Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Mindfulness and Suffering

Does being mindful end suffering? Not that I’ve noticed. It can, however, change the nature of suffering.

In The Mindfulness Backlash, I wrote about the speed with which mindfulness is being marketed as a cure-all, which it is not. Mindfulness will not get you a new car, a better car, or a great relationship.

It also will not erase moments or longer time spans of suffering from your life. This sometimes seems unfair. If you can be serene, accepting each moment as it unfolds, surely, just as correct sanitation creates an environment in which germs don’t thrive, negativity should feel unwelcome in your mind.

However that thought reveals an inherent resistance. When I think it, I’m saying, “I don’t want negativity.” The statement that what we resist persists may be over-used, but that doesn’t make it less true.

It is often said that resistance is the source of all mental and physical pain. Take a moment to check out your body: neck, back, shoulders, wherever you may experience tension and pain. Think about some of the classic phrases related to physical pain and discomfort: “Pain in the neck,” “Don’t expect me to swallow that,” “I can’t stomach it.” Hear the resistance in these statements.

Imagine instead, waking up with a physical pain and surrendering to it, saying, “OK, pain, you win.” Some people ask what the pain wants to tell them, and this is an approach that can work for many varieties of suffering.

That person at work you can’t stand? (And how are your legs and feet doing?) Becoming mindful and going within may bring up a memory of someone of whom that person reminds you. Now you have an opportunity for release.

A situation that frightens you may represent the past intruding into the present moment and projecting into the future. A very common example involves people who are terrified about the idea of public speaking and who remember that when they were children, they suffered a humiliating experience in school. Suffering, when it operates in the background of consciousness, persists.

This is why the Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, advises us to make good use of our suffering, to embrace it as a teacher, to understand that in suffering lies the key to its resolution and healing.

Yes, it takes courage and commitment—and mindfulness. When I can allow whatever is happening in the present moment, I may not suddenly become happy, but in the acceptance that I’m not in control of the situation, I can surrender to it and invite it to teach me. It’s not my fault; it’s not anyone’s fault; it is.

And that’s the beginning of peace.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Mindfulness Backlash?

Mindfulness is certainly in the news. I get Google Alerts on the subject, and every day, a long listing of articles comes to my inbox.

We have mindfulness coloring books, apps. We are told that mindfulness can help us lose weight, cure depression, assist us in concentration, productivity, and profit, and teach children to learn better.

The above claims are probably potentially true, but I see a danger—actually, several dangers—in what appears to be a growing mindfulness craze.

“Girlfriend left you? Try a little mindfulness.”

“Need a better job? Meditate for success.”

“Kids bothering you? Send them to mindfulness school.”

People are beginning to see mindfulness as a cure-all, just as other segments of the population see pharmaceutical drugs. Given a choice, I’d prefer that parents send their kids to mindfulness school rather than drug them up. What makes me nervous is the possibility that it will be seen as a quick fix.

Since it isn’t, people will become disappointed and check it off as one more New Age hype that didn’t deliver.

This would be unfortunate, since mindfulness does have so much to offer anyone who approaches it in a different way. Instead of thinking, “I will do this thing in order to achieve X,” we do better to say, “I choose to live my life this way because each mindful moment and act gives its own reward.” Not tomorrow, not next month when you look at your stock dividends or your kid’s report card, but NOW.

Because mindfulness is about now. When it’s practiced that way, it will never disappoint. When it’s seen as a means to an end, disappointment is inevitable.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Mindfulness and Laughter

Where I live, it’s winter, and though snow came late to the party, it didn’t neglect to arise. In the Northeast, we are approaching the time traditionally known as that of cabin fever. This period is characterized by restlessness, irritability, and the desire to see something green.

It’s a time when a good laugh can make a difference. Laughter is mindful. It puts us completely in the moment. Past and future fade away as we enjoy the hilarity of the present moment.

With this in mind, I invite you to visit the following web site:

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

The URL will take you to the winning entries for the 2015 Bulwer-Lytton contest. Bulwer-Lytton was the author of the classic phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night,” and the contest challenges entrants to compose bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. Many are so bad that they’re very good.

