Friday, September 23, 2016

Non-Striving & Acceptance

The fifth element, or habit, of mindfulness is Non-Striving.  Non-Striving is described as “the state of not doing anything, just simply accepting the things that are happening in the moment just as they are supposed to”.  This is a very tough challenge for many people in our American culture.  We pride ourselves on being busy, productive, driven, and goal oriented people.  In addition to this many of us are also control freaks who want to alter the outcomes of as much as possible to suit our own agendas and needs.  The idea of non-striving and allowing life to unfold as it sees fit is almost abhorrent to us.  We spend a great deal of energy holding on when the best move might be to simply let go.  Many of us are wound a little tight because of the tension within ourselves that is caused by our driven, competitive, and controlling natures.  Keep in mind, however, that Non-Striving is not the same as being lazy or not caring.  I think Non-Striving is like white water rafting.  You don’t necessarily allow yourself to be tossed to and fro by the rapids of life.  You learn to be one with the running water.  Some of the time you just flow with it.  Other times you use your paddle to make the occasional course change to avoid crashing into a rock.  If you fight the river or attempt to change the course of the river you will eventually crash and sink your boat.  Those with skill learn to flow with the river and tap into its energy.        
 
The final element, or habit, of mindfulness is acceptance.  In this scenario, acceptance is defined as  “completely accepting the thoughts, feelings, sensations, and beliefs that you have and understanding that they are simply those things only”. 
 
Today we finish my thoughts on mindfulness.  When it’s all said and done, a lot of mindfulness is accepting reality as it is without judging, with patience, with a child-like “Beginner’s Mind”, with trust in our personal abilities to deal with the moment, allowing life to unfold as it will by non-striving, and finally, what is often the most difficult part, acceptance.  Whatever our individual moments add up to be, for most of us they are not the moments we probably dreamed of in our youth.  I’ve always felt like most of my life was an accident.  The life I have is not really the life I wanted.  It is, however, the life I have.  Just because the life I have is not the realization of my early dreams does not mean it’s all bad.  I strive to not see anything as good or bad .  My life is what it is and many twists and turns brought me to this point.  I can bemoan the fact that it’s not everything I hoped for or I can accept it and strive to better understand why I am where I am and what I am supposed to do with what I have been given.  Such acceptance does not come easy and I am not totally there.  However, even my feelings must be accepted as “they are what they are”.     
 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Trust

The 4th element, or habit, of mindfulness is trust.  In this scenario trust is defined as “having trust in yourself, your intuition, and your abilities.  So far we have talked about non-judging, being patience, and having a beginner’s mind.  When we are in the moment and present to our reality, not only do we have to be non-judging, patient, and childlike in our curiosity and openness, we also have to trust that the moment is as perfect as it can be.  Keep in mind that trusting that the moment is as perfect as it can be does not mean that the moment is perfect.  Rarely in our life is the moment perfect.  Many of our moments are imperfect and during those times we often must rely on ourselves, our intuition, and our abilities to deal with life’s challenges.  By having trust we believe in ourselves and our capacity to meet life’s challenges.  This is also a reminder that mindfulness is not living in oblivion and mindless bliss.  Mindfulness is being present to reality.  Certainly there are those blissful moments when all is well and life is beautiful.  However, there are also those moments where life is painful and challenging.  While we all want to experience the joy filled moments, we must be present to our more painful realities as well.  As someone told me the other day, if you want to experience life’s rainbows, you must also be willing to experience a few storms. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Beginner's Mind

The third element, or habit, of the mindfulness attitude is “Beginner’s Mind”.  What is beginner’s mind?  It is “having the willingness to observe the world as if it were your first time doing so.  This creates an openness that is essential to being mindful”.
 
Most adults have a difficult time having a “Beginner’s Mind”.  As we get older our minds become so filled, mostly with junk, that being open enough to have the curiosity of a child is very challenging.  When it comes to “Beginner’s Mind”, my greatest teacher is my granddaughter.  I spend time with her most weekends and during this time she teachers me to see life like a child.  However, as she gets older she is losing some of her childhood innocence.  Now she is more questioning of life as she should be and as I would expect.  People with “Beginner’s Mind” tend to see life, not only with curiosity, but with simplicity.  When one sees life directly, and with the simplicity of a curious child, one is usually very present to the reality of the moment.  Life is not usually seen as complicated to a child.  It just is.  I remember once asking my granddaughter if she was happy.  At first she seemed confused by the question.  She looked at me as though she was wondering why I would ask such a silly question.  Her eyes said, “Paw Paw, isn’t being happy the normal way of being”?  Only someone with a “Beginner’s Mind” would think being happy is the normal way to be.  My granddaughter’s mind was open and fresh and her vision was pure.  She was full of curiosity and could be present to the moment in a way I can only hope to be.  Sadly, growing up and seeing the world a little more realistically has affected the purity of her vision.  Unfortunately she will likely grow up to be like the rest of us and she will lose her former effortless ability to be present.  At some point she will need to consciously work to regain it just like her Paw Paw is trying to do now.   

