Day #17: Being Open
Today zoom's in on Contemplation and Being Open as the 2nd in the trilogy of competencies that enable us to live mindfully.
Recap - yesterday's installment on the (En)Lighten Up! experiment looked at Concentration and Being Focussed. That means tomorrow we will look at Cultivation and Being Ace! But, let's not get ahead of ourselves...
2. Contemplation - Being Open
There are a number of reasons why contemplation and being open is important. Being open is a key part of cultivating curiosity and interest in what is going on within us and around us. Being open minded helps us to notice judgments and assumptions yet also open up and entertain new ways of thinking which could include new ideas we can generate or understanding other people's perspectives.
Although the benefits are great, we encounter lots of challenges when it comes to practicing contemplation and being open-minded. We race around and neglect to take the time to step back and openly reflect on what is going on. We are so productivity and efficiency focused we are led to believe that taking a moment to be thoughtful is a luxury we can't afford (or may get in trouble for). We apply rules and ways of thinking (including assumptions, stories and self-talk) that may be easy for our brain to retrieve but which are actually irrelevant, out-dated or inappropriate to the present situation. We can be easily influenced to think a particular way by media or influential people. As a result, we can neglect to put effort into making space for considering, hypothesising, and pondering what our own thoughts, insights, and wisdom can put into the mix for contemplation. These challenges can be met with greater openness and the skills be build through contemplation practice.
Ok - time for a brief rant.
I believe the modern day view of mindfulness is overwhelmingly focussed on the Concentration process. As a result, key take-home-messages for people introduced to mindfulness include the belief that their problems will be solved and happiness will shine through when they can focus their mind on their breath and keep it there. An incredibly common add-on to this is the false belief that when the mind wanders off, they aren't being mindful (which is only really the case if they don't notice their mind wander), and worse still it can lead to the belief they're 'no good' at mindfulness.
Another common misconception that isn't typically handled well relates to what to do when the mind wanders. When we choose to concentrate - to focus our attention - we are instructed to bring back the mind when it wanders. Whilst this is a useful and appropriate step in many ways, it is in my view, overly simplified. To handle this objection quickly, one additional step that can help us is to re-introduce a contemplative stance towards the wandering mind. That is, when our mind wanders off, instead of just bringing back our attention, we can create a moment - some space - to open-mindedly acknowledge (not judge) where our mind went; and to contemplate whether the wandering yielded anything of value. For example, when engaged in mindfulness practice concentrating on the breath, our mind may wander off and an insight may emerge in our field of awareness. The insight could be a useful thought or idea or solution to a problem that is worthwhile noticing - properly - mindfully - before we choose to bring our attention back to our breath.
It can also be valuable to consciously pause our mindful breathing practice to invite contemplation on an object of interest that has the potential to provide us with valuable insights. And, and, it can also be useful to engage in the practice of contemplation as it's own mindfulness practice - resting with an object of our attention with the objective of allowing our mind to open on the object of focus in order for insight to emerge. Indeed that is key to traditional mindfulness practices and philosophical inquiry.
Ok, this rant has gotten longer than expected... Hope you appreciated the ride. I'll wrap it up and remind you to keep your mind open and contemplating what I have introduced here - and to stay tuned for the book if you are keen to contemplate this topic some more...
Oh, ok, a couple of steps for us to make this practical - why not...
1a) choosing to contemplate on an object with an open mind
1b) choosing to openly contemplate what emerges in our awareness moment by moment
1c) choosing to allow our mind to contemplate what emerges in our awareness even though we may have chosen to concentrate on something else in this practice - like our breath
2) noticing when thoughts, sensations, feelings, intuitions and insights become available - and instead of treating these as distraction per se, acknowledging, honouring, and contemplating what has emerged to learn from the experience before allowing the next moment to unfold
Contemplation practice is simple, like concentration practice - but again is not necessarily easy. For example, when are we contemplating vs becoming preoccupied with thinking? When are we being openly curious and when are we getting fixated on figuring something out? Lots to contemplate, hey?
Stay tuned for tomorrow -