The "A" in C.A.R.E.
The second letter in the C.A.R.E. acronym is A, which points to Awareness, Acceptance, and Attentive Investigation.
"A" IS FOR AWARENESS
Awareness is our capacity to be conscious of what is actually happening in our present moment experience. For our wisdom to grow, we need to be conscious of what is actually happening in our life experience. Remember, the awareness we are cultivating is unconditional. We are using it to illuminate and understand our life. This illumination and understanding allow us to respond in ways that promote health and well-being for ourselves and others.
The topic of Awareness is vast. For now, we will engage in practices that help us cultivate it. The following technique of mental noting will support this cultivation. Take your time; you are in no rush. Mindfulness and meditation take time to learn and understand fully.
Daily Practice Suggestions Awareness (Mental Noting Technique):
Mindfulness meditation is about attending to our present moment experience without getting lost in thought and distraction. Sometimes, the volition of our thinking mind can prevent us from being fully present, causing us to forget and become preoccupied with the content of our thinking mind.
Mental noting is a simple, yet powerful tool to help us increase our capacity of mindful presence.
When to Use Mental Noting:
- Practice as usual: Invite a calm, stable awareness to your present moment experience. Use the sensations of your body breathing as the primary anchor, let everything else in contact with your 6-Sense Spheres arise, exist, and pass away within your field of awareness.
- Note Your Breathing: If you notice excess thinking, restlessness, idleness, forgetfulness, etc., try giving the breath a simple note. While breathing in, note - in-breath. While breathing out, note - out-breath. If the breath is long, simply note - long-breath, etc.
- Note Objects of Awareness and Return to Breath: As you are practicing, you will notice all kinds of things come into your awareness, such as sounds, sensations, memories, concepts, emotions, etc. This is normal. Often, however, these objects of awareness will distract us. When you notice that an object of awareness has captured your attention, practice mental noting.
How to Use Mental Noting:
Mental noting supports us in letting go of the volition of discursive thoughts. Let your labels be simple. It is tempting to judge or analyze the object of awareness. Try not to over complicate the note to the point where you are adding excess conceptual overlays on top of your experience. Apply a simple, one-word note to your experience, let go, and move on. Bare noting supports bare awareness.
Sometimes you may find mental noting useful for calming the distracted mind and sometimes you may find the technique itself distracting. It is entirely appropriate to experiment with the technique of mental noting - it isn’t a fixed technique.
Skillful Areas to apply Mental Noting:
The traditional teachings and practices related to the cultivation of mindfulness and meditation are concerned with skillful means. Specific domains of our human experience have been identified as powerful places to contemplate because they are key to cultivating personal awakening, health, and well-being.
During this course, we are focusing on a few fundamental areas/domains to help you establish a skillful practice and realize mindfulness within our everyday life.
Consider applying your mental labels to the following areas of contemplation. Please note: you are not searching for any of these areas, rather, you notice them as they are occurring.
DO NOT WORRY IF THIS FEELS LIKE A LOT; ALMOST EVERYONE FEELS OVERWHELMED WITH ALL OF THIS INFORMATION. WE WILL EXPLORE THIS FURTHER IN WEEK THREE OF THIS COURSE.
- The Domain of the Body: This domain of contemplation includes the posture, the breath, and the senses. For example, when feeling the sensations of in-breath, we can note - in-breath. If hearing a sound, we note - hearing, without judging or analyzing further about the sound.
Optional Related Reading:
Six Senses, Contact, and Objects of Awareness
- The Domain of the Perceptions, Feelings, and Volitions: This domain of contemplation relates to being in contact with an object or event. According to our perception, we experience the object/event as pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral.
When we notice that our experience is pleasant, we note - pleasant. When we notice that our experience is unpleasant, we note - unpleasant. Also, this domain of contemplation includes awareness that our mental state always has a volitional energy. For example, if our experience is unpleasant, our attitude of mind will incline itself toward aversion, trying to push the experience away. In this case, we can note - aversion, try to let be, and return to the process of breathing. Also, our mental state can manifest as attitude of mind. If we notice our attitude is impatient, peaceful, etc., you can note - impatient, peaceful, etc.
Optional Related Reading:
Feeling Tones, Perceptions, and Mental Formations
- The domain of Mental Formations: This domain of contemplation relates to how our mind manifests in any given moment. In other words, it relates to what is going on in our mind. Examples of mental events include thoughts, concepts, emotions, etc. Mental events reflect how we are relating to our life experience. During this course, we will further explore mental events and how to work with them.
