Or, at least like it? This is do you like or love what you are doing, mainly presently? “Presently” maybe the main word here because I am talking about being able to live in the moment. Hence, this post will be about mindfulness, or at least my take on it. My take on it will not included anything like the standard meditation practices (like concentration on one’s breath) one often finds when one runs into mindfulness. I do have a sort of meditation what I call mind wandering. But, my approach is mainly the art of enjoying what you are doing.
Rather than mar this post with mindfulness meditation practices at the end, I am going to speak on it now and get it over and done with. The form of meditation I am mainly familiar with is where one concentrates on one’s breathing. You focus on your breath trying to free your mind from all thoughts accept for the concentration on your breath. Any wandering away from this concentration is duly noted, but not judged, and then concentration is recentered on your breath. This is usually done for about fifteen minutes.
This form of meditation has been shown in some studies to reduce stress. A meta-analysis study of “Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) . . . a structured group program that employs mindfulness meditation to alleviate suffering associated with physical, psychosomatic and psychiatric disorders . . .”¹ was shown that: “Although derived from a relatively small number of studies, these results suggest that MBSR may help a broad range of individuals to cope with their clinical and nonclinical problems.”¹ Although, another review study did not support these findings, but recommended further study.² Of course, there are individual controlled studies that show improvement of anxiety, which are able to pass the statistical significance level for psychological studies. There is much more research that has been done and is being done to confirm the psychological improvement in anxiety and other disorders to be pretty confident that in a clinical setting (at least) it is helpful to many people.
Many, but not all. I will shortly relate my experience with this type of meditative practice, but first I want to mention one area, where it is touted to increase productivity and creativity and management capabilities. My search of Google Scholar turned up no such effects under controlled conditions. In other words it appears to be all hearsay or anecdotal. I think that what you have is people selling a product—a product that might work, but nonetheless has not been proven to do so. Buyer beware.
So, what was my experience with this meditation technique? I have attempted the breath meditation version at least a half a dozen times with no success of even coming close to being able to concentrate fully. Granted, this is a limited amount of times. But, it is the frustration factor that stymies me. If there is one feeling that gets me more flustered than any other it is frustration. “Oh, but mindfulness would help to overcome your frustration.” Possibly, but in my mind it is not worth it, and I have found a better way at least for me.
I should have said “ways.” The first way is my version of mindfulness meditation. I call it “mind wandering.” The basic idea behind it is that I will let my mind wander from thought to thought. Often when I do this it is of a philosophical nature, cooking or baking something, or Baxter (my cat). The only rule I have is that if anything negative should arise in my mind, I turn back to something of a more positive thought pattern without judgement (just like with other mindfulness meditation practices). It is also something that I do not attempt to control, and I most often do it during periods of free time, like walking, which I try to do twice a day. This is it—just sit or walk and think.
So, what benefits might I gain with this practice. For one I often get to think really cool thoughts, or at least they are cool to me. These thoughts are filled with questions, which if any of you know me by now is an activity of the mind I quite enjoy. And, sometimes I will think of something that might profit me; although, this is not my motivation (not the main one anyway) for doing mind wandering. I mostly do it because I find it fun and (for the most part) relaxing. It simply gives me pleasure.
I will now get on to my main point—loving what you are doing. Back in the 1990s I was slightly into the Tao Te Ching. The main takeaway from reading it was that it tells you that being what your doing (i.e. being in the moment) is the key to living your life. I do not have any reference point in this chief work of Taoism to give to you, since it has been years since I have read it. I also thought back then that one should eliminate all desires, but I now see this as false. Without desires one cannot have any goals, and without any goals one cannot have any purpose in one’s life, and without any purpose in one’s life one’s life is cut adrift.
Another work that impressed me a few years after my limited experience with Taoism was Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. This book relates how being in the moment is the peak experience (flow) one reaches upon following his plan for optimal experience. Goal setting is one of his main points in this plan. Anyhow, life seems both meaningful and purposeful when one’s life is being lived in the moment—being what your doing. Life seems to flourish (one is satisfied with life). Things are not going to be perfect, but more often than not one finds oneself as being happy.
But, I have recently come to realize that another way to be in the moment is to love what you are doing, or as I said above, at least like what you are doing. This realization came to me as I decide one day that I liked folding clothes, which I had before this seen as a chore. I think part of the reason I can like or love the things I do is I often treat them as puzzles.* Of course, I have actually been doing this (loving what I am doing) for quite some time. Of more recent vintage is my love of cooking and baking.^ I have a tendency to get engrossed in what I am doing. I will admit to having had barren parts (sometimes deserts) in my life were this loving was not always present. These were periods of clinical depression.
So, is this ability to love what you are doing something you are born with or can one learn this as one would learn any other skill? Will practice help to improve this ability? I do not know, but my hunch is that along with most things it is partly genetic (nature) and partly environmental (nurture).† But, I would also say that practice, if you are consciously practicing, loving what your doing could actually destroy it. With the folding of clothes instance above I was not practicing liking to fold clothes is was a realization that I did like doing it. So, I feel intentionality is not necessary, and maybe, detrimental to being able to be in the moment, hence I have no tips to offer—sorry.
What about writing? This just maybe the archetypal love/hate relationship; although, hate maybe a little to strong here. There are times when I am just in the flow when I am writing; it is almost effortless. And, there are times when I sit there like I am stunned—writer’s shock. The most frustrating times do not actually involve writing; it is when I lose something I have written—into the black hole of the computer or the cloud. This has happen just recently with this post. I had written what I felt to be three or four really good paragraphs, but when I went to make sure it was all saved at the end of the day, these paragraphs had vanished. Ugh.
But, for the most part I love writing. It is almost like magic to see my thoughts appear as connected words on the screen (I write almost exclusively on the computer). Even when I stop to let my thoughts or words catchup, I have a vague sense of being there. The waitings and thinkings is meditative like, or so I imagine it to be. Writing is also like an adventure‡ to me. I say this because often I begin with a topic (or question) without any clear idea of what I am going to come up with. I just let the topic get buried in the dirt (nutritious dirt) of my mind and wait for it to germinate, but when it does the words will begin to flower.
So, what more can I say about being in the moment? It appears that reflectivity destroys being in the moment. When I am in the moment I often find myself having intense feelings of both joy and frustration (more often joy), but if I reflect that I am in any particular feeling state the moment is gone, but not perhaps the feelings themselves. Joy is more at stake in moments of reflections. Whatever the feeling, I most often acknowledge it and deal with it when I deem it necessary. This is most often so during times of duress like frustration. However, more often still, I return to being what I am doing, and all is right with the world.
So, I will continue to mind wander, and I will continue to find what there is to love and like in life. Remember even what appears to be the most mundane things can be an opportunity to be in the moment (sounds to Buddhist?).
* I have a blog post on using the puzzle metaphor for life – Is Life a Puzzle?
^ See Why Do I Cook and Bake? for more on my love of these activities.
† Is there a future post here – nature vs. nurture?
‡ Another possible post – “Is Life an Adventure?”
** Another in the moment moment is when Baxter gets on my lap in the morning when I get up—a cat on a lap.