The Paradox of Mindfulness and Future Planning
On finding mindfulness and meaning
Posted March 7, 2011
Mindfulness, whether it's thought of as a way of living or a tool for using, works so well for so many people that it's perhaps become a buzzword of late. Practitioners find themselves suggesting mindfulness regularly and that might create the unintended consequence of "pop star burnout"... when you hear a song too many times on the radio you start tuning it out.
Jennifer Dryer, who was a counselor in Portland, Oregon, has experienced both sides of that story. In her former role as a crisis counselor, she and colleagues often suggested mindfulness techniques as short-term interventions with clients. However, on a personal level, she reports that "One of the problems when going through a stressful event when most of your social circle is made up of therapists is that they all suggest the intervention du jour. I've been told about mindfulness a dozen times since starting the process of going through a divorce. But, mindfulness is a daily practice. It helps with coping in stressful situations if you have already worked on it as a skill and are used to drawing on it. It's not the suggestion I want to hear every single time I'm having a bad day."
It's a great lesson: to be thoughtful about when and how we suggest mindfulness or any technique for that matter. Timing is everything. For most mental health professionals, the value in having an integrative toolkit of skills cannot be overemphasized. The same can be said for life in general. What worked for me yesterday may not feel like a good fit today. I may not have been receiving of a wellness concept that was introduced to me last year but now it just seems to make sense. We like to learn but we like to learn at our own pace, on our time. We tend to prefer discovering things for ourselves to being clubbed over the head and dragged into the cave.
In my previous blog entry I raised the topic of individual identity exploration and posed some self-discovery questions. Questions meant to explore those existential "Who am I and what am I doing here" types of human stirrings. I wrote about our shared human fantasy: the dream of living a differnet life from the one we're living. A far-off place where it's warmer, calmer and easier.
We are allowed to have fantasies - they feel nice sometimes - but we shouldn't live there. When fantasies turn into mindlessness, we get stuck in that far off land and we feel sad that it's not our reality. Mindfulness, on the other hand, keeps us present and accepting of all that we have and all that we are. We can be mindful of our present moment while planning for our future. That's different from daydreaming about fantasy lands. Mindfulness has intention, accepetance, and appreciation of the only place we can really live- the present.
I would append my list of self-exploration questions from last time to allow for a more universal connection. Questions like: What is my connection to our world? How can I serve? Who am I beyond the labels I've given myself?
When we limit ourselves the self-ish questions - "What do I want to be when I grow up? "How much money can I make?" "What job title will I reach?" - we condition ourselves to identify with things and attachments that are fleeting. The questions need to shift to How can I be rather than What can I be. These are ego-busting questions. We ask the questions and then consciously create a space and stillness for those answers to arise.
This kind of mindful self-exploration is a way to very much tune into what we authentically want for ourselves, our families, and our resource of time. The process of understanding ourselves on a deeper level is actually about the honoring of our lives and our connections. Clearing the clutter and making more space for what's real and meaningful.
Eckhart Tolle said a few years back, "Mastery of life is not a question of control, but of finding a balance between human and being. Mother, father, husband, wife, young, old, the roles you play, the functions you fulfill, whatever you do--all that belongs to the human dimension. It has its place and needs to be honored, but in itself it is not enough for a fulfilled, truly meaningful relationship or life. Human alone is never enough, no matter how hard you try or what you achieve."
When I am more practiced at being mindful of the present I become more adept at catching myself when I'm spinning my wheels in states of mindlessness, judgment, and taking-for-grantedness. I know I'm in those places when time appears to have passed very quickly without my notice or, conversely, when I'm feeling bored and restless. Or, when I'm finding myself absent-minded, comparing myself to others, and yearning for things. Mindful presence, gratitude, appreciation, connecting with people or the environment, and looking at my experience from a different perspective tend to disarm those traps. But that's just me-- right now.
If you're interested in mindfulness, here are a few of my other blogs on the subject:
Brad Waters MSW, LCSW provides career-life coaching and consultation to clients internationally via phone and Skype. He helps people explore career direction and take action on career transitions. Brad holds a Master's degree in social work from the University of Michigan and Master's certification in Holistic Health Care from Western Michigan University. Brad is also a personal development writer whose books are available on Amazon and BradWatersMSW.com
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