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As we’ve been meditating, we notice a lot of things coming up for us: lots of thoughts, emotions, and sensory perceptions like our breath, body sensations, light and sound.

What we find is that there’s a lot going on, all the time, and most of the time we don’t even realize it until we sit still and try to pay attention. It can be overwhelming, but we can just pay attention to one little part of it at a time, and focus on that, and let that be how we train our mindfulness.

What we also find, if we stay with any one of these things for a little while, is that it’s always changing. An emotion, for example, isn’t just one physical feeling in our body, but it’s fluid, not static. The longer we study our thoughts, our emotions, our physical sensations, the more we see that it’s all always changing, impermanent, transient.

In contrast, most of us think things are fixed – I am this, my wife is that, my brother is something else. We have fixed views of the world, of ourselves, of other people, of any given situation. This is not in line with the fluid, ever-changing nature of things that we see when we really investigate with openness and curiosity. Nothing is solid except the images and beliefs we fabricate in our minds about how things are.

What I’ve found is that seeing this impermanent, fluid nature of everyone and everything can actually lead to a deeper contentment in each moment that I open myself up to. I don’t always do this, but when I do, it is very satisfying.

Without Judgment

Opening ourselves up to what’s arising in the moment … this also means learning to notice when we’re judging things as “good” or “bad,” and just learning to be curious about the moment instead of judging it, seeing if we can accept it as it is, without having a fixed idea of what it should be.

When we notice ourselves getting irritated with something or someone, or complaining, or wishing things were different … this is a signal that we’re judging the way things are in this moment. Instead, we can catch this natural impulse, and use it as support for our mindfulness. Use it as a sign that an opportunity has come up to practice curiosity and openness.

Whatever is bothering us about the current moment, this can be the training ground for mindfulness … we can look at this thing that’s bothering us, and see it with friendliness. We can look at our own suffering about what’s bothering us, and be compassionate and friendly with that as well. Practice this and see how it might transform things.

What you can learn, in meditation and after it, is the practice of not struggling with whatever arises. When you notice yourself judging things as good or bad, try to relax your struggle against these things, relax your striving for pleasure and comfort, and just return to the direct experience of the moment in front of you. Don’t struggle against it, befriend it.

What happens is that you then can be totally open to engaging with anything in life, no matter what it is. You learn that all experience is just more sense perceptions, thoughts, and emotions that are arising in the vast space of your mind … and that they arise and float past in this wide open expanse, and aren’t such a big deal. You can be interested in them, curious, friendly, open, compassionate … without getting too engaged, without judging, without getting caught up. Eventually you will get caught up, but then you can always come back to this direct experience that’s happening in the moment, and keep coming back.


  1. Beginner: In addition to your daily meditation sessions, commit to meditating during one meal a day, every day for the rest of this course (you can use brushing your teeth instead if you like). Before you start the activity, say to yourself, “This is a meditation practice.” Keep your attention on the direct experience of eating (or brushing your teeth), and notice when your mind wanders, gently bringing yourself back to the direct experience when it does. Be gentle and friendly with the mind when it does this. Practice not struggling with the experience, just coming back to it, staying with it. Write about this experience in your mindfulness journal.
  2. Advanced: Pick several meditation practices a day — perhaps two meals and brushing your teeth, or choose from routine activities like showering, a daily commute, a workout or run or walk, washing dishes, etc. Do the activity above, setting an intention to stay present before each session, coming back to the felt experience of the activity whenever your mind wanders. Try to stay as fully present with the activity as possible. Journal about this once a day.