For now, during practice and daily life, try cultivating bare awareness of mental events through the practice of Bare Mental Noting. When you notice that a mental event has taken up a lot of mental space and activity, make a mental note. For example, if you notice that you are planning, make a mental note - planning. If you are lost in thought, make a note of it - thinking, and return to your breath. If old memories of the past arise, note - memories. Even emotions can be noted, i.e., happiness, sadness, anxiety, etc. Sometimes we will need to make a note over and over again. This is normal. You can repeat a specific note until the experience no longer appears.
Optional Related Reading (Same as Above): Feeling Tones, Perceptions, and Mental Formations
- The Domain of the Five Hindrances: This domain of contemplation includes awareness of the hindrances to awareness. If restlessness, sloth and torpor, aversion, grasping, or doubt arises, simply note them.
Optional Related Reading (Same as Above): The Five Hindrances
Benefits of Mental Noting
- Maintains present moment bare awareness: The mind is less likely to wander if one keeps up a steady stream of relaxed noting. If the mind does wander, the noting practice can make it easier to re-establish mindfulness. Mental noting gives the thinking mind something to do rather than leaving it to its own devices.
- Acknowledges or recognizes what is occurring: the clearer one’s recognition, the more effective one’s mindfulness. Naming can strengthen recognition. Sometimes this can be a kind of truth-telling when we are reluctant to admit something about ourselves or about what is happening.
- Recognizes patterns in one’s experience: A frequently-repeated note reveals a frequently-recurring experience. For example, persistent worriers may not realize how much they worry until they see how often they note - worry.
- Disentangles us from being preoccupied or overly identified with experience: Noting can help us ‘step away’ so that we might see more clearly. For example, noting - wanting, might pull us out of the preoccupation with something we want. This may not be immediate, but by repeatedly noting - wanting, wanting, one may be able to be aware of the wanting without being caught by it. As an antidote to drowning in strong emotion or obsessive thinking, mental noting is sometimes called a ‘life preserver.'
- Maintains a non-reactive form of attention: By applying calm and equanimous noting to what is happening, we are less likely to get caught up in emotional reactions. Noting helps us to see mindfully while remaining free of what we see.
The tone of the inner voice that notes may reveal less-than-equanimous reactions to what we are trying to be mindful of. The noting may sound harsh, bored, scared, hesitant, or excited, to name just a few possibilities. By noticing and adjusting the tone, we may become more balanced and equanimous.
The Noting Practice has a Number of Pitfalls
- Noting may become rote or mechanical: When one notices this, it’s often useful to pause and relax before starting again. Another hazard is focusing too much on noting at the expense of being mindful. One version of this is the ‘check-list approach’ to mindfulness – one believes it is enough to simply note an experience. Noting is mostly a slight nudge to encourage mindfulness, so that attentiveness to the felt experience increases.
- Noting may become an attempt to control or drive one’s experience instead of simply recognizing it: Or, noting may be used to create an artificial distance from experience: naming becomes a substitute for feeling. Relaxing and allowing the mindfulness to become more receptive can help with this.
- Noting can become a hindrance to meditation if one starts thinking about what word to use: Sometimes beginners to mental noting are too concerned with the ‘right’ note. The most obvious label is good enough. If a vague note such as here or this, helps one stay present, it has fulfilled its primary function. While precision in noting can sometimes sharpen mindfulness and help with insight, there is no need to analyze one’s way to greater precision.
Some people find that as the mind becomes more peaceful in meditation, they may need to adjust the relative ‘loudness’ or ‘intensity’ of the noting to keep it in harmony with the meditative stillness. As the mind becomes quieter, so too, should the mental noting be lessened. It can become a softer and softer whisper. At times words are no longer needed – a soft 'hmm' may suffice.
- A basic principle of the practice of mental noting is to use it when it is helpful and to avoid it when it is not. Mindfulness practice aims to cultivate awareness, insight, and liberation. It can be quite satisfying when noting supports these aims. It can be a reminder that all of one’s faculties can be used in the service of freedom, including our cognitive functions such as naming our experience.
"A" IS ALSO FOR ACCEPTANCE
An Accepting attitude supports the quality of awareness that we bring to our present moment experience. Having a non-judgmental, allowing, and accepting attitude of how things are - both internally and externally - is essential to the cultivation of well-being and wisdom.
