Attitudes Of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is remembering to know the present moment clearly. Having the following attitudes when practising mindfulness will further enhance your practice. They are Kindness, Patience, Non-judging, Letting go, Acceptance, Curiosity and Non-striving. Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn, who created the MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) program, listed a portion of these attitudes in his book “Full Catastrophe Living”.

Apart from formal mindfulness practice, if you live with these attitudes, you will be able to face whatever life throws at you with more ease.


Be kind to others and also to yourself. Don’t be too harsh on yourself, and beat yourself up when you are not making progress. Some people will progress faster in the practice, while others don’t. Just put in the effort, and the result will eventually come.


When we learn anything, the progress is not linear. One moment you find that you are making good progress. The next moment you may find that you have hit a plateau. Being patient helps us keep at it. Sometimes, it may look like you are taking three steps forward and two steps back. Slowly but surely, you will make progress.


Whatever we perceive, don’t be too quick to judge; this is good, this is not good. I like this; I don’t like this. Hold your judgement. Don’t prejudge. If not, we are like looking at things through the coloured lens of our opinions and past experiences. Recognize the judging mind as it arises and you will see things more clearly.

Letting go

When we experience a pleasant sensation during practice, we may cling to it because it is so nice. We should let go. If not, we may get stuck at that stage and not make further progress.

On the other hand, in our life, a particular event might not have happened in the way we desired, and we keep thinking about it. Maybe thinking that if we were there, we wouldn’t have let it happen the way it did. We should let it go and don’t keep thinking about it. This is not giving up. What’s happened has happened. It can’t be undone. We should let go and move on.


The counterpart to Letting go is Acceptance. When we experience an unpleasant experience, we want it to go away. It is unlikely to go away just because of our wishes. Instead, we should try accepting it, not because we agree to or like it, but because it is already here. We can change our relationship with it by accepting it and being more at ease with it.

In our life, when something happens, we may not be able to accept it because it was unexpected or didn’t happen in the way we wanted. We may be in denial and can’t accept it. We should try to accept it and move on because we can’t turn back the clock. The next step could be to resolve the problem. Many a time, things are not resolved because we get stuck at being unable to accept what has happened. We never move on to the next step, which is to resolve the issue. Acceptance and letting go allow us to move on to find a resolution if one is needed.


Curiosity may sound trivial. But if we stay curious about the object we are paying attention to, like the “breath”, our mind is less likely to drift off to other more exciting “thoughts”. Being curious about what we are paying attention to prevents our mind from wandering off. When we are curious and explore something thoroughly, it also makes us hold back our judgement, which is another attitude of mindfulness.


The attitude of non-striving is a bit counter-intuitive because we have been taught our entire life to strive. While it is good to set a goal at the start of our practice, after setting the goal, we should put it aside, then follow the instruction and practise. We should still put in the effort, but it shouldn’t be directed to constant checking where we are against the goal. Because it is just more thinking. The best way to achieve our goal is to back off from striving for the results and focus on the method, that is to know the present moment clearly.

Mindfulness is to Remember

My definition of mindfulness is remembering to know the present moment clearly. Some may wonder how “remember” which is associated with memory, get linked to mindfulness.


Have you ever driven home, and found that you did not notice the journey itself? Is there an instance, where after eating a meal, you realise you have not noticed what the food tasted like? Or have you forgotten where you left your phone because you weren’t paying attention when you placed it down? These are instances of being in autopilot mode, which is not being aware of what is happening within us or around us. In this mode, our physical bodies go through the motions while our minds could be elsewhere. Sometimes, it is due to our minds wandering off to thinking, regretting our past or worrying about our future, making us unhappy. At other times, we could have spaced out or are heedless, and that affects the task at hand. Autopilot is our default mode. That is to say, we are in this mode more often than not.

The opposite of the autopilot mode is being mindful. If we choose to be mindful, then how often should we be mindful? The answer is every waking moment. Mindfulness is not to be practised sporadically. It is to be practised at all times. In other words, there can never be too much mindfulness. Each moment of mindfulness builds up the energy and concentration to see the present object more clearly.


So how can we get out of the autopilot mode and be in the present moment? The only way is to remember to do it. For instance, you need to go to the ATM to withdraw some cash, or you need to go online to complete a registration. These events require you to remember and act on it.

In practising mindfulness, when we find the mind has wandered off to thinking or is heedless, we remember our intention to be present and notice the most prominent sensation at that moment. Each time it happens, we remember and know what’s on our mind. Hence remembering our intention to be present is the impetus to direct our attention back to the present moment. We not only need to do this during formal practice like sitting meditation but also during our daily activities. One way is to constantly remind ourselves to ask whether we are aware of the present moment, by mentally saying “aware”. We can also set everyday activities as a reminder. Like noticing clearly your arm movement each time you push a door open. Be aware of your standing posture each time you wait at the traffic light. Or eat one mouthful of food mindfully during each meal

In conclusion, mindfulness practice is difficult because it is working against our habitual behaviour. So, put effort into remembering to be in the present moment, and you will be well rewarded.

Mindfulness: Know Clearly

Mindfulness is remembering to know the present moment clearly. The present moment refers to whatever object that is most prominent at the moment. The object could be a physical sensation like itchiness, pain, warmth, touching, seeing, hearing, tasting or smelling. It could also be an emotion or a thought. Here, we use the expression “know clearly”. Other expressions that mean the same thing are “see clearly”, “see precisely”, “be aware”, “observe”, “note clearly”, “notice clearly”, “comprehend” and “pay attention”.

