My friend Marty recommended I read The Voice of Knowledge by Don Miguel Ruiz. It got me thinking more and more about mindfulness, which I do think about a lot and try to cultivate in my own life. It feels like there tends to be a lot of confusion nowadays about what mindfulness is, people sort of equate it with meditation. I think it is the ability to be present, to be awake and aware in this “moment”, not to have our mind wandering all over the place. Meditation is one of the ways to cultivate the ability to be present in a more formal way but not the only way to strengthen your ability to be present.
Marty explains, “Don Miguel Ruiz talks about meditation as being a great tool for some people to get to that point, but he ended up creating a life for himself where he is constantly living in the present moment. He had a glimpse of eternity by living with an awareness of what is around him, being fully consumed with what is around him and loving every moment of his life. Who wouldn’t want to get there?”
For most of us, we are unlikely to reach that level of self-actualization or whatever you want to call it, but I like thinking of being mindful as Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about honing in on this innate quality that we all have that can be cultivated. Meditation is one of the most researched ways that people cultivate mindfulness but I think of mindfulness as like a muscle. A muscle that can be strengthened by meditation. I equate it to the idea of getting in better shape through exercise. I could do formal exercise by going to the gym or I can do more informal physical activity that would also strengthen my muscles and physical condition.
So what is something more informal than meditation that you could do to become more mindful? It really is as simple as deciding on the present moment. Whether you go sit on a park bench and with intention you tell yourself “I’m not going to let my mind wander, I’m going to think about the beautiful breeze today, the sun on my face, the trees, the flowers, those sorts of things.”
Marty continues. “The analogy to working out is exactly perfect because if you haven’t worked out for a period of two to three months, and you start bench pressing you feel you can’t do a lot of weight, you feel sore after it, you don’t really believe it’s worth the effort, but if you stick with it for two to three weeks then all of a sudden you’re bench pressing hundreds of pounds and you are feeling good about it. Mindfulness is exactly the same thing, the more you practice it the more you see yourself doing it and you start to really try to create a reflexive response to mindfulness vs. okay, now I am going to be present, now I am going to pay attention. The more you do it, the more it will just naturally occur.”
I totally hear that. I think the other thing I found personally and I know others have said to me that it can be frustrating too. Part of the frustration can come from the recognition that your mind is wandering. Maybe there are Buddhist monks that can keep their minds focused but I know for me and for most human beings the tendency is that our mind will wander.
What was really helpful to me was this understanding that the noticing is what it is all about. It’s not that I need to keep my mind from wandering, or I “should” keep my mind from wandering, it’s every time my mind wanders and I notice, I bring it back to what I intend to focus on – that’s like another rep. That’s the rep that is going to strengthen my mindfulness. Then over time, there is this natural capacity to be more present in the moment and all the things that, that leads to in our lives.
“The great thing about the Voice of Knowledge is that he teaches you not to judge yourself,” continues Marty. “You are trying to be present but you go to bed at the end of the day and realize you weren’t present the whole day.”
Marty explains you realize that you were thinking about something bad in your past or scary in your future. Then you start beating yourself up because you weren’t present. That is exactly the opposite that Don Miguel teaches. He says we are made perfectly, whether or not we know it, or whether or not we will believe it about ourselves, we are part of a perfect plan and we are made perfectly and we need to live in that truth. Now that doesn’t mean you won’t get mad or you won’t fail and it doesn’t mean you won’t stumble, but forgive yourself and just know that the only thing you can do is the next moment and try to be better.
Adam continues – Of course, when people are feeling stressed out, it’s so hard to remember that and it’s hard to know where to start. We often get to this place of “how can I remove all of this from my life”, you know, remove the wandering mind or remove the stress.
You know I heard this saying the other day that I love which is “Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.” It isn’t about trying to remove struggle from your life. I mean almost anything that is meaningful has a component of struggle associated with it.
We both might think of our families, things like that, they are wonderful, but who has a family that never had any struggles? Most of us live in this bell-shaped curve, living with different challenges day in and out. It’s not about creating a perfect life, it’s not about eliminating struggle, but it’s how we face it and how we find support. Religion is one way, while some find they need a therapist or a close friend they can speak to – we all need these resources – and these resources may shift during different phases of our lives.