Ten Principles for Cultivating Peace of Mind and Body
I've summarized ten guiding principles, largely based on Zen or Buddhist psychology principles, which I have found universally helpful in developing internal balance. I recommend practicing contemplating these principles in many different situations as you navigate through life's twists and turns. To deepen your understanding of these principles, you might enjoy books and recordings by Jack Kornfield, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Tara Brach, and Pema Chodron.
(c) Natalie Masson, Ph.D. 2007
- Awareness – We must first choose to notice what is present before we can become comfortable with its existence. Much counterproductive coping comes from “checking out” or trying to avoid whatever we are feeling that may be uncomfortable. This first principle is about committing to “checking in” and maintaining conscious awareness of your internal experiences.
- Present-moment focus – The mind can focus in so many directions: past, present, future, abstract notions or analytical problem solving, to name a few. All forms of thought have a useful role. In this practice, however, we prioritize awareness of the present moment. We are cultivating the ability to tune in to sights, sounds, physical sensations, thoughts and emotions that are occurring in the present moment.
- Acceptance – Once we are aware of what we are experiencing, we can learn to accept that it is true. That does not mean that we like it or that there isn’t a better way for things to be; it just means that we are acknowledging the present reality without fighting it or trying to change it.
- Non-judgment – It is a common reaction for the mind to categorize experiences as good or bad, right or wrong….like it, don’t like it. However, it is also possible to simply observe and describe sensations, thoughts or feelings without evaluating them. The mindset we will cultivate during our breathing practice is that of curious interest and attentive observation rather than evaluation or judgment.
- Validation – Whatever you experience internally is valid—it is there for a reason, whether you understand it or not. It is not always necessary to understand the origins of an experience or a reaction in order to come to peace with it. Throughout this practice, as we notice thoughts, emotions, or physical sensations, we assume that our reactions are valid based on our learning history, our genetic predispositions, or personality, etc. As such, we cultivate an attitude of validation.
- Tolerance – When you choose to tune in, you may find that some internal experiences are unpleasant or even painful. Rather than trying to immediately change them or block them out, we allow ourselves to experience the sensations, thereby cultivating tolerance for things that are uncomfortable.
- Compassion – Just as you would have compassion for a friend who is in pain, when you notice your own suffering, this creates an opportunity to cultivate compassion toward yourself. This concept is initially quite foreign to people who have developed a habit of self-criticism, but it can be powerfully healing when one learns to breathe fully into an attitude of self-compassion.
- Invitation – At times we notice that an old habit or reaction is not serving us well and could be worth revising. Perhaps the mind is festering in anger or the body is holding on to tension. Rather than chastising ourselves to let go and change, we gently invite openness to new possibilities. Forcefulness creates resistance, invitation engenders willingness.
- Patience – The process of growth and discovery can seem painstakingly slow at times. Therefore, we cultivate an attitude of patience toward our own process, because we all know that change is not easy.
- Practice – Understanding the above concepts can be enlightening and inspiring. However, until these notions are put into practice, it’s merely an entertaining intellectual exercise. Seeds that are not planted do not grow. Therefore, we make a commitment to actively practice exercises to reinforce these principles and cultivate our peace of mind and body.
(c) Natalie Masson, Ph.D. 2007