Let’s examine the technique to “know clearly”.

  • To know an object, bring awareness to the object and observe it with curiosity and kindness. Without curiosity, interest will wane and the mind wanders off quickly. In addition, we can label each object silently as it happens, to perceive more clearly the qualities of the experience.
  • See the object correctly. Don’t confuse it with other things. The analogy is like seeing A, but thinking it is B instead. When you see the object correctly, there may be a shift. It could be the object disappearing, or it changes to something else, or a sense of clarity arises, or a sense of release arises. You may need to try a few times. Firstly, shift slightly from where you perceive the object is located. Next, change the way you look at the object by labelling it instead of just noticing it. And even change the label itself because maybe the previous label is incorrect.
    When the object is not seen correctly, the sense of cloudiness or confusion may continue. I recall many years ago, during a retreat at Kota Tinggi, there was a sitting session in which for a long duration, I saw colourful patterns in my mind’s eye, evolving into different shapes, like a kaleidoscope. What is even more special is the usual numbness and leg pain when sitting cross-legged for a long period didn’t arise. I was ecstatic when reporting to the teacher about it. Only to have the teacher reminding me that the mind had played tricks on me. Meaning I had not seen the object correctly.
Eyes close. Clarity arises
  • Acknowledge the object promptly. Otherwise, you end up acknowledging an object that has already passed away and is no longer present.
  • See the object in its entirety and not partially. See beyond the physical aspect. Include the corresponding emotion or mental aspect as well. Know the characteristics and manifestations of the object. For example, when there is pain, don’t just observe the soreness, but the accompanying aversion for the pain to go away.
  • Pay attention with a balanced effort. Without enough effort, dullness may arise, the object is not clear, or you feel distanced from the object. At this point, you should change to notice the “dullness” or “not clear”. When the effort is too much, agitation may arise. At that point, you should change to notice “agitation”. Be patient with whatever experience that arises. Have a sense of acceptance if the sensation is unpleasant. And have a sense of letting go if the sensation is pleasant; not holding on to it.

Mindfulness is a skill. Skill needs to practise. Put these techniques into practice during breath meditation, and other mindfulness practices to experience the result.

Mindfulness: What is being in the present moment?

In my interaction with people, the general understanding of mindfulness practice is about being in the present moment. Even though when they may not have in-depth knowledge nor practise it.

On the surface, some may interpret being in the present moment to mean being aware of what is in front of you, not doing anything nor thinking about anything else.

The mechanics of being in the present moment is much more rigorous. For some people, it may not be apparent where they should pay their attention. And when it feels like many things are happening concurrently, which particular thing should they pay attention to. Let’s take the case of myself sitting here, typing this article. When I am typing, my attention is on the typing itself. Halfway through, an itch arises on my face. I know it and I reach out to scratch the itch. I continue to think about what I want to write next and I purse my lips. Those are the things that I pay attention to. I am also aware that I have crossed my feet. Then I notice the intention in the mind before the actions are carried out.

Most prominent sensation

So if we want to practise “being in the present moment”, what should we pay attention to? A rule of thumb is to pay attention to whichever sensation that is the most prominent. This prominent sensation becomes the object of attention. The object could be bodily sensations like itchiness, pain, warmth, release, hearing, tasting, smelling and seeing. It could be emotions like anger, joy, frustration, sadness, anxiety, dullness, love, calm, fear and disgust. It could also be a thought like still images, moving images, regrets, planning thought, rumination and worrying thought. Investigate this object with curiosity and kindness. If the object is a pain, then how does it feel like? Is there pulsing? Does it come and go or is it constant? Is it associated with an emotion, like irritation or aversion? When the irritation that arises due to the pain becomes prominent, the attention should switch to the irritation.

For the case when the object is a thought, know whether it lingers on or disappears after you become aware of it. When you don’t know where to put your attention on, then you should notice that ‘doubt’ has arisen – that is the present object. If you feel bored reading all these, your attention should be on the ‘boredom’ that is present. You may switch attention to accompanying thoughts, like the wish to stop and walk away. Noticing each sensation may sound very mechanically. It feels like you are doing a drill, but practising this way will sharpen the mindfulness skill.

In conclusion, ‘being in the present moment’ is to be aware of the most prominent sensation at each moment, be it a physical sensation, an emotion or a thought.

Build the muscle of mindfulness through mindfulness

Through the course of my mindfulness practice, despite the effort to maintain awareness of each moment, I will quickly find myself wandering off to thinking. This set me off to find out how to be more mindful. How to build more of that moment to moment awareness. Is there some book that I need to read. Or some ritual that I should follow. Maybe I have missed out some important instruction.

One day, I was able to post this question to Bhante G, author of one of the best selling and most influential books on mindfulness, “Mindfulness in Plain English” (free). Bhante G, whenever he came to Singapore, would give talks at a centre that I used to visit every Sunday. He and the founder of that centre are good friends.

I asked Bhante G how can I build up my mindfulness, such that I stay aware of the present moment, as much as possible. He replied that one moment of mindfulness leads to the next. The only way is to remember to be mindful at all times. There isn’t any other way.

I will summarise the steps to build up mindfulness as follows:

Step 1 – check whether I know the present moment clearly.

Step 2 – after a few moments, go back to step 1.

In conclusion, the muscle of mindfulness can only be built through mindfulness. Being aware now makes one more likely to be aware at the next moment.