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Foundational Attitudes of Mindfulness Non-Striving (5 of 9)
Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about the attitude of mindfulness "non-striving" what it means and why it is important.
In the previous videos, Jon Kabat-Zinn introduced us to the first four attitudes of mindfulness, non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind and trust. In this video, Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about the fifth attitude of mindfulness, that of “non-striving.”
In non-striving, the goal is to be with yourself right here, right now. Paying attention to what is unfolding within without the impulsive need of trying to change anything.
Because of this, non-striving is considered one of the key attitudes for practising mindfulness. Why?
If we stop and reflect on this in relation to our lives, we would probably notice that we spend much of our time in our lives, “striving” to do things and trying to change things to achieve a desired outcome. (Segal, Williams, & Teasdale, 2012) point out how, because of this, there is an imbalance between the doing mode of mind and the being mode of mind, with the doing mode being predominant.
Because of this, more often than not, this “doing mode” tends to carry over into our practice of mindfulness meditation and can become a hindrance to mindfulness practice. Why? We can answer this by looking at some definitions of mindfulness.
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” (Kabat-Zinn, 1994, p. 4)
“Nonelaborative, non-judgmental, present-centred awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is.” (Bishop et al., 2004, p. 232)
“Knowing what is happening while it is happening, without preference.” (Choden & Regan-Addis, 2018, p. 17)
Here, we will notice that all these definitions point to an awareness of present-moment experience coupled with an openness and non-judgmental attitude towards our experience. I personally really connect with how Choden and Regan-Addis (2018) place it “without preference.”
So, mindfulness involves paying attention, without judgment, to whatever is happening. This might seem counterintuitive as it involves a paradox: that of taking a step from achieving a particular goal or changing how we might feel. Rather, the focus in mindfulness practice is carefully seeing and accepting things as they are, moment to moment, even when things might feel a bit uncomfortable.
This, again, might sound counterintuitive because of the misconception that mindfulness meditation is relaxing or achieving some particular meditative state of mind. Rather, the departing point of mindfulness is encountering ourselves and experience just as it is.
And this is why non-striving is considered to be one of the core attitudinal qualities of mindfulness. As Wolf and Serpa (2015) put it non-striving means,
“Being fully present in this moment without the need to change it—actually being present without any agenda. Even without the agenda to relax or to feel better. And surely not with the agenda to reach a special meditative state.” (p. 13)
Therefore, non-striving entails shifting away from our automatic inclination towards constant action. Instead, it encourages a more open and receptive responsive state of being rather than a reactive one.
This involves cultivating a balance between the doing and the being mode of mind as Kabat-Zinn (2013) and Segal et al. (2012) point out that it is in this being mode, that we find the capacity to accept the present moment as it is, recognizing that it need not be flawless or perfect and may even harbour stress or discomfort. As Wolf and Serpa (2015) commented the,
“Being mode allows this moment to be “good enough”—again, not perfect, and sometimes even stressful or painful.” (p. 13)
However, as the attitude of non-striving involves relinquishing the compulsion to constantly strive for perfection, counterintuitively, we might start to notice that dropping this “need for perfection” brings with it a profound sense of ease and internal stability as we go through navigating life. It is here that the attitude of non-striving reveals its transformative qualities, gradually demonstrating that shifting the balance in life towards “being” teaches us that this mode of existence offers a unique path to restoration and well-being, underscoring the importance of letting go of relentless striving in favour of a more mindful, gentle, and nurturing approach to life.
As Jon-Kabat Zinn points out in the video non-striving is,
A tremendous discipline, a tremendous attitude to bring to life, and it doesn't mean you won't get things done. On the contrary, it means that whatever doing you “do, do” and will wind up coming out of being. And therefore, much greater wisdom and much greater appropriateness to the situation.
P.S. The upcoming post will introduce the fifth attitude of mindfulness, “acceptance.”
Bishop, S. R., Lau, M., Shapiro, S., Carlson, L., Anderson, N. D., Carmody, J., . . . Devins, G. (2004). Mindfulness: A proposed operational definition. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11(3), 230-241. doi:10.1093/clipsy.bph077
Choden, & Regan-Addis, H. (2018). Mindfulness based living course. New Alresford: John Hunt Publishing.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are. New York, NY: Hyperion.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full catastrophe living: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation (Revised and updated ed.). New York, NY: Random House USA Inc.
Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M., & Teasdale, J. D. (2012). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guildford Publications.
Wolf, C., & Serpa, J. G. (2015). A clinician's guide to teaching mindfulness: The comprehensive session-by-session program for mental health professionals and healthcare providers. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.