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Provision #412: Embrace Mindfulness

by Bob Tschannen-Moran

Laser Provision

Do you suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder? If so, join the club! We live in an ADHD world and it is taking a toll on our spiritual wellness. In fact, there's no way to be spiritually well without cultivating an Attention Rich Hypoactivity Order. That's because the spirit can only be noticed, moment by moment, by paying close attention to what's actually happening as it happening. Fortunately, with practice we can learn to embrace mindfulness on the trek of life.

LifeTrek Provision


There's no way to experience spiritual wellness in the here and now unless we are in the here and now. That simple truth may seem to be a tautology. After all, where else are we if we are not in the here and now? Upon further review, however, we can see all kinds of places other than the here and now where people hang out and hide out.

We all know people, for example, who are hopelessly attached to the past or the future. Something may have happened in the immediate or distant past that defines their identity in the here and now. They cannot let go of this event, mentally, emotionally, physically, or spiritually, and they talk about it as though it happened yesterday. Therapy seeks to release people from such inappropriate attachments.

The same dynamics occur around future events. We get so attached to an outcome that we can think about nothing else. Something we want to happen in the immediate or distant future defines our identity in the here and now. We become our plans. We lose sleep over our schemes. We anxiously await our success. We risk everything, including our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health, in order to make our dreams come true.

But the past and the future are not the only, and may not even be the primary, places people go to escape from the present moment. This morning my wife and I escorted a houseguest from South Africa to the train station. At the station there were two men assisting their elderly mother to board the train. While waiting, and through the entire boarding process, these men were wearing headsets connected to their cellular phones.

At the same time as these men were carrying baggage for their mother they were talking on the phone, talking to each other, kissing their mother goodbye, and gesturing madly at the front conductor to express their irritation at having to walk so far to board the train. Now where were these two men? Were they with the people on the phone? Were they with each other? Were they with their mother? Or were they with the conductor?

One could argue that by trying to be in four places at once, these two men were actually in no place at all. The present moment had become, for them, an experience that was out of phase with the here and now. I know, first hand, how dangerous that can be.

Last month my wife and I were traveling by car on the highway at night to conduct several days of training in Ohio. Having settled in to a comfortable rhythm on the road, I decided to place a call on my hands free cell phone. Minutes later, orange barrels appeared and the road started narrowing, without signage, from three lanes to two and then to one. That's when another call came in on my wife's cell phone. And that's also when I found myself squeezed between the orange barrels on my left and a triple-bottom trailer truck on my right.

I was unable to keep up with all the distractions in my environment. I could not figure out what was happening to my lane. Where was I? Was I driving the car? Was I talking on the phone? Was I overhearing my wife's conversation? Had we grazed the truck, the situation could easily have become disastrous; fortunately, we survived without a scratch after enduring a few frightful moments as we slowed to fall in behind the truck.

In his excellent book, Coming To Our Senses, Jon Kabat-Zinn notes that this is the state of the world today. It's no longer just the past and the future that take us away from the present moment. It's multiple present moments converging into one multiphase event. So we sit in meetings and organize our appointments at the same as we check our e-mail. We get on the treadmill and turn on the news at the same as we take and return phone calls. We sit down for dinner with a magazine and a PDA.

Not even the selection of a Pope is immune from the ringing of cell phones and the distractions of everyday life. That's why the cardinals had to be searched before entering the conclave. Multitasking is everywhere and its getting worse. "The digital revolution," notes Kabat-Zinn, means that "it is now harder to pay attention to any one thing and there is more to pay attention to. We are easily diverted and easily distracted."

"We are continuously bombarded with information, appeals, deadlines, and communications," he continues. "Things come at us fast and furious, relentlessly. And almost all of it is man made; it has thought behind it, and more often than not, an appeal to either our greed or our fears. These assaults on our nervous system continually stimulate and foster desire and agitation rather than contentedness and calmness. Above all, if we are not careful, they rob us of time, of our moments."

Unfortunately, people without moments can never be spiritually well. The more distracted we are the more likely we are to not only have accidents, like I almost did on the highway, but to miss the movement of the spirit taking place in this one moment.

Although we live in an ADHD culture that has compounded this problem to a degree never before seen in human history, we are certainly not the first ones to notice the problem and its impact on spiritual wellness. Consider Kabir's 15th century poem rendered into English by Robert Bly:

I said to the wanting-creature inside me:
What is this river you want to cross?
There are no travelers on the river-road, and no road.
Do you see anyone moving about on the bank, or resting?
There is no river at all, and no boat, and no boatman.
There is no towrope either, and no one to pull it.
There is no ground, no sky, no time, no bank, no ford!

