Mindfully Distracted

Mindfulness seems to be the next big binge for self help gurus. I don’t consider myself a self help guru by any stretch of the imagination. However, this does not prevent me from being critical about those that claim to guide others towards self improvement when in fact their guidance merely encourages distractions, or coping mechanisms instead. In its most basic form, mindfulness can be described as the ability to observe while suspending judgement or bias. In other words, don’t jump to conclusions just because what you’re observing or witnessing appears to be a familiar sight relative to a previous experience.

The easy bit of advice would therefore be to suspend judgement and bias. Do that, and suddenly you’re mindful. Right? No. Not so easy. Judgement and bias are innate qualities that guide us through life. Even if we try to be non-judgmental about something, we need a frame of reference as to what being judgemental would be. Once we have that frame of reference, we then consciously choose to subdue parts of it in favour of exploring the possibility that something may be different about what we’re witnessing in that moment. The parts we don’t subdue are the limits of boundaries that we define for what is acceptable in that circumstance. In other words, we encounter a moment of willingness to be informed of something we didn’t previously consider while recognising that some things remain non-negotiable. Take that to the extreme, and it means that we acknowledge that there is a possibility that we may not be fully aware of the circumstances and nuances of what we’re experiencing. This forces us to be more alert and more adaptable because we realise that the outcome is potentially unpredictable, but not necessarily a threat to us.

However, if we recognise that we may not be fully aware of the circumstances and nuances but have a greater desire to appear to be authoritative or in control, we’re more likely to grow aggressive, defensive, or simply obnoxious about how we deal with the situation at hand, often undermining the rights and feelings of others in the process. This response is grounded in insecurity about how we see ourselves, versus how we want others to perceive us. Unfortunately some people are so entrenched in their beliefs about themselves, that considering that they may be wrong about something completely disrupts their composure, which makes them aggressive, passive aggressive, or evasive. At the root of it all is a desire to be significant in that moment.

When we desire significance, we adapt our approach towards that which we believe would encourage acceptance and admiration from those we’re interacting with. If we believe we are capable of winning such admiration and respect, our confidence grows and we become more bold and charming in our presentation of our views or the delivery of our message. However, if we doubt our ability to be convincing in that regard, we feel threatened because a show of incompetence may lead to an erosion of significance. If the audience we’re with could meaningfully influence the quality of our life, we’ll restrain the aggression and put more effort into appearing amenable to alternate perspectives. Stated differently, we try not to be offensive in our response because we believe that their acceptance of us is core to our wellbeing. This induces stress which then demands an outlet if not handled well.

Take the above scenario and change the audience to one that we do not view as being influential on our quality of life, and suddenly our response is very different. Instead of restraining ourselves, we speak our minds, go on the attack to demand significance, and disregard any concerns about how they may view us. Incidentally, we do the same with those that we believe are less likely or unable to reject us if we behave in such an abrasive manner. That could be because of our belief in how reliant they are on us, and therefore would be forced to agree with us. This similar to those times that we felt compelled to be amenable with those characters that we didn’t agree with, but who had authority over us that could significantly affect our quality of life. For example, a boss that could fire us if we spoke openly about what we didn’t like about our job or how they were running things. Of course, sometimes we behave abrasively because the subconscious boundaries that we set for ourselves are being breached.

But how does all of this tie into mindfulness? Each time we get a sense of dread or elation, we’re automatically distracted by the assumption we hold of the probability of the outcome, be it negative or positive. Whether we’re proven right or wrong, in that moment, we lose mindfulness and instead assume a disposition relative to a preempted outcome. It’s for this same reason that we sometimes get hit from out of the blue when something is going so well, but without warning, turns sour. At other times, something that we expect to turn out badly goes really well. In both instances, the hints at how things are going may be so subtle that unless we’re open to observing them, they’re easily missed.

The reality is, we’re human. Our emotional make up is more complex than we could possibly imagine which is why we’re each so unique, even when we try to mimic others. There is always something that sets us apart, sometimes in ways that we like, but often in ways that we don’t. Hence the masses that incline towards fandom rather than defining their own unique path.

The trick therefore is to find the balance between being mindful to the point of being mechanical, versus being emotionally responsive to the point of being irrational. When we recognise and accept our humanness, we’ll be less inclined towards feeling threatened and instead, we’ll find it easier to be accepting of the humanness of others. Developing a habit of reining ourselves in during those moments of dread or elation will allow us to savour the good moments and learn from the bad, without feeling whimsical or threatened in the process.

In between all that a creative outlet is needed to allow for the freedom of expression that does not restrain us relative to the views or expectations of others, because if you look back at all you’ve just read, you’ll realise that everything is about how we are perceived or how we want to be perceived by others. That’s why it gets complicated. That’s why we search for soul mates and kindred spirits. Without them, we find ourselves slowly depleting our energy reserves without getting that boost of inspiration because we have a lack of safe spaces for free expression that defines us based on our convictions and desires, rather than on what we believe we are expected to do for others.

Meditation or prayer is what gives us retrospective pause to realise where on that treadmill of life we find ourselves. Mindfulness is what reduces our need for such deliberate reflection. And sometimes, without realising it, we become distracted in our efforts to be mindful, while allowing moments of excitement, joy, or exasperation to escape us because we are too busy observing the individual components that make up that wholesome experience.

Welcome to the pit of quick sand we often refer to as the human condition.

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