Yoga pose sketch credit Ramana Kumar, @ramanasketches
I think most of us would agree that the tendancy to judge is something we learn as we grow up. From early years to adulthood we mimic a judgemental world around us. Mindfulness teaches us that letting go of judgement leads to acceptance which, in turn leads to a peaceful mindset.
Acceptance is effectively about letting go of negative feelings associated with an experience and deciding to move forward wholeheartedly. It is a key emotional skill for dealing with stress. It's about non-judgement and being receptive towards our experiences.
When we are accepting we are cultivating the ability to not judge ourselves, our actions, or even our experiences. Instead we aim to view the situation and our self with compassion.
Our natural instinct when we feel either physical pain, such as a painful shoulder or mental pain, such as anxiety - is to try to avoid the feeling. You ignore it or distract yourself or use drugs or alcohol to numb the discomfort.
"Fear grows out of the things we think; it lives in our mind"
This may work in the short term but it doesn't solve the emotional hurt and struggle with the actual suffering. So there is a secondary response here to the underlying hurt which Buddha calls the 'second arrow', it refers to a warrior who is injured and allows a thought to unleash, like 'why did this happen to me'. Once the thought has popped into the head it becomes the secondary emotional response to the hurt and deepens the pain.
In Mindfulness we learn to be aware of our negative thoughts and the ability to observe them the moment they pop up, then accept the thoughts without judgement, so that we can stop them in their tracks and let them go.
When we practice meditation one of the biggest hurdles is the 'second arrow'! Initially during meditation lots of thoughts will enter the mind. It can be hard to switch off completely, as the mind is active and busy most of the time.
If we don't accept that thoughts are bound to come up in meditation this becomes the pain of the 'second arrow' because we tend to criticise our self for having too many thoughts and therefore think we are unable to settle into the meditation successfully.
The solution here is to acknowledge and accept that thoughts are part of the meditation process. We do this by quietly saying to our self - 'it's natural to think'. Then we observe the thoughts coming and going without dwelling on them and gently guide our focus back to our breath, as we continue to move towards the stillness in our mind.
"Mindfulness brings our awareness into the present moment with no judgement"
In Mindfulness ‘noticing what is happening’ is one of the most important elements we need to be aware of. Normally we mindlessly go about our daily lives attaching to our negative thought patterns, believing they represent our own sense of identity. We generate our own suffering through nurturing these unhelpful beliefs. The skill is to remember to ‘Observe’ our own thoughts and actions and it’s this ‘Awareness’ that takes time to learn.
How do we master this skill? We learn to immediately Acknowledge the thought, feeling or sensation. Accept it and give it a name, such as ‘it’s just an emotion’, then we Observe how we are feeling in our body without judging the thought. At this point in any given moment we can change the experience by tuning into the breath, calmly Breathing out and letting the thought go.
Next time you feel anxious or worried try feeling it in your body. Tune into how your body is reacting to the negative emotion - worry, stress, fear or anxiety.
Follow this simple ritual:
Notice it - how you feel
Name it - if possible.
Accept it - that it's just an emotion
Feel it in the body - without judgement
Breathe it - let it go.
Mindfulness is considered to be a helpful and powerful tool for calming the mind, reducing anxiety and depression. It facilitates change from negative thought patterns into positive outcomes. Just as we can use the mind to manifest negative feelings and events, we can also create positive thoughts and expectations.
In time these thoughts can not only make us feel happier and less anxious but also lead us towards a more positive and peaceful future.
Annie runs Mindfulness, Meditation and Yoga courses from her studio in East Molesey, Hampton Court, Surrey.
Annie is also hosting a Yoga and Mindfulness Retreat in the Algarve, Portugal from 26 September - 1 October.