How To Practise Mindfulness – The Story of the Leper and the Dirty River

I am sometimes asked how to practise mindfulness when I am discussing the subject of mindfulness with people.

My response is always to say that mindfulness is a spontaneous and naturally occurring state.

We all experience present moment awareness in everyday life when we find ourselves in situations where we are totally focused on the activity we are engaged in.

On these occasions we are totally present, and thus temporarily unaffected by our thoughts.

So how to practise mindfulness is simply about using a series of simple techniques that can, with practise, enable us to replicate present moment awareness more or less on demand.

The hardest aspect of how to practise mindfulness is just doing it!

There is a story in the Bible of a powerful and successful Syrian military commander called Naaman who contracted leprosy, and seeking a cure, approached the Jewish prophet Elisha who was a renowned healer.

Naaman was expecting to be greeted by Elisha and given instructions to perform a complex ritual, but that didn’t happen. Naaman was very disgruntled when Elisha didn’t even come out of his house to greet him and just sent him a message.

The message was that Naaman would be cured if he simply went down to the adjacent river Jordan and immersed himself in it seven times.

Naaman’s pride was offended, and in disgust he got back in his chariot and was about to head for home when one of his staff challenged him.

The point was made that had he been asked to, surely Naaman would have fulfilled any herculean task if that was what it was going to take to get him cured of leprosy, so why not just do this simple thing and immerse himself in the Jordan seven times?

But Naaman was still indignant, his pride was very hurt, and he said that was no way he was going down into the muddy, dirty water of the river Jordan when there were far cleaner, fresher rivers at home…

His staff member must have been particularly loyal to Naaman and concerned for his welfare for he challenged Nathan again along the lines of why couldn’t he just humble himself and just do this one simple thing if that was all it was going to take to cure his leprosy and save his life.

The story concludes with Naaman finally conceding and going down to the dirt, muddy river and immersing himself in it seven times – whereupon the miracle happened and he was cured of his leprosy.

This story of the leper and the dirty river is a powerful metaphor for how to practise mindfulness – be humble and just do this simple thing – just train yourself to be aware.