And there is no body, and no mind!
Do you believe there is some place that will make the soul less thirsty?
In that great absence you will find nothing.

Be strong then, and enter into your own body;
there you have a solid place for your feet,
Think about it carefully!
Don't go off somewhere else!

Kabir says this:
just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things,
and stand firm in that which you are.

I love that image of "the wanting-creature inside." It's one thing to have goals. It's another thing to have goals that distract us from the present moment. Those are the ones that turn us into "wanting-creatures." Those are the ones that cannot sit still. Those are the ones that always see the grass as greener on the other side of the fence. Those are the ones that can never say, "Enough."

Well, Kabir says this: "Stand firm in that which you are." "Throw away all thoughts of imaginary things." "Don't go off somewhere else!" "Have a solid place for your feet."

That's what mindfulness is all about. It is about paying attention to what is actually happening as it is happening. It is about standing on solid ground. It is about embracing the present moment, without reaction or judgment. It is about being open to the place we find ourselves in the here and now, without past, present, or future distractions.

Of course that's a hard place to find and no one stands there all the time. But we will never stand there at all unless we practice getting ourselves into that position through what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls "mindfulness meditation." "Taste and see that the Lord is good," writes the Psalmist in Psalm 34:8. So too when it comes to "mindfulness meditation." We are tasting mindfulness in practice so as to learn how to carry it with us throughout the day.

Where do we begin? Kabat-Zinn suggests that we start by elevating our awareness one sense at a time. Seeing, hearing, breathing, touching, smelling, and tasting can all become vehicles for increased mindfulness. Take one thing, any thing, and relish your time with it. Don't do anything but notice it.

Right now, as I write this, there is a blue jay on my birdfeeder Click. It hopped to three different perches, looking for food, before being chased away by a large Pileated woodpecker. Those Pileated woodpeckers, so up close and personal, take my breath away. They never stay long. As soon as it leaves, the blue jay is back. This relishing, this noticing, could go on forever. It is an exercise in mindfulness.

Anyone can do this, at any time, with any thing. The food on your plate. The keyboard at your fingertips. The sound of wild geese. In an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, they can become opportunities to practice mindfulness. All we have to do is to approach them with the "orientation of direct, moment-to-moment, non-reactive, non-judgmental attending."

There are also many formal ways to practice mindfulness. In his book, Kabat-Zinn reviews the four classic practices of lying down, sitting, standing, and walking meditations, as well as yoga, just knowing, just hearing, just breathing, and a practice he calls loving-kindness meditation. There's no way to include his easy-to-understand and easy-to-follow descriptions in this brief Provision. I would encourage you to read his excellent book.

But we can include his generous recognition that there is no way to do these practices wrong. If we are practicing mindfulness, then we are doing it right. Our mind may not be still and focused, our experience might be pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, but as long as we notice what's happening we are doing it right.

"If you are bored, and are aware of it," he writes, "you are doing it right. If you are are frightened, confused, or depressed, and know it, you are doing it right. If your thoughts never shut down, and there is an awareness of that in the present moment, and you can be the knowing rather than carried away in the agitation, then you are doing it right. And if you are indeed carried away by the agitation and the proliferations and fabrications and cascading of the thinking mind, and there is an awareness of that, and you can be that knowing in the moment, then you are doing it right."

"In fact, there is nothing that you could do, or that could happen to you, that cannot be a worthy part of the practice if you are aware of it, and can give yourself over to trusting and resting in the awareness, rather than be caught up perpetually in the turmoil, the agitation, the clinging, the wanting, and the rejecting of whatever is arising."

Isn't that fantastic! The only way to get it wrong is to not practice at all. To go through life mindlessly, as a wanting-creature, bouncing from one diversion and preoccupation to the next is to fall far from the tree of spiritual wellness. So don't let that happen to you. By noticing what's actually happening, right now, as it is happening you will have taken the first step in the right direction.

Coaching Inquiries: How often do you fall prey to multitasking? Are you aware of what's actually happening right now? When was the last time that you unplugged yourself from 24/7 connectivity? How could you practice mindfulness until it becomes an effortless part of your everyday life?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers' Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor's Note: The LifeTrek Readers' Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob..


Not sure I have digested the material in your Provision, "Embrace Possibility," I especially appreciate your mention of the "generative character of action in a universe of possibility." Thanks for pointing out the action-possibility connection.

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers

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