Mindfulness may seem like a difficult practice that takes special training and abilities to practice, but in many ways we are naturally mindful, whether we practice mindfulness or not. Everybody has awareness. That is how we know that we are suffering. We know we’re anxious. Whether we practice mindfulness or not, we notice our breathing. We notice that we have a body. We notice the taste of our food, the smells in the air. We notice that we feel good when we are generous. We notice that we like it when people are nice to us. We notice that we feel wonderful when we feel loved. We don’t need a special practice to notice these things. That is what we do because we are alive.
Whether we practice mindfulness or not, we train our minds to manage our emotions. We practice habits that create our typical moods. We live according to our beliefs to create as much happiness as we are able. Even if we don’t practice mindfulness, we live in the present moment. That’s all we have.
Making the transition from not practicing to practicing mindfulness is not always a question of choice. You don’t always choose what to believe. If you somehow begin to believe that you can train your mind to create your emotional states, then you naturally begin a mindfulness practice. You don’t even have to believe it whole heartedly. You only have to suspect that it might be true. Then you begin experimenting by watching your mind. In any moment that you consciously watch your mind, in any moment that you are aware of your awareness, if you suspect that this awareness is creating a difference, you are being mindful.
When you begin entertaining the belief that you are constantly, either actively or passively, training your mind, then your mindfulness practice expands into every moment. You know you are practicing when you test your beliefs by engaging with your difficult emotions. If you find yourself purposefully breathing in the heat of your anger to see how quickly it passes or dismissing a judgmental thought as another thought, then you are doing it.
When you start to notice that bringing your awareness regularly to your present circumstance creates subtle or profound changes, then you reinforce your beliefs and begin collecting tools to help your practice. You may consciously set an intention for your practice, such as to train your mind to feel happiness, or to train your mind to work through sadness, anger or grief. You may begin a meditation practice to improve your focus. You may learn breathing techniques, yoga or a martial art to assist your practice. As you gain skills and techniques to work with your mind, you become an active participant in your changing mind. That feels good. When you recognize your own basic goodness, there is no turning back. Compassion naturally arises.
— Peter Taylor.
a Zen master in the Korean Jogye tradition