“Mindfulness is readily available to anyone willing to give up the illusion of knowing.” ~Dr. Ellen Langer, Ph.D
Previously, I said that we need to “ditch” expectations, and that’s true in the context of the statement. There are times, though, when we should have expectations, and I want to talk about those for just a minute.
Expectations are exactly what we need when it comes to Faith. I’m not talking about Religion, but Belief. The anonymous writer of the Biblical epistle to the Hebrews said, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for. The evidence of things not seen”. In other words, Faith is the ability to accept things that have not happened yet, or that we cannot see, and know that they are real. No doubting. No questioning. We know, and that’s the end of it.
Jesus told His disciples,”Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.” Notice that He was speaking in the past tense. “…believe that you have received them…”
When we talk about matters of faith (not religion), expectations are crucial.
You might be wondering how this relates to Mindfulness. I believe that Prayer is a form of mindfulness. It pushes us directly into the moment. In prayer, we plug ourselves into the infinite power that surrounds us, drawing from it, allowing it to flow into us and through us.
(Yes. I believe the teachings of Jesus, although I no longer call myself a Christian. When taken at face value, they are very mindful.)
June 6, 2018
Yesterday’s news about the apparent suicide of designer Kate Spade set me to thinking. Just like anyone else, the questions that come to my mind are
What happens to her family now?
What about her friends and employees?
Of course, I dont have answers to these questions, and any suggestions I might make would be trite. If you have dealt with the suicide of someone close, then you understand the upheaval that happens in the wake.
Over the years, I’ve considered suicide more than once. The source of that desire was always an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. Trapped in a miserable life that was supposed to make me happy, with no apparent way out, I felt desperate and alone. What kept me from it was my family. I knew what it was like to grow up with just one parent. My kids deserved better, and I wouldn’t make them deal with the added junk of a suicide.
Here’s what I have gleaned in the time since then, and it follows the same path that I’ve been talking about recently: Expectations. If I can drill one thing in, it’s that we need to ditch them. When we can live receptively, accepting what Life brings us instead of trying to force our existence into a mold, stress dissolves away and can be replaced with tranquility. Gratitude can supersede frustration.
A little over two years ago, that’s what I did. I dropped all of those expectations and opened myself up to other possibilities. Apart from family and about three friends, I cut ties with everyone in that Life. Most of my time is spent living out of a vehicle in a national forest and I work at a mill there (which I really enjoy). I nap in a meadow in the afternoons, drive into town most evenings to catch some WiFi and cell signal, then I go back up to the meadow and sleep…like I never slept before. My bed is comfortable, my mind is at ease, and I wake up in a beautiful place every day.
Mindfully Dealing with Disappointment
Little Alex awoke very excited. Today, he was going to the zoo with his mom! He’d been to the zoo several times, and couldnt wait to see all the animals there, especially the monkeys. He loved them because they always did funny things. “Mommy!”, he called out, “I’m awake! When do we go?”
Mommy’s face appeared in the doorway. “In just a little bit”, she said, “We just need to pack up some lunches and a few other things.” Smiling, she added,”Dont forget to wear the new flipflops we picked up yesterday.”
Oh! YESSS!!! He’d forgotten about them. This was going to be so much fun! Just him and Mommy, walking through the zoo and seeing all of the animals.
While Alex was eating his breakfast, Mommy’s phone rang. She talked a little bit, then came to sit beside him. “Alex”, she said in a very serious voice,”I’m sorry, but something has happened and I cant take you to the zoo, today.” His heart sank as the meaning of the words became clear, and he began to cry. “But Mommy”, he said, “this is OUR day! Just ours!”
NOTE: What follows is obviously over-simplified for brevity. Perhaps, I’ll write a book someday. If you’d like more discussion on this, drop me a note on the Contact page. I promise to respond within a day.
We all have similar experiences, both as kids and as adults, and it sucks. When Disappointment comes, there are a couple of ways that we most often deal with it. Sometimes we get sad, maybe have a cry. Other times, we get angry, (a subject which deserves its own discussion). A lot of it depends on circumstances, but Disappointment is always difficult.
