May 25, 2015
HEADS UP! Because I love reading, I'll occasionally share book reviews. In case you want to read along, I'll let my newsletter list know which book is next.
You know that feeling you get when you're struggling with a problem for so long, fighting an uphill battle to figure something out, and you're not making any progress? Maybe your toddler is acting up, or you can't get yourself to stop smoking, or your business is running out of cash. You're pushing until your face turns red, but you're stuck in the dirt.
And then suddenly (miraculously even) you come across the solution, and it turns out to be the easiest thing ever. And you kind of just want to smack yourself in the face because—that was it all along?!
That's how I feel right now.
For years, I've been fighting an uphill battle against so many things: how people perceive me, the next thing I should create, if the people I love feel the same way about me, and on and on. Well, guess what?
The solution has been right here in front of me all this time—and I didn't need anything other than myself to use it. That solution is mindfulness.
Let me tell you a little more about mindfulness and why it's so powerful...
From the first time I heard about Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth, I felt called to it, like I was meant to read it. Much like Chef's Table did, this book started showing up in more and more conversations and blogs, until I decided, "That's enough, universe! I'll read it, jeez!"
When my best friend came to visit a few months ago, I asked her to bring me a copy. What I didn't know was that she wasn't bringing me just a book...
The floor under me had been cracking for a while, but this book caused an earthquake-like separation. Where there were cracks there is now a canyon, and I've jumped over to the other side.
For those who haven't crossed its path before, here's a quick crash course on mindfulness:
Mindfulness is a mental state you achieve by focusing your awareness on the present moment. To live a mindful life means to live in the right now (instead of the past or the future) without thought or ego or resistance.
If that sounds intense to you, you're totally right. David (one of my favorite writers) explains it in the following way:
“The thinking mind is like a perpetually-running chainsaw that thinks everything is a tree. It will use any excuse to rev up and start shredding something. Its purpose is to solve problems, so it wants everything to be a problem.”
When I consider about how my mind works, it feels like David's right. It's always going off like a firecracker: worry, anger, worry, planning, frustration, worry, and then maybe some anguish. Which, you know, sucks. I love the concept of turning all of that off and replacing it with peace of mind, but it seems impossible. I kept thinking to myself:
"Become aware of every thought that pops into my brain? Not think a single thing? Live without time? HOW DO YOU DO THIS IN THE REAL WORLD?!"
After reading Tolle's A New Earth, it's less of a mystery. The book is a great introduction to the practice of mindfulness but spends most of its time on the results. Understanding the upside has helped motivate me to try practicing it—and the more I practice, the more I fall in love with it.
What's beautiful about mindfulness? In short, it works. Here's how:
Tolle explains that the word "identification" is derived from Latin words that mean "make the same", as in "I identify means making it the same as me." When we identify with things, we are searching for ourselves in them.
Failure. Success. Fancy clothes. Beliefs. Our hometown. Our families. Communities. Technology. Positions in a fight. Anger. Right and wrong.
Whatever you identify with isn't you. You'll never be able to find yourself in anything but your true, authentic self—your Being.
It's laughable how we constantly identify with so much, always fail to find the peace of mind and fulfillment we're looking for, and still are stubborn enough to keep trying by identifying with something else. Why haven't we gotten the clue yet?
I'm working on curbing this tendency as much as possible. For example:
- I give away clothes and books. When I comb through my closet and bookshelves every few weeks, it becomes easier to let go of stuff that I once felt uncomfortable parting with.
- I give up arguing. When I have something to say, I say it, and then I let it go. I take a breather and walk into the next moment like a clean slate. I try my best to choose peace over being right.
- I let beliefs go. I've held onto tons of negative beliefs for longer than I'd like to admit. (One is, "I'm a mean / unkind person.") Instead of unconsciously identifying with that belief, I'm focusing on what I know to be true in the present moment.
Those are just a few examples. I have so far to go... I'm extremely attached and identified with my computer and phone, for example! :-) But becoming aware of all this as it happens is providing me with so much peace already.
One of my favorite quotes is this Maya Angelou quote:
"You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights."
You might think those three things suck. Most of the people I know would be furious if their luggage was lost on a trip. Downright livid. I probably would've been too a few years ago. But now? It's just a fact.
So many times a friend or loved one has told me about a situation they're feeling worried or frustrated about. My response is always the same:
"You can take action and worry OR you can just take action. Either way, you have to take action. The worry is dispensable."
I'm going on a trip next week. If my luggage is lost or gets left behind, I'll skip the anger and go straight to dealing with it. Or, you know, try. :-)
When you're upset, you're resisting reality. Instead of arguing with what is, accept it and then (if possible) take concerted action to improve it.
Easier said than done, of course. I've learned to accept lots of situations, but there are a few things I will resist to the end of my days. They're what I call my "non-negotiables." A few of these are:
- How someone treats my son
- The quality of my marriage
- My freedom to create vs. making a living
I won't be changing my expectations on these anytime soon. I'm no monk. :-)
It's fascinating to think you don't need a single thing to access your peace of mind—because you're already enough as you are, in this moment.
Most of us go through life trying to "attain" things to be happy, most typically in a "I'll be happy when X" scenario. We think we'll be happy when we make enough money, or when he graduate school, or when we land that dream spouse. In truth, you can be happy now by focusing on the present moment without resistance.
That's not the only way we trick ourselves, though.
We also try to "attain" things to improve ourselves. We want to lose weight, so we download an app and research the paleo diet. We want to get stronger, so we order a pull-up bar and sign up for a gym membership. We want to make more money, so we buy books and load up on information. Yes, these things help in the long run, but it's enough to bring these intentions into the present moment. If you don't resist the discomfort that comes along with eating healthy foods, exercising, or learning, you'll be able to start right now.
All you need to tap into is what you already have.
There's one belief Tolle shares in A New Earth that might help back this up: that life always provides you the experience most helpful to you. That doesn't mean life will solve your problems for you—I wish!—but it'll provide you opportunities to grow and practice mindfulness. (My jury is still out on this one...)
His belief seems to be that there is only one area in which we must all strive to improve: tapping into our source of enoughness.
There are so many aspects of mindfulness to explore, and I've just read a few books on the topic, but I hope this gives you an intro to what it is and why I'm so in love with it. What would your life be like if you didn't identify with aspects of your life, you accepted what is, and you realized you are enough as you are right now?
Great, most likely. But part of my exploration in mindfulness includes my objections to it. Being a mindfulness beginner, I have a few issues that I can't quite reconcile. For example:
- How can I "accept" harm coming to my family (especially my child)?
- How can I detach from my family (especially my child)?
- How can I ever become better if I'm already enough?
Not everything makes total sense to me. Yet? Next week, I'll explore the question that may be floating around your mind:
How does mindfulness apply to my job?