of the Order of Interbeing--the Tiep Hien Order." Tiep means ‘in touch with’ and ‘continuing’. Hien means ‘realizing’ and ‘making it here and now’.” As I read over these fourteen “trainings”, I realized that I: 1) completely agree with each one and 2) possess many of the traits that these trainings strive to teach. Now, I just need simple reminders throughout the day that will keep me from having the knee-jerk (and I do mean “jerk”) reactions that I have to occurrences and actions that I have no control over. I yell at the kids a LOT. I get huffy over stupid things like hubby finishing the last of the coffee. I selfishly block out all of the turmoil around me by sitting in front of the computer reading blog posts, checking out Facebook, and entering giveaways. I’ll write more about how I am changing these in my next two posts.
Right now, I want to focus on those fourteen trainings and share my own interpretation of them:

  1. Openness – This is me. It took me most of my 20’s to get here, but I am an open person. I have my own opinions of things. Yet, I do not feel that my ideas are the “right” ones – they’re only right ones for me. I do not fault anyone for having the ideas or opinions that they have. The one thing here, for me, is that I feel that some people do not educate themselves and only hold certain opinions because they know someone else with that opinion. I need to work on not trying to educate those people against their wills. It is one thing to hand over information with no strings attached. It’s not being open when I ask the person if they got a chance to go over that information and try to find out if they’ve changed their way of thinking.
  2. Non-Attachment from Views – What?! OK, this one goes with the Openness one. The idea is to be willing to hear the views of others (no matter how wrong I may thing they are) and be open-minded enough to try to understand those views. This training is here to remind me that my ideas and opinions are ever-changing and the more I learn about others’ ideas and opinions, the better prepared I will be to accept my changing views.
  3. Freedom of Thought – Again, back to the openness thing. This time, it is all about allowing others their own freedom of thought and not trying to coerce others into thinking my way. This one goes for children, partners, friends, and strangers. It is one thing to converse on a subject with someone who thinks differently. It is another to try to change their thinking with a bribe or a threat.
  4. Awareness of Suffering – This is going to be a tough one for me. Suffering of any kind is easiest to handle when I just pretend it’s not there. This training asks that I stop shielding myself from suffering of things and people. Sometimes, even, seek it out. Try to feel compassion and empathy, and then try to show the one(s) suffering a path to comfort and joy. I’m still mulling over just how to do this.
  5.  Simple, Healthy Living – Hmm… I understand the concept here: Simple living means to only take what I need and not attempt to amass a stockpile while others may be suffering without even their basic needs met. Healthy means to keep my body pure and free of toxins. The first part is going to be a slight adjustment. I need to get rid of a ton of things. Things that I look at every day and feel terrible for having and not using, knowing that there is someone out there in need of it. The healthy part is going to be very tough. I have made many changes in my lifestyle over the years, but I still like a good Twinkie or Pepsi now and then. I live on coffee – I swear it’s the only thing that keeps me alert all day. I’ll work on cutting out the bad stuff and replacing it with good. I know right now that the coffee will not disappear, but there are alternatives that I can replace most of my daily cups with.
  6. Dealing with Anger – OK, this is a really, really bad one for me. It is the reason I even began considering the life changes that becoming a more mindful person should bring. I have a quick temper and I’m stubborn. I will spare you all of the details in this post (see the next two) and just say I have a lot of work to do before I can be one who does not respond immediately when anger rises within me.
  7. Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment – Sounds perfectly logical. Problem is, I tend to remove myself from the moment by thinking of other things, past and future, that have nothing to do with now. I must find a physical or visual reminder for this one.
  8. Community and Communication – I love this one. It has to do with listening and speaking with an open heart. I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will be attentive to your point of view while you are expressing it. I will also share my opinions and beliefs while keeping in mind that you may not feel the same way as I. I really try to practice this and I believe that I am good at it; though, no one is perfect – I need to learn how to not shut down when someone whose ideas are radically different from mine shares his or her thoughts with me.
  9. Truthful and Loving Speech – This one is a tough one for me. Being truthful doesn’t just mean not lying, it also means having the story straight and making sure it’s factual before sharing it with others. While I may try to be truthful in all that I say, the loving part is not so easy. I need to remind myself several times a day that the things that come out of my mouth may not seem to be hurtful to me, but they leave a terrible impact on those around me. I tend to slip into negative speech with Little Guy and the Oldest. “No” “Can’t” “Won’t” are all words that I use often. Turning my phrasing around can make all of the difference! This training also reminds us that we must stand up for the truth – even if it means bad things may come to us. Think of all of the heroes we know about who spoke the truth against injustice only to be beaten down or even murdered by the oppressors. The word got out – their messages were hear – and we know this because, even when these events may have taken place centuries ago, we know about them today.
  10. Protecting the Sangha – OK, I’m not a Buddhist, so this one seemed a little out there at first. This is directly from The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and explains better than I ever could: “Aware that the essence and aim of a Sangha is the practice of understanding and compassion, we are determined not to use the Buddhist community for personal gain or profit or transform our community into a political instrument. A spiritual community should, however, take a clear stand against oppression and injustice and should strive to change the situation without engaging in partisan conflicts.” What I get from it is that being mindful and compassionate should be done only because it is the right thing to do. This isn’t a way of life for those who will only use it to gain things (whether it’s money, fame, power, or even love.) I really do not anticipate anything from my actions other than inner peace – if I’m lucky!
  11. Right Livelihood – This one tells me to make sure that my career is not only something that makes me happy. I need to consider the global impact of my choice: Does this job cause injustice or negative environmental impacts? Also, as a consumer, I must ask the same things. As a mom, I do this everyday – Which brand of dish soap do I buy? What am I teaching my children about waste if I throw out cheese that has a teeny bit of mold on it? May seem silly to some, but these decisions all add up. Not only do they affect myself and my family, but my community (buying local), the economy (buying from “good” companies will take money from the “bad” ones, social institutions (make sure to use companies with good labor practices), the environment (green products with little packaging), etc. And, hopefully, my kids see this stuff as a way of life and grow up into adults who follow my lead!
  12. Reverence for Life – This one is about non-violent communication and peaceful demonstration to avoid conflict and war. I’m all for it – war kills, conflict kills. It is important to stand up for what you believe, but physical harm is never a good solution for anyone. It’s funny, my husband and I were talking about war last night. He was a little young for the Vietnam draft, but he and his friends had talked about what would happen if the draft were still in effect when they reached 18. “I’m not running up that hill to try to shoot that guy. I don’t even know him! What did he ever do to me?!” Yeah, that’s the basic thought here. Wars are run by a few men (and women!) who use human beings as pawns in a game of chess in order to gain something (be it land, oil, power.) If all of the pawns were to realize what they were really fighting for and laid down their arms in peaceful protest, things would probably get done more quickly and with less bloodshed. (I know that there is way more to this subject than what I’ve written. I just remembered that this post is about “mindfulness” and not “war”!)
  13. Generosity – We don’t have much of anything. This could cause me to say, “But I have nothing to give!” I do – time, a few material things, energy. Generosity can be a simple hug to someone who looks like they’re at the end of their rope. Feeding a stray cat some leftovers. Standing up for a stranger who is obviously being treated unfairly. How many times do people walk past a bad situation saying, “It’s none of my business,” I’ve done it – I’ll admit it. But, recently, I’ve felt the need to help others. I still see the little boy whose spanking was averted due to my speaking up and his mom rarely uses this form of punishment now!
  14. Right Conduct – This one has a lot to do with sex. I KNOW!!! It reminds us to be fully aware of the impact that our sexual acts will have. That sex without spiritual love is just a physical act and means nothing. If fact, it’s a selfish act because we are fulfilling only our own desires. It also tells us to keep in mind that sex leads to new people. We must fully realize the responsibilities of bringing a new baby into the world and be willing to accept it. Quite a lot of thinking to do before “doing it” with your partner, but also very important!
Well, there you have it – how I feel being mindful will and can apply to my life. There is a lot to remember here, so I’m going to start out by making little lists of these Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and hang them all over the house. I'm a visual person and these will help me remember!  Next, I’m going to join Hybrid Rasta Mama and attempt to take on the Mindful Mothering Challenge. I’ve found that The Parenting Passageway started this challenge as “20 Days Toward More Mindful Mothering” I’m not going to attempt to do it in 20 days, but I’ll get through just fine and, hopefully, I’ll be able to write semi-regular blog posts about it!
Mindful Mama Blog CarnivalVisit the Mindful Mama Blog Carnival Homepage to find out how you can participate in the next Mindful Mama Blog Carnival!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:


teresa said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I love that you found and shared this list. I only had my feeling about what mindfulness means to me.... it's wonderful to read this list and your thoughts on each one. I think I can grasp it more deeply now. It's a good thing.

Kelly said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Alicia I so enjoyed this list and your commentary...I identify with you in so many ways! And I would like to be better in ALL of these things too...what an amazing life that would be!

I'm grateful to be on this path of defining mindfulness together with you...benefiting from your wisdom and knowing also we have similar struggles. I know I'll be coming back to this list, and looking forward to reading your upcoming posts, too!

Amy @ Anktangle said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I really enjoyed that you took this approach to the topic: to research it and figure it out. I loved reading your interpretations of the 14 mindfulness trainings, and I'm going to go check out the 20 days toward being a more mindful mother now. Thank you!

Patti @ Jazzy Mama said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Wow, that was a lot to digest in one sitting!

I love how this carnival has brought such a diverse group of moms together to help each other learn how to be more mindful, not just as mothers but as participants in the Universe.

Your response to this theme is awe-inspiring. Thankyou for sharing.

Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Thank you for such a wonderful post. Not only did I find helpful links for things I need to work on in my own life, I really found your take on things very encouraging.

#3 especially hit home for me because it's something I've been working on with my teenager. Even at 16 she is very mindful and compassionate; she is very tolerant to most all views and ideas. Yet going to high school in small town Alabama, she doesn't often get the same courtesy. So she struggles at times, but she is also becoming a very confident young lady as she stands up for herself and others. Thank you for sharing.

Erin OK said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I'm glad this carnival has led me to your blog! I love all the personality and thoughtfulness in your writing, and look forward to reading more of it.

Thanks for doing this research. . . I thought about doing some but didn't get around to it. The 14 principles are great. I make myself a daily planner sometimes and it would be cool to put one of the principles on each day to remind me to consider them on a regular basis.

I also clicked through and looked at the mindful mothering challenge. I'd love to join you in trying it out as well. Would you want to make an invitation for others to do it together? (I wouldn't want to try it in 20 days though either. maybe 20 weeks, or people could go at their own pace).

Amanda said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I so admire your willingness to change your mind and your habits, something that the majority of people don't even consider to be a problem. Just the fact that you want to do some work on yourself speaks volumes.

I was also intrigued by the Mindful Mothering Challenge done by Hybrid Rasta Mama, which is why I created my own challenge for myself, based on what I knew I needed to work on. I haven't done it all yet because I also believe it is a huge work in progress, not one that can be done in less than a month, so take as much time as you need! I wish you luck on your quest.

Rachael @ The Variegated Life said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Thank you for sharing these teachings; I was unfamiliar with them (though some of them sound like the precepts, the ethical teachings of Buddhism). What I like about the teachings is that each single one of them seems to contain all of the others. If you were to focus on just one, give yourself to doing it fully, how could you not be doing all the others?

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