Mindfulness: the doorway to balancing life, occupation, and purpose
“Mindfuless is the practice of aiming your attention, moment to moment, in the direction of your purpose – that which defines you, sustains you, and gives your life meaning, direction, and fulfillment. It is called mindfulness because you have to keep your purpose in mind as you watch your attention. Then, whenever you notice that your aim has drifted off, you calmly realign it.” (Frank Andrews)
The Eastern philosopher, Tagore says: “How can I be here if I am always there.” In today’s world the “there” could well mean checking your phone for messages on a miniature screen as you are driving along Mason Street, having dinner with a friend, golfing, sitting in class, and the examples are endless. Case in point, recently I was at Sammy’s Pizza place, and I observed a young couple with a child as they seated themselves and the baby in a high chair. Immediately, they flipped out their phones to check out the latest earth-moving and earth-shattering news. I thought to myself, look at one another, tend to your child, and enjoy the moment. Mindfulness is the presence of the moment we bring to the here and now. When we are mindful, we encounter the moment, and we are totally immersed in it. Consequently, we are not aware of the thousand, tiny fingers of distractions, assumptions, biases, prejudices, unconsciousness modalities, and mindless conditioning that imprisons and dulls us.
However, there is a caution — From the brain’s perspective, when we act in unintended ways, there’s a disconnect between the faster, unconscious impulses of the lower brain centers and the slower, conscious, wiser abilities of the higher centers like the pre-frontal cortex. Given that the unconscious brain is in charge of most of our decision-making and behaviors, this practice can help you align your conscious thinking with a primal emotional drive that the lower centers care about. Beyond safety, these include motivations like reward, connection, purpose, self-identity and core values. Establishing an intention—keeping those primal motivations in mind—helps strengthen this connection between the lower and higher centers. Doing so can change your day, making it more likely that your words, actions and responses— especially during moments of difficulty—will be more mindful and compassionate.
Mindfulness can actually help us to be more energy efficient, rather than burning up in the tension and distractions of ordinary mindless living. Here are a series of questions you can mindfully respond to in your everyday lives:
- What have I been paying the most attention to in my life this past week?
- What dimensions of my experiences are seeking greater attention?
- What specific activities do I want to bring greater awareness to?
- How does becoming more mindful improve the quality of my life, my work, my relations, and my family?
- What triggers or indicators have reminded me that I have drifted off to mindlessness?
Strive to bring your mind home realizing that the art of cultivating mindfulness is a lifelong process. Thus, be patient and know that every moment is an opportunity to increase your mindfulness. “If you pay attention at every moment, you form a new relationship to time. In some magical way, by slowing down, you become more efficient, productive, and energetic, focusing without distraction directly on the task in front of you. Not only do you become immersed in the moment, you become that moment.” Michael Ray – Stanford University
Here is an activity for you to interact with regarding the power of the mind and how the mind ultimately determines our destiny; review the following quotations and choose your top three that speak to you the most; and why did you choose the ones you did?
Our thoughts determine our lives
- “All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think, we become.” Buddha
- “Think you can, think you can’t; either way, you will be right.” Henry Ford
- “A man’s life is what his thoughts make it.” Marcus Aurelius
- “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts…take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.” Marcus Aurelius
- “Life is a mirror and will reflect back to the thinker what he thinks into it.” Ernest Holmes
- “Our destiny changes with our thoughts; we shall become what we wish to become, do what we wish to do, when our habitual thoughts correspond with our desires.” Orison Swett Marden
- “Our best friends and our worst enemies are our thoughts. A thought can do us more good than a doctor or a banker or a faithful friend. It can also do us more harm than a brick.” Dr. Frank Crane
- “Change your thoughts and you can change your world.” Norman Vincent Peale
- “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” John Milton
- “Happiness is not a matter of events, it depends upon the tides of the mind.” Alice Meynell
- “A happy life consists in tranquility of mind.” Cicero
- “The body manifests what the mind harbors.” Jerry Augustine
- “You can promote your healing by your thinking.” James E. Sweeney
- “No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.” Helen Keller
- “If we are not responsible for the thoughts that pass our doors, we are at least responsible for those we admit and entertain.” Charles B. Newcomb
- “Optimism is an intellectual choice.” Diana Schneider
- “We are made kind by being kind.” Eric Hoffer
- “We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them.” Kahlil Gibran
- “Self-image sets the boundaries of individual accomplishment.” Maxwell Maltz
- “If you prepare for old age, old age comes sooner.”
