Mindfulness

Ponderings March 26th, 2007

As you have probably guessed, I’ve been having a bit of a hard time over the last few weeks. I think these dark times are at an end.

I read an article at a friends house over a game of Quizzit. It was entitled “Why It’s So Hard to Be Happy“, which given my mood grabbed me instantaneously. It had some very interesting and counter intuitive advice. I would have thought goal setting a good thing to do, but apparently a goal oriented life isn’t conducive to happiness because as soon as one goal is achieved another is set and so you’re always following the carrot. Time is never taken to sit back and really enjoy what was achieved.

They also condone mindfulness as a psychological technique that actually works. Mindfulness preaches that one must live in the present and not be concerned about the past or future. Apparently this is actually really good for well being.

Anyway, I read this article and looked at the last couple of weeks. I had been so busy over the last 5 weeks that I’d hardly stopped to actually live. And over the last 5 weeks I’ve been slowly getting more and more depressed. Don’t get the wrong impression – I wasn’t working, I was just busy. For starters, the aquaponics systems that I am setting up take up a large portion of my weekend. On top of that I play soccer. I attended a wedding last weekend. I’ve had parties and circuses and training and … etc etc

So on Sunday night I relaxed. I lay on the couch with Ele and cuddled. I smelt the air, felt the cold air and her warmth, heard the sounds of the fish tank and actually saw my surroundings – which is exactly what being mindful is all about. I was taking in the present moment with out the usual feeling that I was wasting time. And guess what? Today (Monday) I am far far happier than I’ve been in weeks.

So I’m going to schedule some time each day where I just sit and be mindful. I did it today in the lunch room at work – it was brilliant. I was living without the blinkers of consciousness. Thinking naught and experiencing the senses as if a newborn.

13 Responses to “Mindfulness”

  1. gemmell Says:

    Grandad,
    I’d really like to hear what you’ve got to say about these kind of things.

  2. grandad Says:

    I have just written a long screed on this to you and somehow I pushed a button and it was wiped off, can’t re-establish the link can you suggest any course of action? It was such a long and boring screed that I hate the thought of it all being for naught!

  3. grandad Says:

