Constant Awareness

One of most difficult parts of maintaining a mindful lifestyle is how quickly we drift off into mindlessness.

It is our default mode because the mind is always looking for something to be interested in. It wants the spotlight, so it cycles through a playlist of topics until it hits on something that gets our attention.

Here are the things that pulled me away this morning during meditation:

Thinking about a new wrestling gimmick for B

Thinking about the people we met this weekend, and how much I liked them

Thinking about how part of being mindful is enjoying where you are, no matter where you are (notice how crafty the mind is, pulling me into mindlessness by thinking about mindfulness).

Thinking about this idea as a blog topic, about how I like to mine places for all they are worth rather than go a bunch of new places

Writing the blog in my head

Thinking about the fact that there are cool places in the world I haven’t been, and which ones I would like to visit

I wake up and sit down to meditate immediately, so this was literally all in the first three minutes of my day.   Multiply this times 300 and it gives you an idea of how distracted we are as people. Luckily, I was able to catch this train of thought and let it go, but some days I get caught up in it.

One of the easiest ways to remain mindful is to simply treat everything you do as sacred or important, to not allow any task to be bothersome or annoying or petty. This is also one of those Keystone Habits that can make a tremendous difference in all areas of your life.

Here are some examples from this morning:

Wrapping the bread up and putting it where it goes instead of leaving it out on the counter

Trying not to spill any coffee, and sweeping up any that did fall out of the little Keurig reusable cup.

Rinsing the dishes well before putting them in the dishwasher

Taking time in my journaling instead of phoning it in

Not pounding on the keys of my computer. I hunt and peck when I type, so I can really bang on it if I am not mindful. I am trying to maintain an awareness of each key as I type.

These things leave my kitchen cleaner, cause me to be more intentional with my day, cut down on misspelled words and will prolong the life of my computer.

Intention in every moment and taking care of the things we have are mindful practices. 

This idea isn’t new. It is much of the premise of Practicing the Presence of God and the study of Zen. This is where things like the Japanese Tea Ceremony and using archery or calligraphy as meditation come from. In Judaism there are prayers of gratitude for everything, including using the bathroom.

What would happen if you looked for the beauty and sacredness in every task you perform today?

What would it be like to remain mindful of every action, no matter how mundane or automatic it is?

Is there anything to be unhappy about if we cherish every moment we have? Thanks for reading.

Oklahoma, Comfort Zones and Death from Above

Welcome to the Sunday Pop-Up, where I write about whatever pops into my head. 

I am in Ardmore, Oklahoma, and I overslept by a solid hour. B wrestled again last night, it was definitely one of our favorite promotions so far. I really like Oklahoma. I really like the people I met here and I like the scenery.

My comfort zone is constantly tested with all of this traveling and so much activity in our lives.

More than anything it has reinforced my belief that statements like “that’s just not me” or “I am not that way” don’t mean anything at all. I much prefer being home and not around large groups of people (or people at all), but I have watched that change over the past few months as I have gotten adjusted to being different places and in a lot of different crowds.

I wonder why we get so tied to an identity or notion of who and how we are that we don’t want to change it.

It causes trouble between couples all the time, and I know it only makes me unhappy when I get invested in some aspect of my personality and start believing it is real.

Switching topics.

I really like Alaska State Troopers on Netflix. I’ve watched the whole series a couple of times now, I like having it on in the background. There was one part where they were talking about how there was a big problem with eagles attacking people, to the point that the troopers had to escort kids back and forth to school.

I would really like to live somewhere where animal attacks are a genuine issue.

We survived the first of Tyler driving with no disasters or even any near misses, as far as he told us. I do find myself tempted to follow him everywhere on the Find My Friends app, which is a good illustration of the illusion of control. What could that app really tell me? How will it allow me to help in any way more than I will be able to when he calls if something happens?

Our minds just like to latch onto anything that gives the comfort of control, but it actually only creates anxiety.

I am going to wake everyone up and hit the road. Have a great day.

Bad Apples, Sour Grapes

Our minds seek generalizations and totalities.

I think they are easier to conceptualize, and they are convenient when creating rules to stay alive and safe from harm.

It’s odd how many friendships and relationships I now see negatively because they ended poorly. I can watch as my mind digs into the whole of the relationship and mines for evidence that the bad end was always obvious, that it was always in there waiting to happen, that the person was always shady. It might even be one incident, one misstep that ended it all, yet the whole thing is corrupted.

A bad apple spoils the whole bunch.

But does it really?

I had this one job for a few years, and in the balance it was a really good place to work.

I was given space to be creative, to try new things, to work with people as I saw fit. It had good hours and good people and things were worthwhile and nice and productive. This place genuinely cared about the customers, and I saw many instances where people went well out of the way to help others. Good stuff, right?

But, when things went sideways, they went sideways really hard. I kind of saw it coming, but by the time things were bad, they were really bad. It was gut-wrenching and sucked and I felt betrayed and it all ended with me leaving, voluntarily and on good terms with most people involved. I am still connected, personally and professionally, with many people from this job.

The weird part is that my mind goes back and tries to paint the entire time there as bad.

It wants me to resent everything and everyone and all the years I spent there. It forgets all the really good stuff, even though it outweighs the bad pretty significantly.