- “What we love, we shall grow to resemble.” Bernard of Clairvaux
- “Circumstances – what are circumstances? I make circumstances.” Napoleon Bonaparte
- “I make the most of all that comes and the least of all that goes.” Sara Teasdale
- “Some folks think they are thinking when they are only rearranging their prejudices.”
- “Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought.” Henri Bergson
- “No man can think clearly when his fists are clenched.” George Jean Nathan
- “What you think means more than anything else in your life.” George Matthew Adams
- “Change your thoughts and you change your world.” Norman Vincent Peale
- “They can because they think they can.” Virgil
- “The wisdom of all ages and cultures emphasizes the tremendous power our thoughts have over our character and circumstances.” Liane Cordes
- “”The life each of us lives is the life within the limits of our own thinking. To have life more abundant, we must think in limitless terms of abundance.” James Lane Allen
- “Somebody’s boring me; I think it is me.” Dylan Thomas
- “Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us, snow is exhilarating; there is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” John Ruskin
- “You will suffer and you will hurt, you will have joy and you will have peace.” Alison Cheek
- “This, too, shall pass.” William Shakespeare
- “When there is no vision, people perish.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
It is all about Balance—All Things in Moderation
Balance is not like walking on a tight rope, taking reluctant and careful steps one in front of the other as we move through the demands, observations, obligations, decisions, deadlines, and our occupations as we yearn for more of a balanced life. Balance is achieved by a dynamic interplay of inner forces (emotional, physical, spiritual, and intellectual) and outer forces (social). Control and coordination follow awareness. We can only manage what we are aware of and monitor. When you know that you are moving out of balance, then you can take the necessary steps to move more towards balance, again keeping in mind that mindfulness is the first step of a return to balance. Through awareness and practice, your confidence can grow to a point where your anxiety of falling off of the tight rope fades away. “The test antidote to stress – besides alternating your life, so it is less stressful – is learning to manage it through body-mind methods such as meditation, guided imagery, and deep breathing. Recent Harvard studies have found these techniques can successfully treat a host of health problems.” Dr. Alice Domar
Let us consider Aristotle, the first authoritative codifier of the virtues of the ancient world. The world of ancient Greece viewed the following qualities as necessary for people to live well, to work together, and to live an ethical life which results in a life of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment. Aristotle believed in living the middle ground between extremes, finding a balance, and living in moderation. A human being is a multifaceted creature with many possible virtues, or character strengths, personal properties that promote inner mental health and outer social harmony.
By living the virtuous life and seeking balance and moderation in all things, these habits of the mind and behavior will guide and help us in living well together, in making a positive difference in this life, in becoming the best person we can be, we will thus live a purposeful life.
Here is an activity for you: review the listing of virtues, second choose any three that are a normal and regular part of your character; third, choose any three that are periodically part of your character; fourth, choose any three that are not part of your character, however, you would like to incorporate them into your habitual way of living your virtue ethics. Finally, briefly summarize your choosing of these virtues.
A listing of virtues:
kindness, modesty, integrity, reliability, humor, insightfulness, sensitivity, gracefulness, civility, empathy, faithfulness, warmth, politeness, decency, commitment, sincerity, cheerfulness, trustworthiness, love, tactfulness, resiliency, magnanimity, persistence, resourcefulness, hospitality, creativity, consistency, loyalty, openness, enthusiasm, benevolence, steadfastness, liveliness, harmony, reasonableness, boldness, hopefulness, truthfulness, honesty, humility, dignity, amiability, tolerance, thoughtfulness, helpfulness, balance, cooperativeness, prudence, altruism, cool headedness, and broadmindedness.
