On Suffering and Boomerangs

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Photo Credit: Jeroen Krah via Compfight cc

If suffering brings wisdom, I should wish to be less wise.

William Butler Yeats

It’s a little known fact, but one of the biggest causes of suffering is from accidental boomerang strikes.

Let me elaborate on what I mean here.

This is when we get hit in the head by a boomerang we threw, but at the time we didn’t know it was a boomerang and we certainly didn’t know it was going to come back and smack us on the head.

In that sacred of all self development books, ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, Franklin Covey reminds us, “When we pick up one end of a stick, we pick up the other”. In other words, “While we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of those actions.”

A boomerang is a stick we would have been better off leaving well alone. Here are four causes of accidental boomerang strikes.

The Sands of Distraction. In this connected world we are constantly bombarded by distractions; newspapers, radio, television, computers, tablets, smartphones, they are simply unavoidable.

Once distraction gets into our mind it soon clogs up our focus and attention. Its not so much that distraction is bad, its the fact that it takes over and before we know it the tail is wagging the dog.

This is a mild form of boomerang strike, but nevertheless we usually come out of it dazed, and disappointed at the hours we’ve lost.

Fatal Attraction. This is distraction with hooks, it comes in many different forms, want and desire being the most common. This is where our inner angel meets our dastardly inner devil.

It’s the human condition, and fighting it is like taking a tricycle up against a steamroller. Its the slippery slope that leads to all our bad habits and addictions and yet we constantly underestimate the beauty and draw of the siren song.

Attraction can be a particularly painful boomerang strike especially if it leaves us with that that most horrid of all feelings, #despair.

The Niggle. This is the self propelled boomerang that keeps coming back and clipping us on the head, again and again. It can be experienced as an underlying feeling of irritation, anxiety or dissatisfaction. I often experience it as a feeling of being overwhelmed.

Often the cause isn’t always apparent. However, deep down there is a persistent little voice reminding us of a belief we hold that conflicts with reality. Until we accept reality and let go of the belief, we will remain in the flight path of that circling boomerang.

Procrastination. Procrastination is like getting hit by a boomerang that we never threw in the first place. In that sense it’s hard to imagine it as painful, yet not doing something because we feel blocked is a particularly painful and frustrating experience.

So if like Yeats and you wish to to be less wise, then at the very least before you pick up a stick, make sure its not a boomerang that will just come back and wallop you.

On Suffering and Boomerangs

Why mindfulness?

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What we think, we become

The Buddha

Mindfulness is defined as nonjudgmental awareness, but what does this mean?

It’s the ability to be aware without the instinctive need to attach our opinion or feeling to the experience. Its developing the skill to become an impartial observer of our thoughts, senses, and experiences.

Here are six reasons why mindfulness is important.

1. To change. The Holy Grail of all personal development blogs, books, and courses is the ability to change ourselves. So many of us seek to become happier, healthier and wealthier, yet even the smallest change is elusive and remains just beyond our grasp. In contrast, change is not an objective of mindfulness, indeed a core principle of mindfulness is to stop our incessant striving. We are always running after one thing or running away from another. Paradoxically, when we stop striving and find stillness, metamorphosis begins.

2. To learn to live with ourselves. Do you live with an underlying dissatisfaction of your life, a sense that if only a few things could change then it would be much happier and more fulfilling? This sense of dissatisfaction is real, it has a bitter taste, it sits heavily on our stomach. It can weigh us down even when there is no apparent cause. In developing mindfulness we learn acceptance, gratitude and compassion. These three gifts dissolve dissatisfaction and can bring joy.

3. To heal our wounds. As we go through life we pick up physical and emotional knocks and bruises. The truth is that few of us make it far through life without experiencing pain and hurt. These experiences stay with us, we keep them in our scrapbook of slights and injustices. Emotional pain can often be felt as acutely years after the event as it was felt at the time. Mindfulness is a tool for dealing with suffering. It’s a poultice that we can apply to a physical or emotional wound. It allows us to experience it as it is, and by bringing our attention to pain we softens its intensity and create the conditions for healing to occur.

4. To deal with distractions, habits & addictions. The smartphone in our pocket is a means of instant communication and information, but it can also be a source of constant distraction. When we repeat distractions we form habits, and habits that are out of control become addictions. The fight for our online attention is now a trillion dollar business. It’s no wonder that every form of psychological trick is used to hook and hold our attention. What is more scary is that we are unaware of the traps that are set for us. Mindfulness can bring us to a place of stillness, a respite from the constant distraction of our modern, technical world.

5. To discover who we are. In many ways who we are is hidden from us. We can look out but rarely do we look back in at ourselves. We can describe in detail our friend’s personalities and their endearing and annoying quirks, but can we describe our own? It is remarkable that the person we know least about is often ourselves. By becoming an impartial observer of our thoughts, words, actions and feelings we begin to get glimpses of our true self. Not who we think we are, but who we truly are.