Maybe the bad was 15%. Does that really spoil the whole bunch?

There seems to be a self-protective element to this kind of thinking. It’s not as important that we remember the good, because the good won’t ever hurt us or threaten our survival. But we aren’t living some hard-scrabble life of bare survival. We live in a complex cultural environment where many things are shades of gray, and staying alive is rarely our primary concern. It’s important that we are able to step back and separate out the good and the bad and the neutral.

We probably can’t completely fix our mind’s tendency to focus on the bad, and we might not want to.

Remembering harm is important to survival.

We can be intentional in our memory and perception of things though. We can choose to remember that things are never one thing, and we can give the good parts some time and energy.

I’ve never met an all-bad person or seen an all-bad situation. I am not sure they exist.

I don’t see how the way something ends necessarily means that the whole situation sucked from the get go. It’s not necessary that the outcome retroactively spoils everything that came before it.

Are you globalizing a person or situation based on a small percentage of the whole?

How does it look without this small percentage?

Does one bad apple really spoil the whole bunch?

Overprotective Minds

There is all sorts of stuff out there about letting the present moment be as it is, untouched and unjudged and perfect.  

There are Christian resources like Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence and The Cloud of Unknowing by an anonymous author. The study of Zen is focused almost entirely on this idea. There are plenty of completely secular options. The Power of Now offers an amazing first chapter or two before descending into nonsense.  

It seems so simple it’s almost stupid, but it really is profound in the way it can make anything tolerable, at the least. When we really allow things to be exactly as they are, without our expectations and stories about how they should be, everything becomes much easier.

In my own life, I have a tough time having things ahead of me in the day, even things I will probably enjoy. Grabbing coffee in the afternoon or meeting someone for dinner in the evening can cause me difficulty all day long if I am not careful and aware of what my mind is doing. I find I really only suffer when I am projecting to the future, and once the future arrives in the present it is always perfectly fine if I allow it to be.

But this is what my mind does in the meantime:

What if you get to the restaurant and there’s a wait?

What if the parking lot is full?

What if you don’t like what you order?

What will you order at the coffee shop? You don’t know what half the stuff on those menus even is.

What if you have an altercation with someone?

Why can’t we just stay home and read?

You’ll have to interact with the barista/waiter/waitress.

What if there’s nowhere to sit?

You’d better leave early enough to get there on time.

Are you going to wear that shirt?

And a thousand other things. 

All of this has something in common. It is all future-focused and unanswerable. Even these simple, stupid questions can become a problem because they exist in this misty unknown place that I have absolutely no access to.

Here’s the important part though. My mind isn’t doing this to hurt me, it’s trying to protect me. It’s just being hypervigilant and overprotective. It used to always be in this mode, but it really only kicks in when I am exhausted or over-committed now. I am also fortunate enough to have learned to meditate and be mindful, and I can allow these things to come and go without too much trouble. They only become an issue if I latch on to them, or start to think they have any correlation with reality.

I always find that everything is okay when I simply stay in the present with whatever is going on. I try to appreciate my mind for doing it’s job and keeping me safe, even if it is a little overprotective at times. I try to step away from the stories about things and just them be how they are.

And everything ends up being alright.

Say, Do and Be Nothing

The post about my son’s 16th birthday turned out to be the most-viewed since I started this blog, yet I came within half a second of deleting it before I even published it because it was more personal than I like. Putting ourselves out there is always anxiety-inducing, but it seems to be necessary to do anything at all. 

I’ve written about this before in terms of being afraid of failure and the perfect as the enemy of the good. It seems to be a fixture in my life.

Putting yourself out there is always hard. Any time you do you are opening yourself up to ridicule and criticism. This stopped me from trying anything for a very long time.  

“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

Elbert Hubbard

This quote is often attributed to Aristotle, but the evidence seems to point toward Hubbard. Not relevant to what we are talking about, but trying to save myself a few emails/comments.

Every new project I start brings the thoughts of failure and ridicule and general doom.

My brain tells me everyone is always on the verge of figuring out that I am an imposter who has no business doing anything, ever. I find a lot of people deal with this. Imposter syndrome, ideas about not being good enough or worthy of starting their own thing. Thoughts about people seeing through them or laughing at them for trying.

But that’s the thing right there – these are just thoughts. Little blips of electrical activity in our skulls. Or wandering spirits offering their opinion. Or the devil. Whatever. It doesn’t matter, just thoughts. No guarantee of any relationship to reality.

I have come to believe that if you aren’t a little uncomfortable, you aren’t doing the things you should be doing.

If you aren’t a little nervous about something, you need to be doing more.

A little bit of anxiety is good. It tells us we are pushing our comfort zone, which is the only way to grow.

Pick something new, something you want to do that scares you a little bit, and then go do it. Maybe it turns out to be a disaster, but that’s how we learn. Take the disastrous parts and throw them out, take what worked and start again. Repeat this process until you have something you love.

I guess I have to actually start working on a podcast now.

For real, thank you for taking the time to read this blog, however often you do. I really do appreciate it, and enjoy all the feedback and engagement it brings into my world. Please let me know what could better, what might be fun to talk about, or just tell me about your life. I like people’s stories.  Take care.