“If it’s not simple, it’s not the practice of mindfulness,” says Gil Fronsdal. And the simplest practice of being mindful, according to Fronsdal, is asking yourself a simple question: how are you?
So I’m sitting here and realize that I’m agitated. How am I with being agitated? So you can fill in the blank. How am I is I am disappointed, or I’m unhappy, or this must mean that I’m a failure of a meditator. So in ‘how’ we start seeing the beliefs we have, the ideas we have, reactions we have, the attitudes we have, that are happening in the present moment. So how am I? Keep asking. Keep asking. So maybe you are restless. How am I with being restless?’ I don’t like it and I want to get rid of it. How am I with wanting to get rid of it? Well, I’m just angry that I have to live with things I don’t like. How are you with being angry? And at some point you step back far enough you start saying, ‘Well, I can just let it be. I don’t have to keep adding more and more on top of it.’
In repeatedly asking, ‘How am I?’ we open ourselves to see how our desires, aversions, opinions, and fears dictate our present mental state. More ‘How am I?’ questions peel back the layers to the point where we might begin to observe our thoughts instead of letting our thoughts happen to us.
The underlying power of ‘How are you?’ is that it is descriptive and neutral. It doesn’t judge. It simply searches for the cause of the current activity of the mind. It doesn’t fix anything. It doesn’t condone anything. It just asks again: how am I with the way I am right now? How do I feel about my feelings?
Gabor Mate says something similar about using ‘Why?’ as a question of self-inquiry about past behaviors:
Posed in a tone of compassionate curiosity, “Why?” is transformed from a rigid accusation to an open-minded, even scientific question. Instead of hurling an accusatory brick at your own head (e.g., “I’m so stupid; when will I ever learn,” etc.), the question “Why did I do this again, knowing full well the negative consequences?” can become the subject of a fruitful inquiry, a gentle investigation. (Mate 2008, p. 333)
Mindfulness is simply the capacity to see what is happening in your mind, rather than being swept along with it, unwittingly and unawares.