In The Sound of Music, Fraulein Maria sang, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start, when you read you begin A B C…” In practicing mindfulness, start at the very beginning too. Go back to kindergarten, or preschool. Begin with not knowing anything. When you take away everything that you know, you are left with awareness, breathing and compassion. The very beginning of the rest of your life is now. That is always where you begin a mindfulness practice.
The reason that it is important to practice mindfulness is that it helps you to train you mind to feel better. Most people begin a mindfulness practice because they are suffering. Pain can be located in the body, but suffering is located in the mind. Attending to your mind will help you to work with and through your suffering.
If suffering brings you to a mindfulness practice, then you begin by being mindful of suffering. Suffering can be complicated, if you try to sort out all the things that contribute to your suffering, you could sort forever. To cut right through the complications, put all that down. Go back to the beginning, by bringing your mind back to the present moment. Now.
What reminds you of mindfulness is awareness. You are always aware of something. When you become aware of your awareness, you are being mindful. Often, what brings you to mindfulness is a painful feeling, suffering. The natural reaction to suffering is to try to get away from it. With mindfulness, you don’t try to get away from your suffering, you acknowledge it. When you notice suffering, recognize your awareness. Recognize your awareness of your suffering. When you notice that, you are present.
The next step is breathing. After recognizing your awareness, to remain with your awareness, breathe consciously. Breathing allows you to be in the present moment, grounded in your body and able to observe the activity of your mind. As you breathe and watch the activity of your mind, the activity will change. Although it will change anyway, when you attend to the change, you influence the change, with compassion.
Compassion is the attitude you adopt toward yourself as you breathe into your suffering. Recognize that you do not enjoy the feeling, and that you would be feeling differently if you could. Recognize that you do not deserve to suffer and that you would like to find a way to not suffer. Acting on compassion involves quieting your mind and looking into your experience to see if there is something you can do. If you notice something you can do. You can try to do it. Being aware of your feeling and your breathing as you activate compassion, is already compassionate action, but you may notice something else you can do too.
Meditation and mindfulness go together because meditation is the practice of awareness, breathing and compassion. You practice meditation when you are not acutely suffering. Practice when you have time to sit and rehearse the skill of focusing your awareness on the present moment. By practicing meditation, you strengthen the habit of attending to your experience, whatever it may be. When you regularly practice meditation you are more likely to turn to mindfulness in a moment of need, rather than turning toward avoidance habits.
The ABC’s of mindfulness, Awareness, Breathing and Compassion, are simple and always available to you when you need them. Now is the beginning. Now, you are aware, breathing, and feeling compassion. It is so simple you are already doing it. If you practice often, returning to the present, cutting through the complications of life with the simplicity of life, in good times and trying times, you will recognize the power of this practice. You will be able to grow through suffering and expand your compassion to the entire world.