So the question is: How do I “accept what is” AND “drive change”? Answer: Mindfulness. This series of posts is designed to introduce the key concepts to this paradoxical approach to empowerment. Today’s topic: Awareness.
Throughout our lives, we have exhausted much time, energy, and resources driving change in our lives. Even if our efforts towards positive change are successful, our experience of fulfillment from that “win” is rarely enduring. Instead, something else typically stands revealed as an area for improvement.
From this platform of unrest, the idea of accepting a “less than ideal” situation seems, well, unacceptable. After all, if we don’t take steps to change what we are unhappy about, how will we ever be happy? One glaring fault in this logic is that life is in a constant state of change without us ever doing anything. Another is that the same situation that was once viewed as a source of happiness can be the very same situation that later on is viewed as a source of frustration.
Yet despite these points of fact, the idea of accepting an uncomfortable situation challenges us at a primal level. If we fail to negotiate that automatic response, we are bound to spend our lives chasing, and never finding, enduring fulfillment. That’s where mindfulness comes in.
At the core of mindfulness is presence awareness, so it only makes sense to start there. One point that rarely gets mentioned in discussions of presence is that presence is always the case: it is only our awareness of presence that shifts. In this way, presence is our natural state of being, and maintaining a point of awareness on presence is the skill we must cultivate on our journey to mindfulness.
How do we do that? The most immediate path I have found is rooted in the mundane activities of everyday life. The innocuous activities that fill our day such as cleaning, dishes, laundry, washing your hands, walking up a flight of stairs, or any other sort of highly automatic activity, are ripe with the opportunity to flex and strengthen presence awareness simply because they do not conceal any “hidden agenda”. In this way, we can more easily let down our guard and open to learning what these activities have to teach us about fulfillment.
In other words, even if we do not like doing the dishes, we can recognize that the activity itelf is neutral and that our dislike of the activity has nothing to do with the activity itself but is entirely derived from our own preconceived biases. This recognition allows us the opportunity to set our biases aside for a time and fully accept that there is an activity of doing the dishes.
Ready to give it a shot? While engaging in the mundane activities of your everyday life, maintain a point of awareness a half-step “back” from the activity. A more tangible way of achieving that is by maintaining a point of awareness on your breath while you are doing whatever mundane task is in front of you to do.
Next, slow the activity down, and watch each small movement you make in performing that activity while maintaining a point of awareness on your breath. Don’t be surprised if a smile paints itself upon your face. Another time, try mentally “stepping backwards” through the entire chain of events that had to take place in order for you to be there doing the activity, all while maintaining a point of awareness on your breath. Notice the miracle of it all, as well as the absurdity.
Eventually you may arrive at a point where it seems that you are merely an observer watching the activity “do” itself. It is a humbling and empowering state of awareness.
Engaging in our lives in this way is hardly practical, but it’s not something that we need to do all the time. Much like exercising, presence awareness is like a muscle we can strengthen over time. Initially it helps us learn by practicing it in dedicated blocks of time, but as we get more adept at the art of awareness, we can more expertly integrate it in micro doses throughout our day (more on that in a couple of days).
Tomorrow, we will look at the aspect of “accepting what is” on our journey to mindfulness.
There’s a subtle but significant distinction between “accepting what is” and “driving change”. How that distinction plays out in your life determines the degree of fulfillment you experience. The winningest proposition, however, is to drive change from a position of full acceptance of what is.
It’s a paradoxical approach, and one that transcends logic. As such, it is a path that eludes most people. But when you are in that zone, or when you see someone who is in that zone, you recognize it in a way that surpasses conventional understanding. It’s the ultimate “x” factor that’s hard to miss and even harder to ignore.
To root yourself in this powerful approach, you need only master one skill: mindfulness.
For the next 5 days, we will explore the fundamental aspects of this widely talked about but greatly misunderstood method of empowerment.
While it can be useful to think in terms of dichotomy in our everyday life, at some point we undermine our highest intention by holding too tightly onto one side of an argument. As paradoxical as it seems, relaxing our gaze allows us to see more of a situation, ultimately enabling us to step more skillfully.
The next time you find yourself standing at a fork in the road, use that experience as a cue to relax the need for one path to be more right than the other. When we can see that both paths equally contain challenges as well as triumphs, the emphasis shifts from “which one is best” to “which one feels most in alignment with my highest intention”.
Only when we reach a point of “either” will the most “right” path stand revealed. By not denying the “rightness” of either path, we come to experience the fullest possible expression of ourselves. This experience is the priceless jewel contained within the seeming emptiness of uncertainty.