    I can’t find my long epistle which I thought was good, now I’ll have to write another comment which may not be half as good. I think that I must have hit the End button. No, I’ve just hit the end and the script hasn’t gone. Don’t know what I did.
    The main point about my comment was that I’m not a good person to ask questions of the subject ” hard to be happy ” and ” mindfulness ” because I’ve never been bothered by these matters.
    I have never understood why so many people find it necessary to work at being happy and have a need for mental shut down. I always consider that I have had a very lucky life and have lived it day by day. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t planned for the future, I’ve done that but once the plan is put in progress, then the day to day events are the things to be faced up to.
    As an example, your project on hydroponics is something that you have planned for. There will be set backs and supply and progress problems. These must not break your resolve but you have to adjust to new time tables. The main thing is that you don’t give up on the project and then you will find that when it eventually comes to fruition, you will feel a real lift, which is being happy!
    Happiness isn’t something that exists as a complete thing, it needs all the set backs and possibly sadness and frustrations to eventually make the outcome a real spirit lifter.
    The trouble is for you at the moment that you are not having the set backs, every thing is too easy. You are a bright person and make it easily, this can be a drawback, I was just below par and therefore had to struggle to make the base level. I often wonder how I ever made the level of success that I eventually reached, I can assure you, there was a lot of work and encouragement from Grandma, but the main thing was good luck.
    Another thing is that too often people look to others for satisfaction and self esteem. It is nice to have the plaudits of your fellow humans, but it is better to have the satisfaction of knowing that you have done it despite what others have thought. I will give you two examples that have been all important in my life.
    1/ When I wanted to marry Grandma, my mother, who was a snob of the highest order, never thought that she was good enough for me. Grandma’s family and my family all thought that we were too young and that we had no where to live, no money, I was still studying to become an engineer and it was a few years off and all in all for us to marry would be disastrous.
    2/ When I talked Grandma into coming to Australia, every one said it was stupid, we had only the equivalent of $80 and knew no one in Australia, had three children under 5, had no means to get home if we failed, and they even suggested that Grandma let me come out on my own and if I made a success she could then follow.
    The point of both of these examples is not to prove how wonderful I am but to show how things can be under your own control if you are prepared to work at them.
    Both of the events were the most significant of my life and the most successful. The advice that we were given was given in good faith and it was most likely correct in every detail, we were too young, too broke, too inexperienced etc. However, I considered all these comments in both instances and made a decision based on what I thought I could do, what was right and what had the best prospects.
    Regarding 1/ I considered that Grandma was pregnant at that time and I was responsible, I owed it to Grandma and the future child, your mother, to make every effort to ensure that no one suffered because of my neglect. I worked out that I had the ability to improve my income and outlook, and Grandma was willing to give it every effort. It was hard, we lived for years 3, 4 and eventually 5 in a room 6 feet by 12 feet, and this isn’t easy. We lived in half way houses and I worked and studied and Grandma worked and never complained, and it worked out! By the time we left England I was beginning to get on top, I had actually got a job paying the equivelent of $30/week!
    Regarding 2/ We came here because I looked at what could be done. I had got myself a job in the NSW Public Works Dept. and they would employ me from the minute I landed. They would temporarily house us firstly in a half way house then in an old airforce camp at Bradfield Park. This meant that I had a means of support. This I felt gave me a degree of security and I could take out a life insurance policy to ensure that if I was killed or died, Grandma had the means to get back to her family in England.
    If I came here there was more scope for our children to make something of their lives. This was right, just make enquiries about how well the other branches of our families did back in England.
    My point here isn’t to big note myself, it is just to show that we have some control over our destinies and with perseverence and a lot of good luck and a reliable parter, it is possible to succeed when the odds are against you.
    How does this relate to happiness you may well ask, well the going was not always good and was often very hard, especially for Grandma who wasn’t that keen on coming out here to begin with. The happiness comes now, we can look back now and we feel happy to see how our children and their children have got on. One of our most valued possessions now is the old photo albums with the pictures of us all enjoying ourselves at Magnetic Island for example.
    I am lucky, I only really remember the enjoyable things in life, can’t see the point in worrying about the down side of things. I think that one should learn from mistakes and failures but not tarry on them. Life is for enjoying if you have the luck to be born into a country where there is hope and some form of regulation and justice.
    To live one needs to have contact with ones fellow humans, so I have never understood why some people find it necessary to practice meditation and isolation. To spend a life thinking about why you are living and what is happiness is just ludicrous to me. Living is experiencing the ups and downs of life and learning to live with you fellow humans many of whom are not too likable or interesting. Never judge them though, they have lived through a different environment and therefore have different values. You may not consider their values right but as long as they don’t enforce their values on you, let them live as they feel is best for them.
    I have never let religion dictate my moral ethic, I think that Buddism is the most logical and practical of the teachings and it isn’t reliant on a deity for its application. The other teachings all rely on Deity’s which in my opinion seem to be used by the leaders of the various faiths to overrule the teaching of the prophets. e.g. the prophets all say ” thou shalt not kill “, they make this statement without any ifs or buts. Now if you look at the religions associated with the prophets, they say things like ” thou shalt not kill unless it is a Jew ” or ” thou shalt not kill except it be an Iraqi ” etc. The religions even offer special heavenly rewards if you kill a Jewish woman and her child in a suicide bomb blast, not what the prophets taught. Never let preachers make your mind up for you on what is right and wrong, listen to them if you like but the responsibility is always your as to what you eventually do.
    Well I’ve rambled on for too long, I don’t know what you will make of the ramblings, all I know is that I have been happy and am usually so, I forget the bad things and remember the good ones and have loved my wife and family and this is what has made it so good for me. I suggest that you don’t worry so much about what could be and the status of your activity. Washing up has never been boring to me, I enjoy talking to Grandma or who ever is around or I just let my mind wander, just accept that chores have to be done if we are to live a comfortable life.
    For goodness sake don’t let your Mum see this or know that I’ve been lecturing, she’d be aghast!
    Wonder what happened to the other lecture?

  4. Bentley Says:

    Interesting stuff! I too am interested in mindfulness (and aquaponics for that matter – lol) and am just getting into it myself.
    I love the concept and its really helped me enjoy myself these last few weeks.
    The way I see it, mindfulness and goal setting are not mutually exclusive – i think they can work very well together. It’s all about balance, and finding what works best for you.
    I find touching base with my breathing multiple times per day is a great way to stay in touch with the present.
    Something else that can help provide perspective is practicing gratitude. it sounds to me like you’ve definitely got some things to be thankful for – if you take some time each day to think about how lucky you really are, this can go a long way!

    Anyway, thanks again for sharing some interesting thoughts
    B.

  5. gemmell Says:

    Grandad,

    You say you live life “day by day”. This is exactly what that article said is needed to be happy. This is also a key part of mindfulness – not worrying about the past or future, just the present. I know that you will probably say that you weren’t following any mindfulness crap, and that you DID have plans, but it’s not saying don’t have plans, just to take time to LIVE your life.

    I don’t want you to get me wrong Grandad, I’m not an unhappy person. I am as optimistic and outgoing as you are. I think the whole reason I got unhappy was because I tried to pile so much on my plate that I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere with anything. And I’m not on a life long quest to find happiness, I am generally very happy. I just have patches where I get really down (and reflective).

