Jon Kabat Zinn is one of the pioneers of western mindfulness and has been a driving force in helping people to understand that there is a simpler way to live our lives, by being present more often. With this simplicity comes a reduction in stress on many levels and that can lead to a huge improvement in conditions like bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression as well as other emotional and physical pain.
His Nine Attitudes of Mindfulness helps us to understand why being present is so important and also acts as a guide on how to start changing the way we think in order to combat negative thoughts with regards to ourselves, other people and everyday situations.
It’s important to realise that it takes time to change the way that we think but with practice we can make significant alterations to our regular thought patterns and this will lead to positive gains in our psychological wellbeing. It is necessary to practice our mindfulness exercises daily so that we are in a position to realise when we are being close-minded and we are then able to consider alternate approaches to thinking like those below.
1. Beginner’s Mind
Often when we consider a person, situation or event we already have a preconceived idea about them or it and this influences our thoughts heavily. Looking at something with a beginner’s mind implies that we should adopt more of a curiosity towards every-day situations. Sometimes by re-looking at something in conjunction with some of the other attitudes below we can change our minds which can lead to a more positive life experience.
An example could be of a person that you don’t always get on with because you don’t like something about them. Every time you see them you tell yourself how the interaction is going to turn out. Now, while you may actually be correct, by approaching that person with a beginner’s mind you can start to be curious about why they may be like they are, the experiences that have lead them to be that way and with that can come more empathy. With empathy can come understanding and that can lead to a more peaceful existence.
Similarly, by looking at ourselves and our thoughts we can begin to understand why we think that way. Be curious about your anxiety, anger, low mood, mania, every-day judgements and prejudices. Try to think whether these are true in ALL circumstances or if they are just learned responses.
Question everything you think you know and open your mind to change.
Possibly one of the hardest attitudes to change because we need judgements to successfully survive in this world, our brains are hard-wired to judge. However, by questioning our judgements more often we learn that many of them are not necessary and often not accurate either. We can be happier and lead more meaningful lives by being discerning in our judgements.
Judgements can relate to:
– our own bodies, thoughts, emotions, likes or dislikes and actions
– other people’s bodies, thoughts, emotions, likes or dislikes and actions
– situations as good or bad
– objects, and more.
The key is to simply be aware that we are making judgements all the time and to eventually use your wisdom to determine if they are necessary and valid. In time you will find yourself making less non-essential judgements and you will be more understanding of yourself and others.
Sometimes in order to move forward we need to accept things as they are. By accepting something, you are saying that even if things do not change you understand that they have happened or are happening. This disempowers the thought in your mind and gives you a base to either maintain the current status or to make plans to change the situation with a clear head that is free from anxiety.
If you think back to our mindfulness exercises, for instance, we learned how to accept our emotions, thoughts and feelings for what they are. If you are in a depression and you worry about the fact that you are low, it often makes it worse. If you accept that it has happened and that it will eventually pass it often clears up a lot quicker as you are not ruminating about it. If you make a mistake or get into an argument, accept it and don’t dwell on it. Not many of us are perfect mentally or physically so there is no use constantly reminding yourself of the fact. Come to terms with it and you’ll be able to move on. By learning to accept yourself you will be more able to accept that others are not perfect either and are probably having difficult thoughts just as you are.
In addition, many situations are beyond our control and worrying will not help. If you are late for a meeting there is no use over-thinking all the possible negative future outcomes as often they may never happen and you could just bring on an unwanted mood. Clear your head and bring yourself to the present and then deal with any resulting situations if they do indeed ever happen.
4. Letting Go
We’ve all come to this point in our lives with many opinions about how things should be or how people should conduct themselves. Often these are rules we’ve learned from our parents or others and are not necessarily true. Consider for example a shopkeeper that isn’t as friendly as you would like. In reality there is no rule that says that person must greet you with a smile, it’s just our learned behavior that makes us think that.
By letting go of some of these beliefs we can live a freer and happier life, we’re not so concerned with what must and should be done. Accept that others will do things differently and that’s OK.
