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?

The Media meets Mindfulness

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!

The Media meets Mindfulness

Mastery of Self

Thoreau

“The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.”
Henry David Thoreau

Does this resonate with you? Thoreau made this observation in 1847, I see its echo in the shops and on the commuter trains, on the streets and in the workplaces. It resonates with me because I know the fog of despair is like a mist that can engulf you at any time.

“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.”
– Henry David Thoreau

“I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is the victory over self.”
– Aristotle

“One who conquers himself is greater than another who conquers a thousand times a thousand on the battlefield”
– The Buddha

“Real success is success with self.  It’s not in having things, but in having mastery, having victory over self.”
– Anwar Sadat

In Walden, Thoreau writes of the power of words. Words, unlike great words of art, never fade. They retain the vigor and vitality of the moment they were first spoken.

We often feel as if we are the first and only person to experience the challenges, mysteries, and suffering that life throws in our direction. However, great minds have pondered these very experiences since we first found symbols to record our thoughts and words.

So to Aristotle, Buddha, Sadat and Thoreau I say thank you. I hear you loud and clear.

It is in mastery of self that we achieve our greatest victory.

Mastery of Self