Only when we are through settling for less will we discover that the presumed risks of claiming our place in this world do not exist. At the same time we also discover the essential nature of that illusion, and we evolve to an entirely new way of thinking.
It’s up to you to say when.
The moment we see and deeply accept that we are on a path to nowhere, we realize that we took the long way to get to here now. The good news is that we are here now, and if we can manage to stay here now, our every step will be lit by inspiration.
The human mind enables us to accomplish incredible things. Yet the mode of thinking that allowed us to get us where we are is the same mode of thinking that then blocks us from getting to the next stage in our evolution.
Evolution is not about getting better at what we do, it’s a leap to an entirely different way of being altogether. To experience a new reality, we must transcend to a new way of thinking. Bring a gentle curiosity to the choices you make, and look for opportunities to choose differently.
Experiment with your life: if you always drive a particular route to the store, try a different route. If you always brush your teeth in a particular fashion, try doing it a different way. Rather than ignoring the task that’s been nagging at you, surrender to it and discover what it has to teach you. If you always use a black pen, switch to blue.
Explore how simple changes affect how you feel. With enough experimentation, what you may notice is that it is not the activity itself that affects you most, but the fact that you are engaging your life with a heightened sense of curiosity.
Our lives are brimming with opportunities to learn something new about ourselves in relation to this life that is living us. Challenge everything. Choose differently and see how you, and the things around you, begin to evolve.
Tomorrow is not a brand new day if what we bring to it is our old conditioned mindset. The building blocks of tomorrow are forged in the choice we make in this moment. We have one chance to make a different choice, and then we must continue to demonstrate allegiance to that different choice by continuing to choose it in the face of the momentum of habit which serves to undermine an experience of our fullest possible expression.
Authentic choice begins with awareness that we even have a choice. From there we can ask: In this moment, what choice feels most supportive of the unseen opportunities awaiting me on the other side of this choice?
Arguing with insanity only serves to amplify our own. Best leave insanity be: truth needs no defense.
Insanity arises from a misguided attempt to create peace, but peace is not man made. Notice insanity with mild curiosity. Maintain a point of awareness on the neutrality of the breath. Shift awareness away from the point of contention, and look instead for what the situation reveals about truth. Take responsibility by humbly acknowledging your role in creating the situation, then learn what that experience of insanity can teach you about peace so history can’t repeat itself.
Insanity rises and falls within the space of enduring peace. Amplifying uncaused peace raises a mirror allowing insanity to see its own reflection. This short circuits insanity, giving it nowhere to go but home.
When we choose an action, we choose the result, even if that result is not one we could have possibly foreseen.
If we don’t consider the possible outcomes of our actions, there is a genuine risk that we will do more harm then good to ourselves as well as to others.
If we don’t take action until after we have fully considered the possible outcomes of our actions, we won’t ever take action because truly we can never fully know. Every thought, every action, changes the course of history in ways we will never know.
We are left with one viable option: choose what feels most right within the context of our limited understanding as viewed through the lens of the intention we hold for our lives. From there, we begin to notice how we feel as the ripples from our actions reveal themselves. Those feelings can then inform our future actions, and align us more fully with the intention we hold for our lives.
One key, then, to integral action is to hold a clear intention for our lives which transcends the substance of our lives. When viewed through this lens, each choice is no longer simply about what we think we want: each choice becomes a beacon of who we are.
In this way, “why” we make the choices we make is more telling of our character than the actual choices themselves. From there, “how” we take responsibility for the ripples of our actions tells the rest of our character’s story. It is either a story of intention or one of chance: a story of mastery or a story of speculation.
When our mind is absorbed entirely in the pursuit of achieving a specific outcome, we can miss a wealth of opportunities. Finding and maintaining just the right amount of tension between achieving a specific goal and allowing for other possibilities is a genuine art. It’s a skill worth cultivating, though, if your ultimate goal is to experience the fullest possible expression of yourself in this lifetime.
So what does it take to strike the perfect balance? It’s not as difficult as one might think. The answer: one conscious breath.
Maintaining a bit of awareness on our breath as we perform the tasks in our day creates an open quality to whatever it is we are doing. We are no longer fully identified with the task, which allows us to experience this moment more fully and respond more skillfully. We are far more apt to notice subtle nuances and epic possibilities than if we are intent on one specific outcome. This extra bit of vision dynamically informs our actions and empowers us to make synergistic course corrections along the way.
Our ultimate destination is not one we can know at the beginning of the journey. Navigation is an iterative process best served by noticing cues along the way and responding accordingly. Each moment then becomes one of authentic discovery. The result? A consistent experience of enduring fulfillment and meaningful success.