Consistent Disappointment can have serious repercussions on our self-image. We may begin to question our own importance – to a particular person, or a group, even to God. This can lead to depression, isolation, and even suicidal thoughts, if we ruminate on the negative.
There is a mindful way to approach Disappointment, though. It extends from the view of my previous post, Leaves in a Stream. In it, we examined the idea that everything doesnt happen with ME as the central focus. Instead, Life is happening all around us and we are participatory, but not required. Whether the leaf is there or not, the stream keeps flowing. If there is a leaf, it moves along, carried by the stream.
To expand on this, and apply it to Disappointment, we need to understand the difference between Projection and Reception.
Projection goes into a situation with a set of expectations. It imagines, perhaps even visualizes how things will unfold. Its metaphorical vessel is already filled, before the moment has even arrived.
Reception enters with an empty vessel, ready to experience whatever comes.
In our scenario, we can decipher the cause of Alex’s disappointment, and it isnt Mommy, or the person on the phone. It’s Alex. Yep. I’m gonna blame the kid, but it isnt really his fault. He did what most of us would do in his situation. In anticipation of his special day, he had projected some powerful expectations onto the experience. He imagined how everything would go, walking and laughing with his mother on a sun-filled day, and it was a wonderful picture. He couldnt wait. When things didnt go as planned, his expectations were undone and he felt let down.
We do this to ourselves so often in life. We fill our vessels with expectations about everything – our kids, our friends, vacations, jobs, marriage, gardens, dinner, sports, and on and on… It isnt necessarily wrong, but it sure does open us up to a lot of heartache.
What if things could be different, though? What if we could go through a day without expectations? It is possible, but takes mindful practice.
Just like our meditation, we simply need to be aware of what’s happening in our heads with regard to our experience. When we recognize our expectations, we need to push them out and open ourselves up to whatever may come. We must become Receptive in the moment.
This works, even when the disappointment has already come. We can take a few moments to recognize what expectations have been thwarted and accept things as they are. When that’s done, we’ll have an open mind and heart to experience whatever comes next.
~Enjoy the Life you’re living.
Leaves in the Stream…
Most modern humans see things from a self-centric viewpoint. It’s what we’re taught from birth. We dont say it, but the human attitude is that we are the rulers and everything should bend to our will. When things dont, something is wrong — but is it?
The idea of human rule is an illusion. We deceive ourselves in order to rationalize our selfishness.
I’d known L_______ since she was a little girl. Watched her grow up, and develop into a wonderful young woman. Early on the morning of her wedding day, we both received notice that a dear friend had died while getting ready to attend. Raymond was older than my father, and we’d known each other for a long, long time. His daughter was there with him and alone. As his closest friend, I had to choose where to spend my day. I chose to spend it tending to my friend’s grieving family. They began to arrive shortly, and soon after that, the coroner arrived, as well. He did his thing, while we all milled around in the other room, and soon he removed Ray’s body into the van.
We each move as a participant in the flow of Life, rather than a focal point — a proverbial leaf in a stream. The leaf is not the point. Nothing that happens is for or about the leaf. It would all happen, just the same, if the leaf werent there, at all. It’s the same with Life. By accepting that this flow is neither for us, nor about us, we can let go of the guilt and responsibility of “doing it right“. Moving in harmony with the rest of the creation, we are free to enjoy each moment for its own wonder.
However, if we perceive that everything happens with us in mind, it can be overwhelming. We begin to ask, Why me? Am I supposed to learn something from this? Then guilt climbs in, and regret, and depression. While I believe that God exists, and the He is involved in our lives, I dont think that He customizes all of reality for each individual. In most cases, something simply happened and you were there when it did. Most of the time, things arent about us. They’re just part of the flow. This leaves me free to float, accepting what is, and to respond in whatever way seems best at the time.
Death happened TO Raymond, and it affected us all. My young friend had one of the most joyful and sorrowful days of her life, but only part of it was about her. So did I, in a different way, but it wasnt because of anything that happened TO me. What made it a good day was an ability to accept each moment objectively, understanding that Life was happening in my presence, but it wasnt about me. To see life in this way, allowed me clarity to respond positively, and do for others whose loss was much greater.
