The double-edged sword of mindfulness

 

The classic perception of mindfulness is as a relaxing and grounding way of finding our centre and bringing greater attention to our sense of being. It is generally pursued through a variety of meditation approaches, most of which are usually experienced in short order as being quite other than relaxing or grounding. Meditation mats and cushions largely end up in a cupboard, Reiki CD’s in the attic and occasional yoga classes recede into distant memory like the flexibility of youth.

Ironically, people engage in mindfulness more often than they are aware. The main way that people engage in mindfulness is not even meditation. Mindfulness is most often experienced when beginning to learn something. Those first few steps of feeling off balance, falling out of ones’ comfort zone and into an array of confusing new information can turn up the volume and brightness on the world around them. Sometimes overwhelmingly. As a temporary member of the Consciously Incompetent we face our greatest challenge. The challenge to our own sense of self both internally and socially.

In fact, the whole experience is often compounded by the social element; as if the volume and brightness of our discomfort were not already turned up high enough. We unavoidably see our maladaptation multiplied in the eyes others around us. As adults, we must run the gauntlet of potentially being stigmatised, classified as unfit for certain levels of social sign off and approval if we fail in public. Yet at no other time are we so exquisitely attuned to learning. Our senses are never so keen or our processing powers as super-charged as when we are immersed in a learning rich environment. And a learning environment is grounded in failure and crowned on reflection with layers of consolidation and emergent capabilities. Put simply we cannot learn deeply and meaningfully without making mistakes and mistakes, as adults, are socially taboo.

However, it is the deep power of this newly unresolved and confused sense of reality that can help us to open up our mental models and make room for new data. The practice of meditation or mindfulness for most of us can be an exercise in self-torture as it is a pure pathway to heightening our awareness. Anything going on in our psyche at that moment in time will immediately become brighter, louder and generally enhanced in every way possible. Mindfulness therefore is one of the last things a troubled mind should look to for escapism, but entirely the way forward for engaging meaningfully and purposefully with life. No discomfort = no gain.

Therefore the double edged sword of mindfulness is that, as it cuts new ground ahead for us, it also cuts us open in the process. If we are not prepared to be open we will resist most of the new and strange information and experiences that want to rush in and become a part of us. My argument therefore is that the stuff deep inside us, that mindfulness raises so powerfully to the surface, is best dealt with through active learning and using the entirety of our being. It needs a purpose, in order for it to become repurposed within the context of our ongoing personal development. And personal development should always be ongoing.

In particular it is in the processing of our demons through creative endeavours that we knit ourselves larger and more encompassing, such that we are increasingly less frightened by our own shadows. These shadows can be reduced as our attention and our being grow and occupy the dark spaces, and it is from these dark spaces that we draw energy and insight for where we can go and who we can grow into being next. It is in this newly grounded and open space, with all of our demons put to work, that we can luxuriate into the quality of being we generally associate with meditation or mindfulness. As our attention begins to know no reason to flinch back from foreign boundaries our sense of self can know its true radius and in doing so find that there is truly no boundary.

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Triggers Broom & My Aikido (reflections on learning and unlearning)

 

Triggers Broom & My Aikido

 

I was recently reminded of a wonderful scene in the TV show Only Fools and Horses. The scene in mind featured the character called Trigger talking about getting an award for having the same broom for 20 years. For those who don’t know the scene this is what happens:

Trigger, Del, Rodders, Sid and Boycie chatting in Sid’s cafe.

Trigger has just been presented with an award for saving the council money.

Trigger: “And that’s what I’ve done. Maintained it for 20 years. This old broom has had 17 new heads and 14 new handles in its time.”

Sid: “How the hell can it be the same bloody broom then?”

Trigger: “There’s the picture. What more proof do you need?” (Trigger proudly shows a photo of his broom to the others).

Whilst this is clearly a gag that derives its humour from the deadpan straight guy persona of Trigger. He clearly identifies so closely with the ‘idea’ of his broom that he doesn’t get that with all the changes he has made to it, it has long since ceased to be the same broom.

Something about this stuck in my mind. It reminded me of what continuous learning feels like. The constant making and unmaking of mind and body over time. Generally experienced as a sense of being continually crap at what you do, triggered by criticism from a mentor or senior, or our own internal voice.

In Aikido, every stage of the way from white belt to black belt is a lot like the process of sketching with a pencil; you start with the broader outlines then work towards finding greater accuracy and a clearer representation of the thing you are working on. It’s all still Aikido and it’s all still you, but with every iteration subtle adjustments are made and newer versions of both you and your Aikido emerge.

Even at the point of achieving a black belt in Aikido the mountain that had been ascended turned out to be a hill with several higher peaks ahead. A year and a bit since my own 1st Dan grading and I am only now starting to get comfortable with being a continually corrected and changing being. I count this as the most tangible and valuable achievement on my Aikido journey to date.

In the areas of my life in business and when training others in the working environment this piece of awareness has really helped. I have had a greater appreciation for how other people experience feedback and why the learning experience is tough at times for everyone.

The main thing is that whilst the broom is always changing, it survives the changes refreshed and ready for the tasks ahead. The key difference for us is that, with every unmaking we are remade with greater potential for mastery and self-knowledge than ever before.

The take away then is that we should be content with the ‘idea’ of our best version of ourselves as being the thing that is continuous even as we let go of our old sketches of our previous selves. Becoming less defensive, and in doing so becoming more open to becoming the very best version of ourselves that we can. At whatever stage of the journey we are at along the way.