Sunday, October 15, 2017

What is the Right Effort?

     An intelligent, highly-engaged participant in an 8-week Mindfulness-based stress reduction program recently asked these questions:
     • Do you have any information (written or pictorial) on how to perform the various meditations/breathing exercises etc? We are “doing” them so there is no time to record exactly what we are doing. I find it difficult sometimes to remember (which hopefully will improve through being mindful) what it was that we did so having a sheet that outlines the steps will help me a lot with home practice.
     • Also I do not understand this: "The type of goal-oriented effort we tend to use to 'get ahead' at school and the workplace is not universally optimal nor even suitable." 

     Can you comment on this statement to make it clearer? I take the “goal-oriented striving effort” to mean you work hard and strive for accomplishment. You have steps you have mapped out to reach your goals. I would take that as ensuring you are doing your daily practice etc. If that is an appropriate example I do not understand why it would not be optimal.
     • Also “psychological health involves skillful balance between goal-oriented effort and acceptance”. What does this mean? Can you offer an example?

My response:
     I hope you’ve received the 10-Minute Guided Meditation audio file, which I hope clearly reviews the key meditation instructions. 
     Ideally, we can patiently follow the instructions as we perform the mindfulness practices together & in this way we effortlessly internalize them - allowing / welcoming them in. If instead, we worry about getting it right or perfect i.e. remain in a future-oriented striving mode, instead of engaging fully in the present-moment practice, we “remain in our heads” & may well become confused & stressed. The urge to use the default goal-oriented effort, & want to write all the steps down on paper, is completely natural, understandable & very common (more on this below).

     RE: "The type of goal-oriented effort we tend to use to 'get ahead' at school and the workplace is not universally optimal nor even suitable."
     Our usual attitude of mind or level of consciousness is based on ancient survival instincts: if I can achieve X in the future, then I’ll survive, and perhaps even thrive & have offspring. This has allowed the human & less evolved species to survive for a very long time, and is generally beneficial for basic survival

     But what if this were the ONLY or STRONGLY DOMINANT attitude of mind or level of consciousness we could access, and: we’re at a romantic get-away, birthday party, massage, wine tasting, poetry reading, music class, fine art exhibition or symphony? OR attending a Mindfulness-based stress reduction course, or silent meditation retreat? How would Sheldon, from the "Big Bang Theory," appreciate / enjoy such events?
     Yes, our usual goal-oriented effort does help us achieve certain goals, but it actually gets in the way of achieving many others, which require a completely different set of attitudes & far more evolved level of consciousness or state of being: acceptance, a quiet ego, quiet mind, stillness, silence, patience. 

     North American society seems to operate almost exclusively on a relentlessly fast-paced schedule of goal-oriented “doing”, mostly ignoring “being” who / what we already are. Silent self-reflection, asking deep questions like “Who am I?”, “What’s going on?” “What is the meaning to all this?” are drowned out by the noise of rushing to get / become more / bigger / faster. Yet, no matter how much fame, money, power etc we amass, we’re no happier, - in fact the opposite. At some level we all know that racing towards goals, and or trying to run from our demons through continuous distraction, only makes us exhausted & frustrated. Quantity simply can’t replace quality.

     The key is a healthy balance between looking after ourselves AND seriously investigating & investing quality time in what brings about real quality of life & deep meaning. We require 2 very different AND complimentary attitudes of mind or levels of consciousness to live full, deeply meaningful lives. As we mature, this healthy balance involves a progressive shift from self-concern, towards concern for others and the environment.

     More about this:

Marc Chagall "I and the Village"

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