Since the contest is completely about shameless bad writing, I have no hesitation in stating that I won a runner-up award in 2005 in the Fantasy category. Here's my entry:

?The dragon cast his wet, rheumy eyes, heavy-lidded with misery, over his kingdom – a malodorous, rot-ridden swamp, with moss cloaking brooding, gloomy cypresses, tree trunks like decayed teeth rising from stagnant ponds, creatures with mildewed fur and scales whom the meanest roadside zoo would have rejected – and hoped the antidepressants would kick in soon."

In a very different form, this entry became the basis for Big Dragons Don't Cry, the first book of A Dragon's Guide to Destiny. You can see the link to the right for more information.

This kind of humor may not be for you, in which case, I invite you to search on YouTube for one of Jimmy Fallon’s impersonations of famous singers. Or get a Laughing Buddha and contemplate why he's laughing.

Friday, January 8, 2016

One Word for the New Year

While I’m aware that the New Year has been around long enough for even me to remember that I have to write 2016 on checks, it’s not to late to envision and mentally shape the future.

For 15+ years, I’ve been part of a writing group that meets online. For this week’s chat, the chat leader gave us the challenge of coming up with one word to describe how we plan to focus on whatever dreams and aspirations we have for 2016.

Her inspiration for this idea came from the web site below:

One Word 365

Their concept is that one word can replace a long list of New Year’s resolutions. I don’t think they’re the only one with this idea, as I saw a number of other sites with the phrase “One Word” in the title, but it’s a good starting point. You can see who else has chosen your word and join their tribe. You can also get help in picking out a word.

Without further ado, my word is “Presence.” This means I intend to be present to the moment, instead of being caught up in the past or the future.

If you like this idea, and you want to post your word, please do.

Friday, January 1, 2016

For a Mindful New Year

I work part-time as a freelance editor. Recently I was editing a chapter about goal setting. While actually editing, I gave attention to my work, but later I realized that the content made me uneasy. Why? Because I don’t set goals with anything near the precision recommended in the chapter.

My inner guidance was telling me that I now needed to do this. The call to action awakened all of my resistance. Lists and discipline weren’t creative and spontaneous; they were boring. I felt like a child stuck in school on a sunny day.

The truth, though, was that lack of accomplishment was frustrating me. Since inner guidance was speaking to me, I asked it how I could reconcile the desire to accomplish goals in a systematic way with the desire for creativity and spontaneity.

The answer I got was that sometimes mindfulness means having a list and giving one’s full attention to its items, one at a time, and that in a given moment there is one thing to do. The practical analogy was that I didn’t wait for inspiration to wash the dishes, but that with a clean sink and counter area, I had lots of space to create an imaginative and delicious meal. And when I brought mindfulness to both the dishes and the cooking, I could get equal satisfaction from both tasks.

My inner guide wasn’t done with me, though. It also reminded me that for over a year, I’ve been moving from crisis to crisis. I have successfully handled all of them, but I felt as if I was constantly deflecting curveballs from the universe. I didn’t feel as if I were initiating plans of actions. I was responding to each new crisis that wreaked havoc with my plans.

The law of attraction states that whatever you focus on will grow. In retrospect, I see that I was focusing on crisis. No wonder they increased. I found crisis management easier than consciously taking command of my life and moving forward.

I’m not beating myself up for this. Humans do these things. However, now that it’s 2016, I intend to mend my ways, and this is the method I’m following.

Discover your most important dream.

List the steps needed to accomplish.

Get specific and break these steps into smaller steps.

Whenever I accomplish even the smallest step, I will pause to congratulate myself and celebrate my achievement.

To make this stronger, I’m going to state my intentions here. I have two goals in mind. I may end up choosing one over the other. That’s part of the plan.

My first goal is to make more money from my writing. I haven’t finalized my financial goal; that will be part of the process.

My second goal is to launch a career as an EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) coach.

I am going to break down each of these goals into steps. I am going to assess my progress weekly. I am going to celebrate all accomplishments, no matter how small.

And I am going to report my progress here. By the way, in writing this post, I accomplished one of my small goals.

I welcome anyone who so chooses to list his or her goals as comments. You have my full support.

And Happy New Year. May it be an enlightening and mindful one for all and one in which you fulfill your most heartfelt dreams.