Paying attention is good enough
One day, I got out a little notebook and said to myself: “I will write down every emotion I have.” For the next 5 hours, when I had an emotion, I would write down what it was and what I thought it was caused by.
The raw data looked like this:
|Admiration||Watching my mom have a lot of self-control while talking on the phone to a family member.|
|Amazement||Looking at a single color of paint with two different backgrounds, and how the color looks totally different.|
And so on, for many more emotions. Then I plotted the data in the pie-graph below. The percentages in the graph come from counts in this table. For example anger has a higher percent than admiration or amazement, since it has 4 counts in the table above.
Now, what was I trying to accomplish with this exercise?
I thought that by tracking the causes of my emotions, I could notice patterns and reduce bad emotions.
But then I came across this book: Wherever You Go, There You Are.
This book is about mindfulness, and it made me realize that I had misunderstood the point of mindfulness. The point of mindfulness is not to get “better” emotions, the point of mindfulness is simply more mindfulness, more awareness of the present.
I’ve got all these flavors of emotional bubble gum. I cycle between different flavors as the day goes by, often without noticing the flavors I am chewing. Mindfulness says: don’t worry about trading for better flavors, just pay attention to the flavors you are experiencing right now.
Figuring out ways to “hack” happiness, searching for the ultimate cocktail of good weather, close family and friends, a loving partner, ect., now seems like a recipe for always striving, always grasping.
I used to think that the addicting things in life were the problem. I would get addicted to facebook, or binge eating, or whatever, and think: if only I downloaded a facebook-blocking app, or hid the food, I wouldn’t get addicted. But the real problem wasn’t the addicting thing. The real problem was (and still is), the inability to sit and breathe and stare straight into the knots in my soul.
For meditation to do its work, we have to be willing to do ours. We must be willing to encounter darkness and despair when they come up and face them, over and over again if need be, without running away or numbing ourselves in the thousands of ways we conjure up to avoid the unavoidable. -Jon Kabat-Zinn
After going on facebook yesterday, I paused, and breathed and asked myself: why am I doing this? Am I here because I truly want this kind of entertainment right now, or am I trying to run away from something?
And so begins a lifetime of sitting and staring at soul-knots.
Keep mindfulness alive even in the darkest moments, reminding yourself that the awareness is not part of the darkness or the pain; it holds the pain, and knows it, so it has to be more fundamental and closer to what is healthy and strong and golden within you. -Jon Kabat-Zinn