Provision #412: Embrace Mindfulness
by Bob Tschannen-Moran
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.
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:
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,
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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