The following is a proposed mission statement for students seeking to achieve a Balance at Northeast Wisconsin Technical Community College—
Men and Women
Are challenged and awakened
To their real potential.
They are transformed and empowered
To cultural immersion and service learning.
Thus, they emerge as recognizable from experience
As Men and Women
Of conscience and competence
Of compassion and commitment.
For the well-being and cause
Of the human family and making a difference
As a just and humane
Society and World
I do not care for the word “work” – it lacks dignity and worth. I would prefer the word “occupation,” “calling,” “profession,” “vocation” or better yet, “right livelihood.” It becomes difficult to think and feel we are living our lives in balance when we may feel stressed, burned out, and/or overworked. Many of our unhealthy and imbalanced attitudes toward work can be traced to unhealthy attitudes toward our work ethic. In Person/Planet, Theodore Roszak characterizes the former work ethic as:
- Children play and grownups work.
- Work is something you have to go looking for out there.
- Work is something you are supposed to like.
- People who do not work are either very poor or very rich
- Losing your job is shameful and terrible.
On the other hand, Michael Phillips in his book, Briarpatch Book offers guidelines for what he calls “Right Livelihood”:
- Your livelihood should be an area of great passion
- Right livelihood is something you can spend your life doing
- It should serve the community
- It should be totally appropriate to you
There is a story of three brick masons. When the first person was asked, what are you building, the response was, “I am laying bricks;” the second person responded, “I am building a wall;” and the third person stated, “I am building a cathedral.”
Life in Balance —-
- S. Eliot’sChoruses from the Rock
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Lewis E. Platt stated the following: “Work-life balance improves employee retention and yields much greater employee initiative and commitment. We know that it helps reduce stress and burnout, and we are learning that it increases employee productivity…we can provide the tools for people to balance their lives, it’s not up to management to do the actual balancing. Employees must take the initiative to do that. We can’t make the job easier, but we can add significant flexibility to the way our people work.” Here are some “pro-balance” life-work strategies that are being promoted: flex time, job sharing, working at home, telecommuting, early retirement, simple living, sabbaticals, and exploring what has meaning and purpose for you in your profession?
How often do I take my life for granted until somehow an unexpected event may throw my life into a different trajectory? I find myself returning to the primal origins of my human nature. Who am I? Where I am going? What is life all about? These three questions are the classic philosophical questions that hopefully one asks from time to time. When is the last time I have taken an inventory and journeyed to the center of my human nature universe? As we begin another semester of living, loving, laughing and learning, let us take a moment to revive our deepest yearnings, our depleted energy, and our noisy and busy lives to find silence that says more than thousands of words and committee meetings which fail to find the point of our centering. Even though our weather has been unseasonable mild, we can learn from this Chinese proverb: “When the winter is severe and the pine trees in this ancient land stay green throughout the year, is it because the earth is warm and friendly? No, it is because the pine tree has within itself a life-restoring power.”
Research by the Search Institute offers 40 assets stating that if one builds these assets, they will tap into the internal power and resiliency that resides in each one of us. We should never let anyone break our spirit for life and for living. Here are some questions to respond to:
- Do you have people you trust and can seek assistance?
- Are you challenged out of your comfort zone to build confidence?
- Do you have ethical guidance and structured standards?
- Are you a valuable member of society and do you volunteer? This is reinforced by our outreach program.
- Do you realize that education is one of the essential keys to your future happiness?
- Are your morals and values beneficial for a healthy society?
- Do you make friendships and relationships an art?
- Are you aware of your own talents and do you have a solid and positive self-esteem?
