Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Getting Past the Tyranny of Should: A Timely Message for the Holiday Season

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

4.1.1There are many things we “should” be doing around the holidays. We should be happy, merry, and jolly. We should be with family. We should be the consummate hosts.

In the course of the day, we might impose expectations, rules, and agendas on ourselves tirelessly. This is the tyranny of should.

Cognitive behavioral therapists like me are fond to say: “Don’t should on yourself.”The author Anne Lammott said that when the word should is spoken a lie is in the neighborhood.

Instead of the tyranny of should, consider an alternative phraseology. In any situation where you accuse yourself of “I should have” you could say, “I could have …” or “I might have.” These phrases are statements of fact and don’t carry the implied judgment of “should.” Could have and might have suggest that something was possible and that the possibility was not realized for whatever reason (and there are always reasons). There is no tyranny in could/might. There is no condemnation.

Should implies contingency: “I should have and since I didn’t, I am deficient in some way.” I should have implies am omniscient perspective usually constructed in hindsight and forced on a situation without proper context. We are neither omniscient nor perfect.

Looking at the role of shoulds in our mental life is a prerequisite for a self-compassionate approach and one that could be very useful during the holiday season.

There is no shortage of opportunities to beat up on ourselves for perceived transgressions against the hidden agendas we live by. By examining our internal conversations, we can uncover the shoulds and convert them to coulds and learn from our mistakes, miscues, and missed opportunities.

We might even be able to laugh at ourselves and that is the best kind of holiday cheer.

All my best for the holiday season.

Peace,

Arnie.

 

Finding the Fall Line: The Technique of Practice

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Stowe_1As I was meditating this morning, I came up with a new practice metaphor. There were times when I was clearly in the flow of my body, very attuned the myriad body sensations and there were other moments where I was somewhere else or trying to manage some aspect of the moment, almost as if I was trying to push the clock forward to be finished.

That in-flow feeling reminded me of being in the fall line while snowboarding. The image works for skiers too. When you are in the fall line, you are flowing with gravity and heading in a parallel fashion down the mountain. It’s exhilarating and requires skill to maintain a sense of control. This control can feel effortless and preconscious. In fact, it is best done without narrative self-consciousness. This starts to sound like meditation.

That fall line experience is always present since the body never stops generating rich sensations. It gets obscured by the activity of the mind. I notice there are two types of obscuration: micromanagement and macromanagement.

Macromanagement are obvious gestures of resistance: shifts in postures (for me it is usually cracking my neck), checking the clock, or some other outer action. Micromanagement happens with attention. Instead of enjoying the fall line, I am rehearsing some future scenario or reviewing some past one. I am trying to get everything just right and this effort gets in the way of that flow.

Recognizing the similarity between practice and riding helped to keep me in the fall line. I know from snowboarding that fear or a lack confidence keep me from the fall line. I am braking excessively and sometimes instead of having more control, I have less, perhaps even falling as I linger too long on my heel-side edge. Physics is begging me to let go but sometimes the mind does not want to release. Sound familiar?

When you are in the fall line either on the mountain or on the cushion, time passes more quickly since there is no self-consciousness marking time. You are in a natural state unencumbered internal dialogues and their incessant wish to control things. Releasing into the fall line requires confidence that relinquishing the micro and macro attempts to manage are not required.

It is a spiritual experience because we have transcended our individual narratives for at least a few moments. Chance are, things will be okay if you relinquish thinking for the moments that comprise a practice session and just enjoy the subtle thrill of the fall line.

Prime Time, All the Time

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

378An add for television streaming service Hulu states, “Every minute of every day should be considered prime time.” This clever quip has a double meaning. On the one hand, it reflects the tyrannical notion that every experience that we have should be exciting, entertaining, and novel. On the other hand, it embodies the wisdom that all we have is the present moment, therefore it is prime time.

Mindfulness is an essential tool for living our lives in prime time. As I have discussed before, holidays such as Thanksgiving mark that particular day as “prime time.” It’s the day to be thankful, express gratitude, and be with loved ones. My observations, however, see it more as a sanctioned opportunity for gluttony (guilty of this myself).

There is a paradox here. Each moment is precious and at the same time it is no big deal. No one moment is any more valuable than another (although something significant may happen) and when we can set aside our expectation that the moment should be special, extraordinary, or exceptional in some way, we can enjoy it more.

It’s a worn cliché that live must be lived now and not at some distant point in the future, like when the kids are grown or when you retire. Each second that passes is a second closer to our eventual demise. We know we should try to make the most of each moment but life often conspires against this. Life is impossibly busy. We are stressed, overwhelmed, and tired.  We know we should slow down but have you looked at the kids’ hockey schedule?

