The 9 Attitudes of Mindfulness is a concept from meditation teacher and writer Jon Kabat-Zinn. Because mindfulness can feel like a massive topic, choosing a single mindfulness “subtopic” to focus on from among the 9 Attitudes can be an effective way to grow your practice.
Jon Kabat-Zinn is one of the most influential voices in the mindfulness movement, and cultivated a frequently shared definition of mindfulness:
“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”
If awareness and mindfulness are the goal, the question becomes this — how do you pay attention to the many aspects of mindfulness at once? The answer: you tackle them one by one. For example, if you decide your focus today is gratitude, that’s likely more effective than focusing on the more vague concept of mindfulness.
Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living originally outlined seven attitudes of mindfulness. Later, two more were added (gratitude and generosity).
Why nine? As Kabat-Zinn said, it’s hard to keep more than that in mind.
In this article, I’ve summarized each attitude of mindfulness.
The 9 attitudes of mindfulness
Awareness and mindfulness sounds simple, but it’s some of the hardest work you can do.
Attitudes help you cultivate a certain way of being in the world over time, rather than forcing an abstract standard of mindfulness to be “achieved.”
If you’d like to hear it straight from the mindfulness teacher himself, he walks through each principle in more detail here:
Below is a summary of each mindfulness attitude discussed.
Nonjudgment refers to the skill of observing what’s happening in our own minds and around us without jumping to the conclusion that they are good or bad. Instead, we simply experience them.
“As an example, let’s say you are practicing watching your breathing. At a certain point, you may find your mind saying something like, “This is boring,” or “This isn’t working,” or “I can’t do this.” These are judgments. When they come up in your mind, it is very important to recognize them as judgmental thinking and remind yourself that the practice involves suspending judgment and just watching whatever comes up, including your own judging thoughts, without pursuing them or acting on them in any way. Then proceed with watching your breathing.”Jon Kabat-Zinn
Patience, as Kabat-Zinn says, is wisdom. Not everything can happen fast. Some processes cannot be hurried. This applies even to our own growth and mindfulness journeys, which require patience with ourselves.
“Patience is a form of wisdom. It demonstrates that we understand and accept the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time. A child may try to help a butterfly to emerge by breaking open its chrysalis. Usually, the butterfly doesn’t benefit from this. Any adult knows that the butterfly can only emerge in its own time, that the process cannot be hurried.”Jon Kabat-Zinn
The attitude of a child seeing something for the first time is at the core of the concept of beginner’s mind. Rather than passing the ordinary things around us without a second thought, we instead strive to welcome the possibility of a new moment, removing all expectations.
“The richness of present-moment experience is the richness of life itself. Too often we let our thinking and our beliefs about what we “know” prevent us from seeing things as they really are. We tend to take the ordinary for granted and fail to grasp the extra-ordinariness of the ordinary. To see the richness of the present moment, we need to cultivate what has been called “beginner’s mind,” a mind that is willing to see everything as if for the first time.”Jon Kabat-Zinn
Trusting yourself and your intuition is at the core of the concept of trust within the nine attitudes of mindfulness. Honor your feelings, keep your boundaries, and support your own instincts and wisdom.
“Developing a basic trust in yourself and your feelings is an integral part of meditation training. It is far better to trust in your intuition and your own authority, even if you make some “mistakes” along the way, than always to look outside of yourself for guidance. If at any time something doesn’t feel right to you, why not honor your feelings? Why should you discount them or write them off as invalid because some authority or some group of people think or say differently? This attitude of trusting yourself and your own basic wisdom and goodness is very important in all aspects of the meditation practice.”Jon Kabat-Zinn
When meditation won’t come easily, it’s the same as trying to fall asleep: forcing it won’t help. As goes meditation, so goes life. Have patience with yourself and hold your intention in mind without striving or forcing anything, whether it’s your goals or your mindfulness practice.
“As you will see with practice, in the meditative domain, the best way to achieve your own goals is to back off from striving for results and instead to start focusing carefully on seeing and accepting things as they are, moment by moment. With patience and regular practice, movement toward your goals will take place by itself. This movement becomes an unfolding that you are inviting to happen within you.”Jon Kabat-Zinn
Acceptance is hard, but it’s essential. When things aren’t the way we want them to be, we must accept them as they are. Even if we want to change things, we must first accept the current reality.
“Acceptance is a very active process, there is nothing passive about it, it’s not passive resignation but an act of recognition that things are the way they are… Acceptance doesn’t mean we cant work to change the world, or circumstances, but it means that unless we accept things as they are, we will try to force things to be as they are not and that can create an enormous amount of difficulty.”Jon Kabat-Zinn
Everything that is good and pleasant must some day come to an end. The essence of letting go is recognizing this fact, and when it happens, accept it rather than holding on.
“Cultivating the attitude of letting go, or non-attachment, is fundamental to the practice of mindfulness. When we start paying attention to our inner experience, we rapidly discover that there are certain thoughts and feelings and situations that the mind seems to want to hold on to. If they are pleasant, we try to prolong these thoughts or feelings or situations, stretch them out, and conjure them up again and again.
Similarly, there are many thoughts and feelings and experiences that we try to get rid of or to prevent and protect ourselves from having because they are unpleasant and painful and frightening in one way or another. In the meditation practice, we intentionally put aside the tendency to elevate some aspects of our experience and to reject others. Instead, we just let our experience be what it is and practice observing it from moment to moment.”Jon Kabat-Zinn
People who practice gratitude report lower stress, anxiety and depression. Grateful people feel better about their lives. We can be grateful for anything, from the big events in our lives to the smallest details of the present moment.
People who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis have been found to exercise more regularly, have fewer physical symptoms, feel better about their lives as a whole, and feel more optimistic about their upcoming week as compared to those who keep journals recording the stressors or neutral events of their lives. Daily discussion of gratitude results in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, energy, and sleep duration and quality.
Grateful people also report lower levels of depression and stress, although they do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life. People who think about, talk about, or write about gratitude daily are more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or offered emotional support to another person.Jon Kabat-Zinn
Generosity is about giving joy, time, attention, and thought to others. It’s about focusing on others for the sake of making them happy.
Another one would be generosity – a sense of how powerful it is when you give yourself over to life. And that you give other people what would make them happy. Not for yourself, not so that you can pat yourself on the back like “I am a generous person,” but because it gives joy to others, it enhances interconnectedness, you demonstrate that you care and that you are actually giving some time and attention and thought to someone other than yourself.Jon Kabat-Zinn
Applying the 9 attitudes of mindfulness
As Jon Kabat-Zinn said, “any one of these attitudes is a door into all of them.”
Nine attitudes is a lot to keep in mind, so just focus on one at a time. Each is interwoven with the other. They’re all connected.
If you focus on gratitude, you’ll find yourself growing in non-striving.
If you focus on trust, you’ll find yourself growing in nonjudgment.
Simply pick one that you’d like to work on, and begin.
My mindfulness practice kicked off in 2016 with a ten-day silent retreat. Since then, I’ve read dozens of books about mindfulness and completed hundreds of hours of meditation. Thinking about what makes humans happy, calm, and peaceful is endlessly fascinating to me.