In the mindfulness pillar of The Foundations of Well-being program, this week we focus on the mind. We have a mind, there are thoughts, there are sensations, there are feelings; or perhaps the mind has us.

What is this mind? In the language of neuroscience, the mind fundamentally is a matter of information. Information is immaterial, you can’t weigh it, you can’t touch it. Nobel prize winner Eric Kandel (awarded for his work on how the nervous system learns based on the information that flows through it) puts it: “All animals have some form of mental life that reflects the architecture of their nervous system.”

So we have this mind and it is mysterious how the experience, the color red or the smell of coffee, arises from the operation of the nervous system. In the frame of science, the mind and nervous system are intimately interconnected. That is, flows of experience and flows of neural activity. Even though the mind itself may seem amazingly immaterial and ineffable, because it is linked to underlying physical, material, biological and neural processes, that gives us three different ways in which we can engage our mind. So in terms of something that is happening in our mind, we can: 1. Let Be: simply being with what’s present in awareness – including painful thoughts, perceptions, and feelings – without trying to change it. 2. Let Go: reducing what’s negative by preventing, ending, or decreasing harmful thoughts, perceptions, emotions, desires, and actions, and 3. Let In: growing what’s positive by fostering, preserving, or growing beneficial thoughts, perceptions, emotions, desires, and actions.

The garden of the mind

We can compare the mind to a garden – it has got lots of stuff in it – rocks, soil, weeds and flowers. In effect the three ways to engage the mind give us three ways to relate to this garden that we have:

1. Observe the garden. Just witness it, be with it, it is what it is.

Be with the mind

  • Feel the feelings, experience the experience

  • Acceptance: you may not like it, but you don’t resist or suppress it or try to change it

  • Explore – opening to what’s more vulnerable, deeper or central

2. Pull weeds.

  • Reduce the Negative

  • Challenge wrong or harmful thoughts or selective perceptions; release unneeded tension

  • Regulate harmful desires

  • Inhibit harmful actions

We can also shift our perception by pulling our awareness away to avoid getting glued to some negative and shift our perception to take in the bigger picture.

3. Plant flowers. We can grow the good that we want inside this garden.

  • Grow the positive

  • Think what’s true and beneficial

  • Perceive what’s true and beneficial

  • Feel what’s true and beneficial

  • Desire what’s true and beneficial

  • Act in ways that are true and beneficial

Being with and working with:

  • Being with is primary but working with is necessary

  • The brain does not change through observation alone

  • Reducing the negative and growing the positive help us be with the mindBeing with and working with are synergistic

The role of mindfulness:

  • Mindfulness is present in all three ways of engaging the mind

  • We need to grow resources to develop mindfulness (e.g., attention regulation)

  • Other mental resources occur alongside mindfulness (e.g., self-compassion)

Trajectory of being upset:

  • Recognize you are upset.. find strengths to be with it (self-compassion, understanding). . .

  • Open to it, exploring its aspects and depths. ..

  • Begin releasing wrong or harmful thoughts, perceptions, feelings, desires and actions

  • Begin receiving true and beneficial thoughts, perceptions, feelings, desires and actions

Three practices with being upset:

  • Let be – find strengths, open to it, explore its aspects and depths

  • Let go – prevent, decrease or drop what’s untrue or harmful

  • Let in – cause, increase, or preserve what’s true and beneficial

A knowledge of the path cannot be substituted for putting one foot in front of the other.”

M.C. Richards


“I wondered why the frisbee was getting bigger, and then it hit me!”