Now often feels squeezed, pressured by relentless to do lists. As the holidays approach, these demands ratchet up. Can we even remember to savor the moment? How can we make more of our life prime time?

Mindfulness practice can help. If you can, practice daily: 20, 30 minutes or more. These formal practice sessions will spill over into the rest of your life.

If you don’t have big chunks of time, take smaller chunks. Do a one to three minute practice. You might find cracks in your day that you otherwise fill with interacting with your smartphone. Instead, do some breathing meditation.

When the day does not permit even brief practices (and even when it does) piggyback your practice onto activities that you are already doing like walking and driving. Instead of going over your to-do lists and rehearsing real and imagined conversations, attend to the sensations of the moment while walking.

When minutes aren’t available you can also practice in seconds. You will get benefit from punctuating your internal dialogues with moments of presence. These moments may not eradicate the busyness of your mind but they can help to keep you from going off the rails.

Each moment of mindfulness throughout the day is a bit of prime time.

 

Giving Thanks 2014: Still a Lot to be Grateful For

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

IMG_4078There is not now, nor ever, a shortage of tragic, unjust, and violent events occurring around the world. The news media exploits these events and brings them into our brains 24/7 with an unrelenting insistence.

Our nervous systems are vulnerable to these kinds of information. They signal danger and set anxiety on edge. Could ebola come to my town? Will someone I know get beheaded by ISIS? Watching the news can make it seem like the world is coming to an end.

Still what we miss could be more important than what we get fed from the news.

There are countless non-events that don’t get registered by attention. All the acts of kindness, cooperation, and love that go unnoticed. While there is rioting in Ferguson, our cities don’t burn on a daily basis. While there is crime, corruption, and cruelty, there is a greater abundance of the absence of these actions.

Spend a day trying to notice all the things that are going right (or not going wrong) just under your nose both in your personal life and your community. This shift in perspective is akin to switching the figure and ground. It’s not that unwanted things don’t occur, we choose to highlight the hidden occurrence of the mundane.

For me personally, I am grateful for many things in my life: family, people, dogs, travel, experiences, and opportunities. It’s been a rich year. Thank you!

I am also grateful that the world hasn’t blown itself up. When I was in college during the 1980s nuclear disarmament was the most pressing issue. We seemed convinced that MAD would be realized (if you recall, MAD is the acronym for “mutually assured destruction”). That never happened.

I am grateful that I get to write more and more. I will have two books coming out in 2015 (The Awakened Introvert and Mindfulness A-Z) and some other exciting writing projects.

I am grateful for my readers who have persisted in reading this blog despite my frequent absences.

I am grateful for the teachings of the Buddha and the practice of mindfulness that he recommended. Without these, I’d be lost. I am grateful that I live in a time and culture that is receptive to these teachings.

I trust that you have much to be grateful for as well. It is my wish that you don’t have to look to hard to find these.

Peace to everyone on this snowy day of Thanksgiving!

Previous Posts

Getting Past the Tyranny of Should: A Timely Message for the Holiday Season
There are many things we "should" be doing around the holidays. We should be happy, merry, and jolly. We should be with family. We should be the consummate hosts. In the course of the day, we might impose expectations, rules, and agendas on ourselves tirelessly. This is the tyranny of should.

posted 10:36:45am Dec. 21, 2014 | read full post »

Finding the Fall Line: The Technique of Practice
As I was meditating this morning, I came up with a new practice metaphor. There were times when I was clearly in the flow of my body, very attuned the myriad body sensations and there were other moments where I was somewhere else or trying to manage some aspect of the moment, almost as if I was tryi

posted 10:13:53am Dec. 09, 2014 | read full post »

Prime Time, All the Time
An add for television streaming service Hulu states, "Every minute of every day should be considered prime time." This clever quip has a double meaning. On the one hand, it reflects the tyrannical notion that every experience that we have should be exciting, entertaining, and novel. On the other han

posted 9:31:08am Dec. 08, 2014 | read full post »

Giving Thanks 2014: Still a Lot to be Grateful For
There is not now, nor ever, a shortage of tragic, unjust, and violent events occurring around the world. The news media exploits these events and brings them into our brains 24/7 with an unrelenting insistence. Our nervous systems are vulnerable to these kinds of information. They signal danger and

posted 8:56:43am Nov. 27, 2014 | read full post »

Buddhist Icon--Thich Nhat Hanh Recovering in Hospital
Beloved Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh (TNH) has experienced a severe cerebral hemorrhage and remains in critical condition. He recently had his 88th Birthday. I surmise that he is, along with the Dalai, Lama, one of the two most readily recognized Buddhist figures in the world today. Af

posted 6:27:39am Nov. 18, 2014 | read full post »


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