Was I wrong to miss the wedding? Would it have been wrong to go, and leave my friend’s family to mourn? What if I had simply stayed home, and let everyone have their experiences without me? I dont think there was a right or wrong decision. It was my choice, and I made it.
Most of Life works that way. Events occur, and there will often be people there. You or I may be among them. It’s nothing personal. “Everything happens for a reason”, they say. Maybe, maybe not, but either way, that reason is not always Me.
A few days later, I carried Ray’s casket, and our newly married friend sang for him. We said goodbye to him in our own ways, and talked about the blessing he was to each of us. There were tears and smiles, food and all that goes with that kind of thing. It could have been a bad day, but there was a lot of love in it. I remember both days fondly.
Thoughts on Thoughts, Breathing, Puppies and Reflections…
Let’s talk about Mindful Stillness, or Meditation. This isnt anything mystical. Mindfulness is nothing more than a quiet focus on the immediate. It can be listening, walking, even driving (especially driving, because that’s a really good time to be mindful), but for this chat, we’ll talk about breathing.
Breathing is, for most people, the easiest introduction to Mindfulness. I was introduced to controlled breathing (which is the same thing) in the 1970s, through a yoga instructor. It was easy to do, and could be done anywhere that breathing was allowed. Most often, I do it with closed eyes, but that isnt really necessary. The idea is to bring attention to the breath, deepening and slowing, until the body can voluntarily relax. I found that controlled breathing (read Mindful) was the quickest way to reset in stressful situations.
To begin, though, it was on the floor in my living room. Sitting or lying isnt important. The thing is to concentrate on your breath. As I said, I usually go with closed eyes, feeling the air move into my body, then out. In slowly through the nostrils, counting to four. Then out through the mouth, counting to six. Not blowing hard, but pushing it out naturally. “Good air in. Bad air out.”
“But Don, I cant focus like that. My mind wanders.” Dealing with rogue thoughts is simple, but can require some practice. You first need to understand that thoughts are just thoughts. They have no power…at all. Everything lies in our response, and that’s where I’m going.
Before you begin your Mindfulness session, set a pen and paper at your side, within easy reach. I’ll explain in a minute.
Now, get comfortable. It can be in a chair or on the floor, sitting or prone. Just dont get so comfortable that you’ll fall asleep. Breath in and out, as I described above. Do this six or seven times. Once you’re comfortable with the slow, deep breathing, begin to notice what’s happening in your body. You may hear sounds, or feel little twinges and tingles. Consciously let your body relax. Dont feel bad if it doesnt happen, at first. Mindfulness is, after all, a practice.
While you’re doing these things, your mind will take off. Like a puppy with a ball, that wants to play, it will throw up ideas and memories. At these times, you’ll be tempted to grab one of those thoughts and give it your attention. You’ll begin to develop an idea, or to relive a memory. Plans or emotions will arise and you will drift away from your original purpose. That’s natural, and nothing to worry about. This is about the process, not some kind of result. Return your focus to breathing.
Memories can be powerful distractions, if we let them. Given the chance, they can send us down emotional rivers and carry us off. Again, it’s natural. Memories are like reflections in a window. They show us vivid, familiar scenes, but nothing is really there. In those moments, you hold the power. Just remind yourself that it’s only a thought, and like a window image, there’s nothing behind it. Set it aside, then return your focus to breathing.
If something comes up that needs attention, reach for the pen and paper. Jot it down and say to the thought, “I see you, and I’ll get back to you soon.” Then, return your focus to your breathing.
There are a million videos about this on YouTube, so I wont be making one. Still, I’d like to hear from you if you find this helpful.
Thank you for liking, sharing and commenting.
~Enjoy the Life you’re living.
My days are good days, bringing me a peace that I have never known. I wake long before the sun breaks the horizon. My phone begins to play the first of my wake up tunes. Ten minutes. That’s the time I take to begin. Lying quietly, I reflect on the blessing of this moment. I am in a beautiful place, and I am warm. When I climb out of this bed, cold air will greet me, unless I have turned on the little heater that sits beside me. I will dress, relieve my inner pressure, remove the coverings from the windows and stow them. If weather permits, I wont hurry. Stars dot the sky as I move through my brief morning routine. Often as not, the moon follows me as I drive the mile and a half to work.This is my ritual. Each task is a part, and I keep my mind there. Turning the ignition key, I smile and say, “Good morning, Maggie!”
