RULES OF THREE
Three Golden Rules
I had planned to write this blog in December but then I was a bit late and decided instead that a New Year blog might be better timing. However I now feel in danger of being only one amongst a thousand voices exhorting us to start new things or change our lives in some way for the new year. We can get a bit weary with all this and possibly a bit cynical if we have tried things in the past and they have either not delivered the hoped for results or we just haven’t kept them up beyond the end of January. So, I wonder, how can an approach to the new year have a bit more substance and depth and lead to real, long term life changes? And how might we bring such an approach to an aspiration to live the mindful life?
A friend who was writing a piece on this subject asked for suggestions so I offered my own three ‘Golden Rules’ which I always share at the end of any mindfulness course I teach. And these are:
- Be in it for the long term
- Think in terms of changes that you are going to make which will form a basis for the very long term. This will help counteract the ‘quick fix’ approach which so often becomes the ‘quick fail’ result.
- Do something every day however little
- What we are seeking to do in our lives is to build new habits – and habits seem to take root when they are daily. So concentrate less on how much but more on how often – and then build from there.
- Focus on what you have done and not on what you haven’t
- We are so easily drawn to awareness of the negative – our ‘failures’. In some ways this is interesting but it can tend to bring down our mood and motivation. So, whatever we have done, however small it seems to us, celebrate this – and then build from here.
And one more?
I think that probably three is quite enough golden rules but I do like a fellow mindfulness teacher’s additional one which is to encourage people to be creative with their mindfulness practice. Make it playful – bring curiosity and a sense of adventure to what you plan to do. Bring a ‘what have I got to lose by having a go’ attitude to it. In fact I think this ‘4th’ Golden Rule could actually be the one which colours all of the others – an underlying flavour to all that we do. This is the way that conscientious types can avoid getting heavy about it all – and creative types can feel it is part of their creative life and so keep persevering.
Three times a day?
But how about deciding what to do?
I have two or three things I would like to start up this year which I have declared when people have asked me about my new year resolutions. But I am aware that there is in fact a deeper longing in me which I want to make my true intention for the year and that is simply to take a year to focus on and deepen my mindfulness practice and my mindful life. I have been through a year of fairly tumultuous transition. The year ahead, though, is looking fairly stable – as far as a freelance life can be – and so my yearning is for a deepening, a bedding in, an enriching of what is already here.
And this, for me, starts with my daily practice. I have wanted to set up some sort of routine for my practice which is sustainable and which becomes, over time, the steady rhythm of my day and my week. Yes, I know there will always be times when practice will be really difficult and times when I find I really don’t want to do it but my aim is to find some way that practisng mindfulness will become as natural a part of my day as cleaning my teeth. I want it to be part of the grain of my day – not a big deal but just something I do. I want to have a practice which, in accordance with Golden Rule no. 1, will set me up for the long term.
Golden Rule no. 2, though, suggests that whatever we do it needs to be daily. But I am going to stretch this to shocking levels now and suggest thinking more in terms of three times a day. But before you switch off completely let me explain what this might mean – and then share what I try to do myself. As I often try to remind people, what we are hoping to become is not good meditators but to be more mindful people throughout the day. So, practising once a day is good for building up internal habits but we also want to connect these habits to the ordinary activities of our day. And it seems to me that the longer ago I was practising, the less mindful I am. So, what I really need is ‘top ups’ through the day. And, quite liking the number three, I have suggested to myself that I would like to aim for three mindful moments each day. And ‘moments’ could be the key word here because coming back to oneself or remembering what I was experiencing in my morning mindfulness practice actually may only take a moment. But it nevertheless does need an effort to bring it back to mind. So, my suggestion is to think in terms of three moments each day where we connect with our mindfulness practice. It would be good if one of these was a significant formal practice (anything from 15 to 40 mins) but the other two could really be quite brief (3 to 5 mins) and could take a number of forms: three minute breathing space just before breaking for lunch; a quiet moment with coffee after lunch; stop and read a poem with your mid-afternoon cup of tea; take three mindful breaths just before getting out of the car to go into the house at the end of the day’s work; or any of the ‘habit releasers’ or ‘mindful activities’ which many of us have read about in Mark Williams and Danny Penman’s book, ‘Mindfulness’.
My own pattern is to have a longer practice first thing in the morning (this time has always worked best for me but lunchtime or evening is clearly best for others); then to stop 10 or 15 mins before lunch for a shorter practice; and then (and I can do this now that our family is grown) come back for an early evening meditation of anything from 15 to 30 mins.
Some will wonder i) how I fit all this in and ii) how I get anything else done. And my normal answer to i) is, well I don’t always, especially if I am not at home at those times. But this continues to be my intention and remains, somehow, my sense of rhythm of the my day. And my answer to ii) is that, because of the focus, clarity and spacious feeling this brings to my inner life, I actually feel I get more done – or perhaps more effective and useful things done.
Finally, having shared two lots of three, I rather feel I need a third set to complete the picture. But I haven’t got one – so perhaps we can enjoy the sense of incompleteness here for this is what we will have to get used to as we seek to live the mindful life. Incompleteness, unsatisfactory-ness, imperfection. These will be our companions along the way. We can see them as problems. Or we can see them as friends gently leading us forward into new wonders. I think I’ll go for the latter.
And so may I wish you a very imperfect New Year – but one which has a rich seem of beauty and joy running through it.