Starting over and over again

As I said in this morning’s post, mindfulness practice renews itself every day, as we start over again and again, returning to the present moment which is always different, always new. This is because life is continually changing, and what we are presented with today is not the same as yesterday, no matter what our thoughts tell us. So the underlying attitude is key: a gentle, non-judging, attitude towards ourselves and our efforts.

I first heard the phrase “just start over”  some 20 years ago from the meditation teacher Sharon Salzburg….who told us about her own struggle with learning to meditate – how she would become lost, distracted, and discouraged and would constantly second-guess herself and her teachers. Gradually she learned to pay no attention to the mental and emotional chatter and to just start over by meditating on her breath as she had been instructed. “Just start over” became her mantra, which she now teaches to her students.

Each time Salzburg repeated this phrase, I was deeply inspired. I realized that she was pointing to a radical attitudinal shift in which you cease to be reactive when you are knocked off your intended path. Instead, when you discover that you have lost your focus, you just begin again without getting caught up in emotional stories about why you can’t achieve your aim or judgments about how unworthy you are or why the change you seek is impossible.

As you know if you’ve ever tried to meditate, the mind is constantly being pulled away from its object of concentration by bodily sensations and mental activity, causing you to lose awareness of the present moment. In this same way, when strong feelings arise during your daily life, you get swept up in the story they create. You lose the awareness that enables you respond skillfully to events and that gives you peace of mind in the face of difficulty….. You have the mistaken notion that you must know why you have a problem and must get rid of it before you can act in a more self-empowering manner. Starting-over practice takes a different approach. It switches your focus away from dwelling on those characteristics that limit you and redirects it toward recognizing your strengths from which you can realize your potential…. In so doing, you free yourself from your judging mind that thinks it can control results and creates the grandiose expectation that you can do more than you can do in the present moment. You become a more effective person by simply learning to use your time and energy to do what you can do right now.

Phillip Moffitt, Starting Over

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