Acting Mindfully is to focus on the experience of doing a thing. In this country, we place so much emphasis on results, that we often dont take time to grok what we’re doing. Is this true in your life? Do you get frustrated while doing something that you’re supposed to enjoy? Maybe you’re focused on the result, instead of the process.
When you hear yourself saying, “Ugh! This stupid thing wont ____________!”, the reply might be, “Yes, it will. Relax. Refocus, and try it again.” Take a few breaths, maybe walk away for a while, and return your attention to the process. Most of the time, letting the thing flow is better than pushing it. When it turns out well, that’s a bonus. Other times, well, you’ve still enjoyed doing that thing.
Learning to Be…
November 7, 2017
My youngest years were spent in Oklahoma, in the 1960s. At the time, Tulsa was the Oil Capital of the World, and things were booming. Outside the city, though, in the rural areas where my grandparents lived, it was rustic. Homes were heated with wood, or small gas heaters. Some even had gas lights. Phones were on party lines, many toilets were still detached (read Outhouse), and dogs, cats, and kids were allowed to run free in nearby woods. It was in those woods that I began to learn mindfulness, and/or meditation.
Although we didnt call it anything, it wasnt unusual to climb up on a big rock, or into a tree, or just sit by a little pond, and Be. We didnt have deadlines, apart from being back to the house for supper. Following deer trails or making new ones with my cousins, I learned to be aware of things around me. A rustle of leaves, or shadow moving across the path. Seeing and hearing hidden things became second nature.
One of these paths crossed a tiny stream, at the place where it fell a few inches into a miniature pool. I liked to sit quietly, listen to the sounds of the forest, watch clouds, or sunlight on the ripples. There were trees for shade, and several good sized stones to sit on, with feet in the water, which was clear and cool.
In that little pool lived a fish. I dont know if it was the only one, but I only ever saw one at a time. I assume that it had stayed in the pool until it grew too big to swim out. The first time I saw it, I’d followed the path and stopped at the pool for a rest. On this particular day, sitting cross-legged at the edge, I saw a flicker beneath a stone that jutted out, on the other side. Looking closer into the sun-tinted water, I saw the the movement of fins and gills. Slowly, as I gazed, the fish’s form was revealed. From then on, whenever I passed that way, I would look for it. Sometimes I was rewarded with a glimpse, sometimes not.
One of the basic tenets of mindfulness is to become aware of what’s happening around you, in this moment. As you do, you will discover a lot of things that you didnt know were there. I dont know how many times I’d sat by that pool, before I saw the fish. Of course, at the time, I was just being a kid, enjoying a summer afternoon in the Oklahoma woods. Who knew that I was actually being mindful?
Next time, I’ll talk about breathing. In the meanwhile,
~Enjoy the Life you’re living.
November 5, 2017
Mindfulness is how I’ve lived my life since I can remember, though I used no word for it. It hadnt occurred to me that other people didnt, or that we might have reached a point when people dont know how to live this way. Over the past few months, I’ve noticed that word, Mindfulness, turning up everywhere – bookstores, grocery stores. YouTube. Evidently, we have, in fact, reached such a point.
While I have to admit to a certain amount of surprise, the truth is, it shouldnt be surprising, at all. Contemporary lives are filled with so much technology and activity, that some of us have never learned how to be Present.
After some consideration, I’ve decided to devote a page to Mindfulness. I’ll also make some videos on the subject, for later release. (Dont look for a book anytime soon.)
In short, Live Mindfully, and Enjoy the Life you’re living.
Clarification On Expectations – June 11, 2018
Suicide – June 1, 2018
Disappointment – June 1, 2018
Leaves in a Stream – April 19, 2018
Forbes article, “How Breathing Calms Your Brain…etc. – December 3, 2017
Thoughts on Thoughts, Breathing, Puppies and Reflections – November 28, 2017
Acting Mindfully – November 22, 2017
Learning to Be – November 7, 2017
Mindful – November 5, 2017