Nine Attitudes for Mindfulness Practice Gay Men Can Implement Today
When I first learned about these attitudes for mindfulness practice by Jon Kabat-Zinn (the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction), I found them quite profound.
The concepts themselves are simple, but put together they form a great set of attitudes to cultivate.
Mindfulness is in opposition to several attitudes common in society
Mindfulness to me is about slowing down, valuing and paying attention to your mental health, and developing a relationship with yourself.
It’s about being able to live in the moment and feel more alive.
Many attitudes in society involve speeding up, doing more, multitasking, being “productive,” pushing through despite suffering, and seeing money as the ultimate source of happiness (despite the fact that you may ruin your mental health in the process of getting there!)
This “grind” culture (no, not that kind of grind) not only makes us feel like we’re always falling behind and not good enough, but can also negatively impact our mental health.
This can be especially true for gay men.
Growing up, many of us felt we weren’t good enough because we were gay. As adults, many gay men continue to try and make up for a feeling of being “less than” by always striving for perfection.
Striving for the perfect career.
Striving for the perfect body.
Striving for the perfect house.
Striving for the perfect boyfriend.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
Even if we know intellectually that there is no such thing as “perfect,” we may still feel driven to try and make up for the feeling that we’re somehow lacking.
So how can you start to replace these societal attitudes as a gay man? Here are some different attitudes that can act as antidotes:
1. Beginner’s mind
This is about seeing the world with a fresh, new perspective. It’s about wonder, curiosity and playfulness. Think about a young infant playing with a set of building blocks. Do they care about the brand name? Or the price? If they were new or second-hand? No. They’re fascinated by the shape, colour, texture and feel of the blocks.
Part of mindfulness is about taking our everyday experiences–something like drinking a cup of coffee or taking a shower, and experience it as if we’ve never experienced it before, with a deep sense of wonder, curiosity and playfulness.
This is part of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness: “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.” This isn’t about being a perfect human who has no judgement whatsoever, as all of us judge and evaluate all the time. It’s about noticing when we’re being judgemental, taking a step back, and recognizing the pattern we’re stepping into.
Another way of thinking about this is about having an open mind, looking at experiences with curiosity (similar to the beginner’s mind) rather than automatically viewing things as good or bad.
Acceptance isn’t about liking or agreeing with your current situation, (or being okay with the injustices that are currently going on in the world), but about taking a realistic view of where we are currently at, in order to make an action plan to change things for the better, if possible.
This can seem rather counterintuitive, but we want to move towards the pain and suffering, in order to acknowledge its presence (and eventually process the emotion), rather than trying to avoid or escape the unpleasant feelings.
4. Letting go and letting be
This is about trying not to cling to experiences or emotions. Noticing that every moment is fleeting–both pleasant and unpleasant, and that, as humans, we cannot cling tightly onto good experiences and push bad experiences out of our awareness (despite how much we may try!)
A good metaphor for this is about breathing. Every time we take a breath in, we must let it out as well. We simply cannot cling to the inhale or the exhale or we’ll pass out. We let the breath come, and we let the breath go.
Trust is really about trusting our bodies and ourselves. What I mean by that is that we can trust that our body will breath by itself, regardless of if we are awake or asleep. We can trust that when we feel a strong emotion inside our minds or bodies that it means that there is something important here to pay attention to. Developing this relationship with yourself helps you become in tune with your emotions so that you take better care of yourself.
We can think about patience as the opposite of impatience. When we’re impatient, we’re hurried, rushed, and missing out on the present moment. Having an attitude of patience allows us to slow down, savour the present moment, and acknowledge that life happens in the here-and-now, not the there-and-then.
This attitude is about going into mindfulness without any specific agenda in mind. Sure, the byproduct of mindfulness is sometimes relaxation and a feeling of wellbeing, but that may not always happen. We go into mindfulness practice with a sense of curiosity and to see what happens, rather than trying to control the experience and force a desired outcome.
I also like to think about this attitude in terms of non-competition.
Mindfulness and mental health are not races to be won. It’s not a place to compare yourself to others. It’s about doing it for yourself, no one else, and acknowledging that how you practice mindfulness and take care of your mental health may be different than another person–and that’s okay.
Gratitude is about appreciating what you have, particularly the things you take for granted, versus focusing on what you don’t have. It’s easy getting caught up in the “wants” of life. But if we get too caught up in the future, we miss out on the here-and-now.
Practicing gratitude can be simple: being thankful for having a roof over your head, access to technology to read this article, and a body that continues to function day after day are good places to start.
This is about enhancing interconnectedness in society. Being kind without any agenda. Sometimes we find it hard to take care of ourselves, but easier to take care of others. Being generous, without expecting anything in return, helps lift others up and helps make the community a better place for everyone. Sometimes the smallest kind action can completely turn a person’s day around.
And maybe your day as well. 🙂
RCC, MSW, RSW
As a counsellor at The Centre for Gay Counselling, Victor excels at helping gay men find freedom from anxiety, stress and overwhelm so that they can start living life to the fullest again. Interested in working with Victor? Click the button below to get started.