We have an initiative at work related to wellness, and while I do confess that I've struggled with parts of it (the initiative...and...well...wellness as a whole), at my core I know it's a good thing. A really good thing. As part of this initiative, the HR team gets together every other week to talk about what we're doing to promote wellness within our group. Now there are other elements to this, including group competitions, and theme days (Fruity Fridays), but I'm not going to get into any of that; if you're interested in this from a professional standpoint you can always contact me via email. Anyway, one of the things we're striving to do as a team is to have an informational topic (related to wellness, of course) discussed during a bi-weekly meeting. Being something of an idiot/glutton for punishment, I volunteered to speak at the next wellness get together on the topic of mindfulness.
The "idiot" part, above, is more than just simply Trumpian hyperbole...there's something of a basis in fact, as while I know a fair amount about mindfulness, I struggle mightily with it. Given close to 2,000 postings, I know I've written about this topic before, and will likely write about it again. So sue me. The point is this: I have to give a little talk about mindfulness on Friday.
I have some ideas as to what I'm going to say. Probably the bigger question though is this: Why did I volunteer to do this in the first place? In some respects, you can forget "struggle mightily"; I would say that I actually suck at it. Maybe this makes me an ideal candidate to talk about mindfulness, as I'm something of an exaggerated version of everyone who struggles with a mind that wanders off of the present moment like seagulls just happen to wander into a dropped pizza slice on a Jersey boardwalk.
By way of a virtual time machine, I spent a lot of my child and young adulthood struggling mightily with worrisome thoughts about both the past and the future. I wasn't fond of where I came from, and I was constantly worried that someone would "find me out" as being the fraud I was in the not-too-distant future. In fact, being a father at an early age (mid-20's) was something of a saving grace for me, in that it almost forced me to back away from so many destructive thoughts and instead focus on taking care of business for my family. Of course, back in those days, it wasn't called "mindfulness".
Fast forward in the virtual time machine to when my children were no longer children, and I had to face a kind of existential crisis of my own, much of which is documented in the early days of this blog. It was at that point, struggling mightily with a few things, that I actually began to read about the importance of being who you are, about how utterly useless ruminating about the past was, and how much of one's life is wasted worrying about the future. In a kind of very real sense, I needed to be told these things (but smart people who have written books), just as we are all told very fundamental things early in our lives. It's just that this fundamental thing didn't make it to me until I was something like 46 years old.
"But Steve, you always seemed like you had your act together."
The key word in that sentence is "act". I very much moved through life making it sometimes by sheer force of will, all the while dealing with perceived inadequacies, both real and imaginary. My superpower back then was perseverance. What I wanted was something cooler, like lasers shooting out from my highly dysfunctional eyes; instead, I got self-inflicted shame and pervasive worrying (oh, and perseverance).
So yes, I did learn quite a bit about mindfulness. About not wasting my precious time on Earth worrying about what might come. About compartmentalizing thoughts centering on the past into two basic buckets: Things that could help me appreciate the today and...well...garbage. I've also learned how mindfulness shows up in our daily lives.
What's the most important thing I've learned about mindfulness? That's actually a simple question to answer: Mindfulness isn't a place...or an achievement...or a badge of honor...or a rank...or a guru status. It's not something you are able to master, at least not in how I think about such things. No, mindfulness is a practice. There is no goal, other than to simply practice it. Practicing it more doesn't necessarily make me better at it by the way. In fact, of late I've been struggling with the practice, but this is yet more proof that it is a practice in the first place. Expressed another way, "trying to practice" actually is practicing mindfulness.
Mindfulness, at its heart, is the simple act of simply being.