    You say “The trouble is for you at the moment that you are not having the set backs, every thing is too easy”. And I think you’re spot on. I have an easy life. I’ve pretty much had everything on a platter – and I appreciate that. But at the same time, I think adversity really makes you appreciate the good bits. Because I’ve got it good all the time and so I’m totally desensitised to it. But what do I do? Give away all my worldly possessions? Not take financial benefits that come my way? I don’t really want to create an artificial adversity. In saying that, I don’t really put myself in uncomfortable situations because they are … uncomfortable. Maybe I should… But what you’re saying is that I don’t have set backs, which is totally untrue. I have set backs as much as any body else, but I overcome them (like any body else). Hrrm now that I think about it, maybe you’re referring to something bigger – one of the guys at my work has a 6 year old daughter with a brain tumor. She has a shunt in her head to relieve the pressure and when they take it out she WILL die. Horrible stuff, is this the kind of “set back” you refer to? I would call it a life changing event.

    I also think that you married and had kids at a young age, which gave you a sense of purpose in your life. This is something I feel I lack in those dark moments. How old were you when you married and had your first child? I think “I work, I earn money, I save…. why am I doing this again?”

    I don’t think I’ll ever be able to take a sermon from some dude who’s believed in something his whole life just because he’s been told to. I don’t know where I heard it but I remember the quote: “Organised religion was the death of spirtuality”. So you needn’t worry about me there.

    Anyway, it was good to hear your thoughts on it. I hope my reply wasn’t an epistle.

  6. gemmell Says:

    Bentley,

    Glad to hear you enjoyed my blog and great to hear of another person taking on aquaponics! Have you checked out the backyardaquaponics forums? They’re gold.

    I haven’t actually tried to use any “techniques” to bring me back to the present, just that I need to recognise it more than I currently do.

    How do you practice gratitude? Do you mean that you just take time to appreciate how lucky you are? Or do you actually try and give something back to the people who helped you (or maybe those who are less fortunate?)

    Every now and then I think about how lucky I am that there are no wars going on where I am, and that I can snuggle up in my girls arms knowing that I’ll be completely safe tonight.

    ~Gemmell

  7. gemmell Says:

    Ok then, what about Maslow Hierarchy of Needs? In particular the fact that one can’t achieve the next level of the pyramid until the one below it has been achieved. If I were to put myself somewhere on the pyramid, I’d say I was at about Self-actualization, but not quite at Self-transcendence. But I think there are some people out there who have gone all the way to the top of the triangle and are horribly unhappy anyway. Thoughts anyone?

  8. ele Says:

    Grandad,

    I also think you are spot on.

    But consider the irony of this – you experienced challenges, came out to Australia with nothing in order to build a better life for your wife and kids. You were a success, and your children and grandchildren, and great grandchildren lead a comparatively privileged life.

    But it is so ironic that your grandchild sometimes has trouble feeling satisfied with his life, precisely because he didn’t have to go through the hardships that you did.

    I think that maybe people of our age are obsessed with instant gratification. Rather than getting down about set backs, we should consider that anything that is worthwhile takes time. We need to be reminded that overcoming the setbacks that delay acheivement of our plans and dreams may actually heighten our sense of satisfaction and hapiness. This is something that I often need to be reminded of, I think.

  9. grandad Says:

    The pyramids are wonderful examples of engineering and design but they are useless and really serve no useful purpose. I’m certain that none of the pharaohs successfully used them to transport to the after life!
    It is probably more important to keep moving forward and obtaining goals that you set yourself. This way, every one can be successful without having to vie with others and can therefore each reach their level of satisfaction without having to undergo a sense of failure.

  10. grandad Says:

    Ele, it was nice to have your approval!
    I think that it isn’t only that people of your age want instant satisfaction, they also seem to have more time to ponder every day happenings.
    When you’re driving, you notice things along the way but you keep focused on the road ahead. If you spend too much time looking at the other road happenings then you’re more likely to have an accident.
    I think that this is one of the main things in life, know where you want to go and try to get there without too many accidents and without hurting other innocent parties.

  11. Gemmell Says:

    Grandad,

    A) You rashly discard pyramids as useless. This is plain silly. For instance the food pyramid is based on science and gets a point across.
    B) The point is NOT to set goals so you DON’T get stuck chasing something so you CAN look at the scenery a long the way.

    What is the point driving along the road of life to your destination death if you don’t view the scenery on either side?

  12. grandad Says:

    A) you were not talking of food pyramids.
    B) if you don’t set goals you may not ever get a chance to see a variety of scenery, you could end up stuck in a hovel

    if you spend too much time on the peripheral scenery you could well reach the death destination earlier than expected

    I’m sure that you will get the right balance between living and surviving!

  13. Gemmell Says:

    You said “The pyramids are wonderful examples of engineering and design but they are useless and really serve no useful purpose” which does not discriminate which pyramid. Anyway, on with my next rant.