6. To live another life. There is another life out there waiting for us. It’s much simpler and involves a lot less doing. It requires us to find moments of stillness throughout the day. It means learning to just be and this is much more difficult than we can possibly imagine. For thousands of years the way to this alternative life is to simply wake up. Mindfulness helps to open our eyes to a richer, peaceful and more fulfilling life.

Why mindfulness?

Anderson drinks the Kool-Aid

Meet CNN’s Anderson Cooper in this twelve minute clip from the 60 minutes TV show.

You almost feel embarrassed for him as he joins a weekend Mindfulness retreat to experience sitting, eating, and walking, in mindful silence.

“Is this just some New Age Gobbledygook?” he asks Jon Kabat Zinn, who leads the retreat.

“I miss my cellphone”, he quips as all technology is surrendered at the start of the retreat.

Now, here is the really entertaining bit, almost like an out-take at the end of a comedy.

It’s a behind the scenes retrospective from the 60 minutes overtime show as Anderson admits he drank the Kool-Aid, and it changed his life!

“Its a little disappointing to get your cell phone back. It’s the last thing you really want to see again”.

“I was totally skeptical”.

“I realized, sitting in that meditation hall…. this is exactly what I need”

“The thing that really stuck with me from this meditation retreat is….it’s just returning to your breath.”

“It’s not another thing you have to add to your list of things to do….. it’s just being……and… you know… we’re not used to just… kinda being!

Anderson drinks the Kool-Aid

Sleep versus Meditation

Today was a struggle :-(

I woke this morning at 6 am and meditated for 40 minutes before I went to work.

In the quiet of an otherwise sleeping house it was great to experience a relaxed awareness and watch as the night sky and city lights slowly gave way to a grey misty dawn. I can still see the streetlamps abruptly switch off to mark the moment that last night became today. And yet as I found my mind constantly wandering in meditation, I knew that I was tired and should have gone to bed earlier. Later, it came as no surprise to find that today was a struggle, and not only did I achieve very little, but I was very, very far from mindful.

In Arianna Huffington’s short 4 minute TED talk I find it striking how the benefits of a good night’s sleep  mirror those of mindfulness.

A good night’s sleep, “unlocks billions of ideas” and unleashes our creativity. When we get enough sleep we are productive and inspired. We can see the big picture, gain insights and are more joyful. Sound familiar?

On the flip side, I remember how much it resonated with me when I read an article about how we tend to make bad decisions when we are low. And here Arianna quips how sleep deprived, but otherwise intelligent leaders, often don’t see the iceberg until its too late.

It should come as no surprise that a good night’s sleep is synonymous with mindfulness, after all mindfulness is often thought of as ‘awakening to the present moment’.

Which brings me to the point of this blog.

In developing a meditation habit, we need to carve out some time every day to sit. I don’t think I’m different from too many people in finding that its much easier to sit in the quiet of the morning, rather than after a long tiring day at work.

The benefit of meditating in the morning is the opportunity to experience what Thich Nhat Hahn describes as, ‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’, and to start the day with a still mind before we enter the fray.

Today was as a struggle, and there will be plenty more. But let’s not underestimate how difficult it is to build a daily meditation habit to realize the benefits of mindfulness.

When it comes to Sleep versus Meditation, in my experience a lack of one cancels out the benefit of the other. However, Sleep and Meditation takes Arianna’s message to a whole new level.

If only reading at night wasn’t such a pleasure!

Sleep versus Meditation

The Unhappy Wandering Mind

Here’s a good reason to take Mindfulness seriously

Matt Killingsworth developed an iphone app that could message you at any time and ask you three questions.

  • How are you feeling right now?
  • What are you doing right now?
  • Is your mind wandering?

Here are his findings.

  • People are happiest when their minds are focused on what they’re doing.
  • Even for the dreariest activities, like commuting, we are happier when our minds are not wandering.
  • Mind wandering is very nearly our default mode.
  • Which means, we spend a whole lot of time elsewhere than we actually are.
  • A lot of the time, when our mind is wandering, we are worrying.
  • Our level of happiness doesn’t depend on what we’re doing
  • Mind wandering is quite likely a cause of our unhappiness.

One of my first insights from meditation is that my mind wanders, a lot. Take ten breaths and I’m gone in three. What is most interesting about this study, is the confirmation that if we can stick around and smell the coffee, we are happier. The problem is most of the time, the lights are on, but nobody is at home.

It’s a pretty convincing argument for practicing meditation and developing the art of mindfulness.

The Unhappy Wandering Mind

Mindfulness – The Art of Being

Mindfulness is the Art of Being.

Meditation is how we practice.

