Most of us are pros at missing out on our lives. We blink, and another year is gone. We look at one another, bafflement in our eyes, and say, “How is it June already?” We wonder, Why is time passing so quickly?
I’m no exception. I’ve missed out on wide swaths of time, encountering huge blank spots when I leaf through my memory. So who am I to tell you how to stop this missing out?
Case Study: Starting My Mindfulness Practice
Six weeks ago I began an eight-week mindfulness program. At least six days a week since early May, I’ve sat on a cushion in a quiet place and practiced.
I began with expectations, with goals. My mind would be quiet when I sat to practice. I’d bask in this new-found peace. I would be a beacon of calm to those around me. I would be a meditator. Ooh, what a lovely end result.
And so I started practicing, confident in my steps, eyes firmly fixed on the prize.
Anyone who has spent any time working on mindfulness will laugh at my dewy-eyed optimism. They know the mind is not something you can crush into submission. I learned this fact quickly enough — and, needless to say, I was disappointed. No easy goal attainment for me.
But I kept practicing. And a whole other way of seeing opened up to me.
You see, mindfulness has no end goal — at least, not any practical one for ordinary people. It is an ongoing practice, a process rather than a destination.
A Shift in Focus
You might ask: without an end goal, where do you focus?
Are you ready for this? You focus on the process.
Yes, I know, we’ve all heard the cliches: stop and smell the roses, life is a journey not a destination, and the like. But how many of us actually take them to heart and apply them in our own lives?
As I continued my mindfulness practice, I began to play with this approach. Instead of striving for a goal, constantly measuring my progress against it, judging each moment by how close to my goal I felt, I began to slow down, to look at each step I took.
I cut an apple and felt the tiny vibrations in the knife as I sliced through it. I sought out the faint hint of apple wafting from the fresh cut. I heard the snap as I took the first bite, felt the texture of peel and flesh between my teeth, tasted the sweet tang on my tongue. Whoever would have thought the act of eating an apple could be so full, so absorbing, so complete in and of itself? Not me.
I laced up my running shoes and headed out into the morning sun. I felt the temperature shift as I ran through shade, drank in the rich and varied greens of the leaves above me, inhaled the scent of honeysuckle thick in the air. Whoever would have imagined running could be so enjoyable? Definitely not me.
I did not think, My goal is to consume this apple. My goal is to run for 20 minutes. Instead, I approached each activity with curiosity, with a willingness to explore each process, to investigate what made each one tick. And my entire experience of the world changed.
What if we focused in this new way all the time?
I’ve got some thoughts on that. Come back Thursday and I’ll tell you about them.
In the meantime: What processes do you miss out on in your own life because you’re so focused on an end goal?