A good place to start is to approach these teachings with sincerity, not seriousness. This is actually an effective indicator of where you currently stand: if you find that the seriousness is leaving situations then you’re in good stead.
However, the far more likely scenario of seriousness creeping into situations is a good indicator you have gone off track. View this as a light-hearted teaching that is pointing you in a direction that could change your life.
I know that is a strange combination but it is one you are going to have to get used to throughout your learning about mindfulness. Listen to some Alan Watts or Eckhart Tolle, there is almost always an underlying element of humour in their talks.
There are a number of reasons why people might be put-off from studying mindfulness – unfortunately only once you have delved into it can you really see the true reasoning behind your initial reluctance. I was at first put off it because it was such an important goal for me to be "successful".
I imagined people who were into mindfulness as being people that did not achieve anything substantial, and that image for me back then was extremely off-putting. Thankfully some of the successful people that acted as mentors for me were recommending meditation which subsequently got me into mindfulness.
From that point on I began seriously and intensely studying the topic. After a while I began to get it and a lot of the seriousness fell away, leaving a wonderful lightness to situations. I continued in this way right up until writing this article.
Your mind and thinking is a huge subject area here. This is a great place to focus your attention because addressing the issues here is the easiest and surest way these teachings can have an impact on your life.
Now, here is a key statement that will apply for 95% of you: For the majority of your day, your mind has your full attention and is providing you with a sort of inner-dialogue. You can’t stop thinking. It is like an inner voice that is running throughout the day.
Now, I want to especially address the people that can’t identify this inner voice within themselves: When I first heard about this inner voice I definitely wasn’t aware of mine and frankly had no idea what these teachers were talking about when they mentioned it. Now I realise that the reason I wasn’t aware of it was because I didn’t know life without that constant inner voice.
Imagine if from the day you were born you were exposed to a non-stop whistle - right now you wouldn’t be aware of that whistle at all. That is what thinking and your inner voice is like. If you can’t see it then you have never had a long enough break from it to realise that it is occurring. You have probably had glimpses of “no-thought” but not enough to realise the significance of it.
So for now, just realise that you will have an inner voice that comes from your mind and “mindfulness” is largely about reducing the amount you use your mind. Incidentally, this is why Eckhart Tolle doesn’t like to use the word “mindfulness” because it implies your mind should be full when in fact the teaching points towards emptying your mind.
Right now you might be asking: “Okay, I’m not aware of my inner voice but even if I was what is so bad about having this inner voice?” Essentially, what difference does it make if I’m aware of this inner voice or not? This unfortunately requires too big an explanation for me to go into here but I can provide a very basic explanation.
For most people the mind creating the inner voice has stopped being a tool, which is what the mind should be, and has instead taken over the way you live your life. The mind is creating all sorts of unnecessary suffering for you and because most people live in a way that they are dominated by their mind, it appears normal. It is not normal. It is not how human beings are supposed to live.
The mind is what gets you thinking far too much about the past and the future, ultimately taking you out of the present moment. It also generates your ego or perception of yourself which you constantly try to protect and enhance, creating a lot of friction in your everyday life.
This topic is so detailed it will have a blog to itself in the near future. I have outlined some of the key points in case you want to look into them further but I’m aware that it is not enough of an explanation for you to realise how detrimental allowing yourself to be taken over by your mind and inner voice can be.
So, don’t be at all disappointed if you still can’t see why being run by your mind is a bad thing. This can just be a guideline for when you look deeper into mindfulness.
Not living your life through your mind is a major hurdle for most, and one that keeps on coming up. You do however learn ways to identify when your mind has taken over and also ways to more easily move away from your mind. The more you practice this, the easier it becomes.
Essentially you are re-learning how to go about your daily life so it does take time to break old habits and get over the addiction of thinking. Eckhart Tolle talks more in depth about how thinking is the biggest addiction out there - I would suggest looking at what he has got to say about it.
At this stage, the most important thing is patience. Remember, don’t be so serious – allow there to be a background of light-heartedness. Contrary to a lot of your previous achievements, this is an area where trying too hard can hinder you.
Ask yourself why you want to master this? Why are you looking into mindfulness? You need to be okay with eliminating your desire to enhance your self-image or ego. It is very easy to have the desire to understand these teachings so you can use it to enhance your self-image in one way or another.
You really have to work on letting go of this way of looking at it. This was especially hard for me because being successful was so important to me. A good indicator that you’re in the right place is if you are truly deep down okay with not achieving anything noteworthy. It takes time to get there and sounds like a very negative aspiration but it’s not.
Now, being okay with not achieving anything is different to not actually achieving anything. You will eventually get to the stage where you can treat the external world as a playground of sorts. You still have goals but they become much more enjoyable which often coincides with drastically increasing your chances of achieving them.
You keep your primary way of living as being not through the ego, and then from that point you go for your external goals from the right place. Reducing the amount your mind runs your life means you spend much more time in the present rather than worrying about the past or the future.
We’ll cover how much more effective you will be in the external world when you sort out your inner world in the future, but for now just bear in mind that sorting out the inner is primary and the rest follows.