On Mindfulness

June, 2015

I’ve just finished an eight week mindfulness course and I’ve been asked a few times if I got anything out it. Yes I have: I improved my card playing technique.

Hear me out.

There is a card playing metaphor me and my little brother have shared through the years to help get through difficult times: The goal is to play the hand you’ve been dealt, to the best of your ability. Don’t think too hard about the hands you’ve been dealt in the past, or worry about the cards which may come in the future, they are are out of your control.

If you spend too much time looking at the past, or worrying about the future, you will not make the best choice you can in the moment.

People who know me well, know I quote this quite a bit. It sounds so simple, but think of your own experience, and you know it is anything but.

The next few hands might mean winning or losing everything, and this day has been nothing but work, work, work, and you’re always losing these things so why are you sitting there anyway, and.. well.. Your adrenaline is probably pumping, and the moment you’re in might feel like the most critical moment EVAR. What happens next is what matters… right?

Hold onto that for a moment while I shift gears. I promise to return to this.

But first, let me ask you, doesn’t time start to really fly as we age? Blink and days, weeks, even months seem to zip by.

That’s because most moments, maybe this one if you are skimming (you probably are, lets be honest), are not an examined moments. Intentionally or not, as our experience grows, so do the stories we mentally collect, to filter our world by.

It is absolutely necessary. We need to do it to survive. Pondering the rain can keep you from seeking shelter and avoiding a lightning strike, and lightning rods are awesome.

It is probably the advanced pattern matching ability we have that differentiates humans from most animal life. And from one another.

We see someone react well, or poorly, under certain circumstances and we think that it is a sure sign of their innate intelligence, or their innate resilience. When, underneath it all, the truth is, they’ve had some experience, some teaching, some lesson that got absorbed.

Watch children play before they get too caught up in thinking before acting. They are experiencing the moment fully and learning from it. Sight, smell, sound, everything is getting recorded for pattern analysis and reuse. That’s why time moves so slow for them. Each moment is a learnable moment. Forming connections, stories, experiences that will get used in future situations. There is a lot of input getting written to memory. Absorbing that takes time and energy. So time moves slow.

Eventually all kids start to think about the future and the past, and that removes them from the current moment. How is school going suck tomorrow? Why didn’t my so called friend call me back? Time moves faster as the now is less and less examined. It does that because they no longer are in the current moment. They’re elsewhere.

When this becomes habit, whenever they are in a moment where there isn’t flooded with new stimuli (even though all moments are unique, how quickly we lose that!), you’ll hear, “I’m bored”.

So, full circle, back to the metaphor, the card game. The class has given me some techniques to get my head in the moment, to strengthen the quality of my attention, and to do so non-judgmentally. So I can hopefully see my hand of cards and recognize my mind’s attempts at zipping to the future or the past, to see the moment as a teachable one, once again.

Hearing classmates share their own struggles and journeys helped me to realize I wasn’t so alone. As our instructor shared, though we may all have different experiences, we feel similar things. We weren’t as isolated as we may think. Speaking of the instructors, I’m thankful for how they constructed the class, its pace, and making it easier to connect with concepts that can be very abstract and hard to grasp with self study.

Being non-judgemental is key. It’s necessary in order to observe those stories, those filters, that might have once been all important, when now they limit the choices I might make, or the enjoyment I might feel, if I let myself take in something fully.

As a child might, with a beginners mind.

And it’s not easy. It’s not about relaxing or positive thinking. It’s work to take your head out of your ass once it gets used to being there. It’s forming new habits to replace the old.

That means practice, one day at a time. One moment at a time.

That Ferris Bueller quote now seems far more deep now doesn’t it?