The basic idea is to create an island of ‘being’ in a sea of constant ‘doing’ in which our lives are usually immersed, a time in which we allow all the ‘doing’ to stop.

To purposefully stop all ‘doing’ in our lives and relax into the present without trying to fill it up with anything. To allow our body and mind to come to rest in the present, no matter what is on our mind, or how our body feels. To allow ourselves to be with things exactly as they are, without trying to change anything.

This is hard work.

To actively tune in to each moment in an effort to remain awake and aware from one moment to the next requires focus and effort.

Mindfulness cannot be learnt from a book. Like any art, craft, skill or sport it is only developed through practice. Meditation is the practice.

To participate in a MBSR course requires a major personal commitment to spend some time every day practicing just ‘being’.

You have to actually practice mindfulness, cultivate it in your own life, in order to reap its benefits and to come to understand why it is so valuable. The more regularly you practice, the more the power of mindfulness will grow and the more it will work for you.

(Personal summary notes fromthe book ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn.)

Mindfulness – The Art of Being

What is Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction?

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction MBSR helps those of us who are suffering physically and emotionally. It does this by helping us to help ourselves.

How? Simply by learning to live intentionally from moment to moment.

MBSR:-

– Never gives up on us.
– Allows each moment to be a new beginning, a new opportunity to start over.
– Gives us permission to live our moments fully & completely
– Provides us with a set of tools.
– Teaches us to listen to our minds and our bodies
– Encourages us to trust our own experience
– Offers us a different way of being
– Gives us another way of looking at our problems
– Provides us with a way of coming to terms with the full catastrophe of our lives, that somehow makes our lives richer and more joyful.
– Gives us a sense of being more in control.

This way of being is ‘the way of awareness’, or ‘the way of mindfulness’.

(Personal summary notes of the book ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn.)

What is Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction?

Can Work be Mindful?

Are Work and Mindfulness mutually exclusive, or can they be complimentary?

Well, as I seem to spend most of my life at work I thought it would be worth some thought. Here’s what I see as the top three challenges and top three benefits.

Top 3 Challenges

Doing v Being

Work is all about ‘doing’ and the purpose of mindfulness is to bring us back to ‘being’. In fact ‘being’ in mindfulness is often defined as ‘non-doing’! What this means is that while we are constantly ‘doing’ we are often oblivious to what is happening both around us and within us. The purpose of ‘non-doing’ is to stop our incessant thoughts and actions and bring ourselves back to a state of centered awareness. Somehow I can’t see ‘non-doing’ becoming the next big thing in management thinking.

Non Striving

Mindfulness is based on a number of core principles, one of which is non striving. Human behaviour is seen as having two main drivers, attraction and aversion. We are either always chasing after something or doing our best to avoid it. Mindfulness seeks to bring us to a peaceful state of mind where we are not constantly running in one direction or the other. Work on the other hand is obsessed with striving; setting schedules, milestones and goals. A policy of non striving? Most unlikely!

Meditation Practice

Mindfulness is a focused state of mind that requires regular and frequent meditation practice to develop. In many regards meditation is simply sitting. However, it requires keeping the mind focused on an object of attention, usually the breath, to develop focus and concentration. There might be a lot of sitting at work, and quite a lot of vacant staring into space, but regularly scheduled periods of meditation? I don’t think so!

Top 3 Advantages

Stress

Stress is endemic in the work place and manifests in many forms, its harmful to our physical and mental health as well as our relationships. in 1979 Jon Kabat-Zinn introduced the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program to chronically ill patients who were not responding well to traditional treatments. 35 years later Mindfulness has  entered the mainstream of health care, education, and public consciousness. For most of us work is stressful and by developing mindfulness through regular meditation we can make work less stressful and more fulfilling.

Distraction

Interruptions are endemic in the workplace and distraction has grown to epidemic proportions. Many of us are simply inbox slaves who fight from 8 to 6 to stem a constant flood of emails. Add to this; instant messages, conference calls, and meetings, meetings and more meetings, and we have a situation in which we are constantly distracted. Mindfulness can help to keep us focused and bring our attention back to what is important without being constantly distracted by the ‘noise’ of the workplace.

Collaboration

The expression there is no ‘me’ in teamwork comes to mind in emphasizing the importance of collaboration at work. Training is often based on learning new skills and understanding work processes, but very few employers provide training on the dynamics, roles, and nuances of team working. While mindfulness is very much based on understanding and developing ourselves, this improves our awareness and our ability to listen to and understand our colleagues. Mindfulness can break down the hidden mental barriers that prevent high performing teams from emerging.

Summary

Work and Mindfulness at a glance appear to be mutually exclusive, if this is true we should be worried. Perhaps its time to take a closer look at our work practices and try to imagine what Work would look like if it was truly Mindful.

Is your Work Mindful? What are your challenges and advantages?

Can Work be Mindful?