The situation is always neutral: the only thing that fluctuates is our feelings about the situation. That happens to be good news, because our feelings are often the only things we can control. In truth, we can learn more about ourselves from our feelings than we can ever learn about anything else.
If we are paying attention, our feelings can show us where we are at and what lessons we might benefit from learning. We must be open to learning those lessons, though. When we are open to those lessons, even a moment of frustration, anger, or despair can be transformed into fuel for healing, discovery, and expansion.
But don’t take my word for it. I encourage you to try it for yourself. The next time you become aware of feeling constricted within a situation, rather than rail against it, try opening to it. I find gratitude to be an amazing opener. You might try: “Thank you for this opportunity to know myself more deeply.” Then breathe. Then see what shifts for you. Get curious: what can the situation teach you that will help you experience greater ease and greater joy?
Let me know how it goes.
When we are clear about what our highest priority is for our life, it gets very easy to know which activities to say no to and which activities to continue exploring. When our highest priority is discovery, then every day offers an experience of meaningful success.
What primary activities are you saying yes to today? Do they align with your highest priority? Are they an extension of who you are, or merely a useful, exploitable skill you picked up along the way? For anyone committed to inspired living, the distinction is of utmost importance, and easy to ascertain: Does the activity fuel you, or are you fuel for the activity?
Whether you are struggling with the tedium of the daily grind or you are flat out frustrated with the entire scene, these moments can be transformed with a simple shift of focus.
Our daily life is our proving ground where we sharpen our skills in preparation for our magnum opus.
Dig deep and commit to doing the work that needs done. Welcome the challenges that present themselves each day. Commitment during these critical times will help us successfully navigate similar challenges that await us after the curtain rises on our life’s work. In many respects, commitment is our ticket to the big show. How badly do you want to see it? How much are you willing to pay?
The only thing interfering with our ability to experience joy in this moment are our thoughts about this moment. Even in the empty depth of wrenching heartache and despair, joy can be found: I speak from personal experience here.
Whatever hardship is weighing heavy upon us, there is always the option of aligning with it and learning from it. Surrendering to hardship with a note of sincere gratitude transforms our experience of life into a celebration of creativity.
When we stand at the precipice of our lives and step faithfully, the world rises up to meet us. This carries with it the happy consequence of inspiring others to do the same.
Feeling stuck? Confused? Uncertain how to move forward in your life in a powerful and meaningful way?
Often we use our fear of failure as an excuse not to take a leadership role in our life. Choosing the devil we know can seem a safer strategy than choosing the devil we don’t know. The trouble is, we end up living half-lives at the mercy of mass markets and elite moguls. What isn’t always apparent is that the devil is just an angel in disguise.
We have to want the experience of leadership, win or lose, more than we fear the uncertainty of it. Only then will it hold any meaning for us.
For most of us in the free world, feeling burdened is often merely a symptom of a conditioned mindset bent on finding hardship instead of freedom. Wishing our current situation was different than it is creates the illusion that we are trapped, and undermines our sense of autonomy. This effectively shuts down our creative thinking, which further stifles our capacity to effect positive change in our lives. Because we strengthen what we practice, even if we make positive change we will likely still be stuck in the mindset of burden, and we will not be able to fully appreciate our new surroundings.
“Less than ideal” situations are the perfect backdrop for us to cleanse ourselves of these limiting thought patterns so that when we reach our goals, our inner circuits are clean.
My suggestion: When that sense of burden arises, use it as your cue to challenge the limiting belief that you are a prisoner in your own life. The realization that your life is a compilation of choices you have made breaks down that conditioned mindset and empowers you to make more skillful choices.
An experience of fulfillment is always available, it doesn’t cost a cent, and you don’t have to travel to some exotic retreat. If enduring fulfillment is truly your highest priority, then the most that’s required is to shift your awareness away from past and future to the intersection of here and now.
What’s your priority?
Truth cannot be spoken any more than it can be known. Truth can, however, be experienced. The trick is not to make the memory of that experience of truth into a false idol.
Hold the experience of truth loosely and challenge it often. Continually arrive at the experience of truth in this moment.
Things don’t always go as planned: scheduling conflicts arise; picnics get rained out; people die unexpectedly.
And yet, through it all, innate precision is revealed: breath and stillness keep dancing, sunshine gives rise to shadows; babies continue to be born.
Allowing this moment to remain unburdened by our ability to reflect upon the past and project into the future creates a space ripe for discovery.