As human beings who strive to find meaning and hope in our lives more than just survival or meeting our physical needs, we would do well to listen to the words of Anne Frank as quoted from her diary: “Everyone has inside a piece of good news. The good news is that you do not know how great you can be! How much you can love! How much you can accomplish! And what your potential is!” I suppose that our students really won’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. I read that somewhere.
From time to time as I am walking down the hallway at school, I sense I am passing through the land of the dead, 6 out of 10 individuals are focused on their phones; here is a jingle for staff, students, and faculty: “Meet and greet and not retreat (no use of cell phones while walking, and limit social media to 10 minutes) lest we fall into the Orwellian prophecies of 1984. Nevertheless, I will pass by an acquaintance with the normal, habitual greeting, “Roger, how are you doing?” Instead of the usual mindless and superficial response, I will stop and say, “The last time I checked, I was doing fine. Ninety-six percent of happiness is good health, and the other 4% is grit and/or gravy.” I am sure this person was thinking, “Why did I ask?” Without good health and a positive attitude our lives can become burdensome, troubled, painful, and distracted. How does one mend the mind and mind the body so that my live is more positive, meaningful, and energized? How does one avoid the unannounced slings and arrows that negatively affect our physical and mental health? They are: neglect, abuse, death of a loved one, disease or disability, divorce, depression, loneliness, poor role modeling, and the list is endless. Some of the antidotes are: exercise, sunlight, support, mindset change, seeking assistance, avoiding manipulation, keeping one’s distance, not blaming oneself, seeking understanding, not taking sides, asking questions, seeking wisdom, building one’s character, avoiding the pity pot, proving oneself to others, learning self-care, grieving, facing reality, seeking support, and preparing for change or being proactive.
Finally, Confucius wrote, “When you drink from the spring, remember the source.” Concerning life and living it, let us turn to one of the many seminal thinkers such as Socrates, whose quotations are often quoted: “Know Thyself” and the “Unexamined Life is not worth living.” Socrates loved to ask questions, surely a model for those who instruct others – one good question is worth a thousand answers. Socrates relative to our lives might ask us: what is your general mood? Is it enthusiastic, calm, concerned or fun? Which of these virtues is the strongest in you? Is it loyalty, honesty, integrity, or sincerity? Which of these best describes your character? Is it romantic, perfectionist, cooperative, and/or competitive? Do you strive to live the 8 pillars of Wisdom which are principles for living one’s life in balance and for living a purpose driven life?
Each of us can be the architect of our own existence and behavior; with the guidance of the eight pillars of Greek Wisdom, we can design a temple and life we can be proud of.
- Individualism affirms the unique potential of our personality – “Take pride in who you are as a unique individual.”
- The love of freedom inspires us to actualize that potential – “Only if we are free can we find fulfillment.”
- Restless curiosity leads us to explore all its dimensions – “Seek to know what reality really is, and not merely what it seems to be.”
- Rationalism gives us the means to solve problems and understand ourselves – “Search for the truth by using the power of your mind.”
- Self-knowledge informs us about our strengths and weaknesses – “Identify and understand your weaknesses and strengths.”
- The practice of moderation and balance helps us balance our behavior – “Beware of going to extremes, because in them lies danger.”
- The pursuit of excellence motivates us to achieve – “Try to be more today than you were yesterday, more tomorrow than you were today.”
- Humanism celebrates our efforts – “Be proud of your human abilities and believe in your capacity to achieve great accomplishments.”
(The Eight Pillars of Greek Wisdom, Stephen Bertman, 2007)
In conclusion, we conclude with a quotation that gathers the key concepts of this reflective and interactive essay – mindfulness: our life and our right livelihood lived in balance and harmony as we strive to fulfill our purpose in life.
“Wisdom is the balance between our mind and the laws of reality; morality is the balance between our convictions and our actions; Concentration is the harmony among our feelings, our knowledge and our will. This is the unity of all our creative forces in the experience of a higher reality.” – Anagarika Govinda