There are periods in our life when we come face to face with difficulty. Stressful situations arise throughout life, such as a loss of a loved one, chronic pain, interpersonal conflicts, a challenging diagnosis, etc. In fact, it is often these struggles that bring people to mindfulness practice for relief and peace. It is often confusing for people when they are instructed to turn toward their experience as it is whether pleasant or unpleasant. It often feels counter-intuitive. After all, shouldn't we be trying to get rid of these stressors? Mindfulness practice suggests another approach.
Acceptance does not imply that you like the way things are, or that you need to tolerate unnecessary suffering just for the sake of it. Acceptance is not passive. It does not mean that you have to be a doormat to difficult causes and conditions. The attitude of acceptance is about being able to recognize the truth of this moment without resistance and without wanting things to be different.
Acceptance is the willingness to see, open up to, and be with what is already here. It is about being with reality. For example, if one day you find that it is cold and rainy, you can accept it, put on the appropriate clothing, etc. What is the alternative? Resist it? Resist what? Change the weather? It is out of that presence of mind that you can respond. Wise responses come out of not actively opposing what is here.
Acceptance is an act of courage to be with our experience. It is a willingness to stay long enough with our experience to understand what is necessary, without tensing against it or rejecting it. To pause long enough to see what is truly happening. Out of acceptance comes a greater ability to see clearly, to gain insight into our experience, and to respond with wisdom.
One of the most challenging parts of mindful acceptance has to do with the willingness to "be with" challenges and difficulties that are present within ourselves. So much of our suffering comes from our resistance and fear of turning toward ourselves - looking in the mirror - with self-compassion and acceptance. The act of looking within and self-acceptance are important precursors to mindfulness, wisdom, and authentic well-being.
Acceptance supports understanding, integration, and transformation. When we are aware of things as they are, we are more able to respond from a place of equanimity, balance, and less reactivity. Acceptance allows us to transcend the habitual reactivity of “the struggle.”
On self-acceptance, Carl Rogers said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
Daily Practice Suggestions Related to Acceptance:
- Check-in, try your best to bring an accepting awareness to whatever is happening in the moment as best you can.
- Be aware of any impulse related to resisting that may be present, such as pushing your experience away, denying it, holding on to it, or controlling it.
- Embrace whatever is arising and nurture an attitude of kindness toward your experience. As best as you can, let go of any struggle. If the struggle is intense, you can try to bring your attention to the struggle instead.
"A" IS ALSO FOR ATTENTIVE INVESTIGATION
Attentive Investigation is not about “thinking,” “analyzing,” or “figuring it out.” Rather, it is a process of looking deeply and honestly at your experience, as it is, in the present moment. It is a bringing into light that which has been hidden within the darkness of unawareness.
Attentive Investigation allows us to gain insight into the nature of our experience. It is a looking which is uninhibited by judgment or reactivity. Attentive Investigation allows for clearly seeing the arising, existing, and passing away of things. It is a penetrative activity, that helps us cuts through our conditioned habitual perceptions and actions.
We are cultivating our capacity to look long enough to gain insight into what is making up the experience itself. For example, if a challenging emotion is present, aim your attention to how the experience of the emotion feels in your body. You might say to yourself “This is what anxiety feels like” or “this is what fear feels like”. Gently maintain your attention on the sensations elicited by the emotion, without trying to fix it or analyze it. Simply be with it and know it.
Daily Practice Suggestions for Related to Attending:
- Every once and a while, investigate both pleasant and unpleasant life experiences with a kind, non-reactive attitude. Try to look long enough to gain insight into what is making up your present moment experience, simply by being with it and knowing it as it is happening with a kind and nonreactive attention. Also be aware of the stories, beliefs, and other associations that may be co-arising, without getting swept away by them.
- Letting Go / Non-identification / Allowing and Being with Change: Over time, mindfulness practice helps us directly realize a profound truth. Your experience is not you. This realization is a key component of self-awareness and freedom from unhealthy mind-states. Like a summer thunderstorm, even strong experiences pass. Experiences arise, exist, and fade away and so do our reactions to them. Mindfully aware that feelings, emotions, and thoughts are transitory experiences. Much of our pain arises when we automatically react and identify with how we relate to our experiences. It may be helpful to ask yourself. “Is my awareness of pain in pain?” Or it may help to stop taking the experience personally by asking yourself, “Is this experience and my reactivity to it really who I am?”