Patience

The second element or habit of the mindful person is patience.  Patience is “cultivating the understanding that things must develop in their own time”.  Patience is a trait that usually comes easy for me.  Of course, what I call patience is sometimes seem by others as me being non-assertive.  Admittedly, one of my coping strategies in life is simply waiting things out.  Despite how I am sometimes seen by others, and acknowledging that I do sometimes act in dysfunctional ways, patience is a gift that I believe I have been given to me as part of my personality.  We live in an impatient world where everyone seems to be in a hurry and many people want everything yesterday.  I remember a joke from my days in project management.  It was said that it takes one woman nine months to give birth to a baby.  You cannot give birth to a baby in one month by using nine women.  In other words, “things must develop in their own time”.  Certainly there are situations in life that require a sense of urgency.  Things sometimes happen that require us to kick it up a notch.  However, not everything in life can be done quickly nor should they be.  You can open a can of soup and pop it in the micro wave for a quick and usually unsatisfying lunch.  You can also slow cook a variety of ingredients in your crock pot and have a culinary delight for dinner.  You can pressure cook your life or let it unfold naturally.  As I have said before, in a world of pressure cookers, I am a crock pot.  In the end, patience gains all things.  Move quickly when life demands it but if you are running and pushing all the time, it will catch up to you and you will regret it.     

Monday, September 19, 2016

Non-Judging

I once discovered something called the “7 Elements of the Mindfulness Attitude”.  I think it could also be called “The 7 Habits of Highly Mindful People”.
 
The first element, or habit, is “Non-Judging”.
 
Taking the role of an impartial observer to whatever your current experience is.  This means not making a positive or negative evaluation of what is happening, just simply observing it.
 
It is so hard to not judge.  I once heard someone say “Don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see”.  In other words, almost nothing is what it seems.  Most of our opinions are based on perceptions and perceptions are sometimes seen as truth in the eye of the perceiver.  How does one be truly objective and non-partial?  How can we remove the filters from our own eyes?  I haven’t achieved this yet.  Certainly the times I have become aware of my own misjudgments have been learning experiences.  I would also say the times I have been misjudged have also been learning experiences.  In my own journey of self-awareness I have become a little better at stepping outside of myself and observing my own behavior.  Of course, even when I do this it is still difficult to not judge myself.  I am a very feeling type person with strong emotions.  It is difficult for me to remove my feelings from most situations.  Sometimes it helps to say to myself, “You’re having an emotional response.  What is really happening now”?  My experience is that it is not easy to be impartial and it is very challenging to simply observe what is going on around me.  I guess the only real progress I have made is by being more aware of my own emotions and how they can misrepresent reality.    

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Middle Path

Most people see things as either/or.  Things or people are seen as good or bad, right or wrong, black or white, liberal or conservative, successful or unsuccessful, attractive or unattractive, and on and on.  People tend to walk around and consciously or unconsciously make judgments.  We all do this.  This type of thinking is called dualistic thinking.  Imagine a day where you don’t do this.  Imagine a day where you don’t see life as either/or but rather both/and.  This type of thinking is called non-dualistic thinking.  It is non-judgmental.  I also like to think of it as walking the middle path.  When one walks the middle path, and ceases to judge everything as good or bad, you experience a oneness with life rather than a separation from parts of it.  There’s a common phrase that simplifies this.  I’m sure you’ve heard people say “It is what it is”.  It’s a phrase I tend to overuse but I like it.  I admit that it is sometimes challenging for me to make a decision because I can usually see both sides of an issue.  Because of my desire to walk the middle path and to be a non-dualistic thinker, I try to find an answer in the middle of conflicting opinions.  This seems to be a lost art in modern day politics.  No one seems willing to compromise and meet in the middle.  Always seeing everything as either/or, and never being willing to compromise and meet in the middle, gets us nothing but gridlock and standoffs.  When everyone is holding their ground you can never move ahead.          

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Expect Nothing But Be Grateful For Everything

Better indeed is knowledge than mechanical practice.  Better than knowledge is meditation.  But better still is surrender of attachment to results, because there is immediate peace.”
-Bhagavad Gita
 
Christians have the Bible.  Muslims have the Koran.  Buddhists have the Noble Eightfold Path.  Hindus have the Bhagavad Gita.  This quote brings many thoughts to me.  In the early days of my career we trained people how to do things.  We basically said, “If this happens, then do this”.  People learned the appropriate response to particular problems but most didn’t understand why.  They knew the “how” of things but not the “why” of things.  We taught them mechanical practice without the knowledge of understanding.  Another thought that comes to mind is our obsession with results.  We are always focused on the destination to the point that we miss the journey.  As the Buddhists say, “The journey is the destination”.  I just had a conversation with my wife yesterday about how she’s always five steps ahead.  Before we land at our destination, she is already working on the trip home.  In her mind, she’s just being proactive.  In my mind she needs to relax and chill out.  Attachment to results is also another way of having expectations.  Expectations are usually planned disappointments.  We may have hopes that we want to come true but most of our expectations are doomed to failure and bring us nothing but disappointment.  One of my co-workers has a motto that goes “Enjoying everything, regretting nothing”.  It is a great way to live.  Another similar stance towards life would be to “Expect nothing.  Be grateful for everything”.  This is the way to inner peace.