Letting go can also mean forgiveness. If you had a parent, friend or family member that didn’t treat you as well as they could have then just consider that they have also been through a path in life that has lead them to have specific opinions and ways of dealing with situations. They probably have little control over how they react or do things. If you think how hard it is for you to control your bipolar symptoms, then consider how others may have trouble with their thoughts too. By learning to forgive people you will free yourself of negative thoughts toward them which can help to lessen depression and low moods. Forgiveness doesn’t mean allowing people to hurt you over and over again, it means understanding where they come from and then if necessary, taking steps to limit further hurt in an impartial way.
Many bipolar sufferers have issues with trust, both in ourselves and in others. Many of us have made questionable choices in life which have led us to second guess our decisions. As you progress in your wellness and mindfulness practice you will start to learn to make wiser decisions and this in turn will help you to trust yourself more. Trust in other people is harder because there are some out there that will seek to take advantage of us. However, as you gain more faith in your own judgement and use your wisdom you will find it easier to determine who is trustworthy and who is not. In life there will always be those that let you down and key is to accept that it will happen a certain amount of the time but not to let that constrain you in your everyday life. If need to get your house painted, for example, but think that anyone that comes in will do a shoddy job, you’ll probably never get started. If you do your research, write a comprehensive job spec with high attention to detail about what you want done and then get references and quotes from a few people you’ll probably find someone that will do a fair job. Accept that it may not be 100% perfect but that it will probably be good enough.
Patience is a very rewarding quality to cultivate. Be patient with yourself in your journey to becoming the best person you can be. It’s easy to get frustrated when progress is slower than we’d like. But hold in there and allow it to happen at the right pace, eventually you’ll see the changes unfold if you put in the work to make it happen.
Learn to be patient with others too, nobody is perfect. I get frustrated with my children sometimes but I have to realise that they don’t see the world the same as me, so when they are playing instead of getting ready for school they are not trying to annoy me, they are just being what they should be, children. Play is important for them to learn about life. I’ve had so many fantastic experiences with them when I’ve just relaxed and let things happen at their own pace.
Practice and wisdom will show you when is a good time to simply allow things to happen and when is a good time to make them happen faster. Can you think of situations where you could be more patient?
The essence of mindfulness is just to be in the present in a non-judgmental way, not to strive for a particular outcome. While deep down our reason to practice it is to lessen our bipolar and other symptoms or to change an unwanted behaviour, keep in mind that simply being present and using wisdom will lead us to the right outcome eventually.
One of my key bipolar symptoms is anger. I’ve learned several techniques to combat this but the most powerful by far is not trying to control it at all but just to be present when I can feel the triggers having an effect. This stops me ruminating about the causes of the anger and allows me to rationalize the situation for what it is. It also allows me to take the correct action, like maybe walking away if I feel I won’t be able to control myself. It takes practice but the realization that I should not strive to be anger free, but to just be mindful was very liberating for me.
It’s easy to be dissatisfied with your bipolar life, at times you can be tormented by negative thoughts, wonder how many more times you’ll go up or down again or dislike yourself for what you did when manic. Once you start to make your wellness a part of your daily routine and practice a balanced life you’ll be able to feel gratitude for what you DO have. Does your body work mostly? Do you have a roof over your head and enough to eat? Do you have people in your life that care about you?
Give some thought to people that may be worse off than you but have managed to overcome extreme challenges. Finding gratitude for the small things in life will help you to become a better person.
Bipolar can be a very “selfish” condition in many ways in that it can be all consuming, your low and high moods can cause you to think about your self rather than others. I suffered from ultra rapid cycling and was very seldom stable. One major benefit I found once I started getting better was that I genuinely began thinking about what might make others happy, not just myself. I now take immense joy from giving to others in any way possible, from just being more helpful to spending more quality time and being more attentive to volunteering or donating to a cause. Seeing others happy makes me happy while I still make sure that I look after myself.
Watch the video by Jon Kabat Zinn
While the content above offers my insights on the 9 attitudes of mindfulness, Jon Kabat Zinn explains it in the way that he intended it to be understood, it’s definitely worth watching. Also read up more about his journey, he has helped create a very accessible form of mindfulness that can make big changes to the way we see the world, if we allow it to.