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Emotional StrengthMental Strength

Part 1: McMindfulness and the Deeper Path

By December 1, 2020December 21st, 2020No Comments

“All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” - Blaise Pascal

Let’s face it, we live in an on-demand culture. We want what we want when we want it. Think about it — we stream movies and binge-watch our TV shows. We order products that arrive on our doorstep the next day. Siri can answer all of our banal questions in an instant and we do our grocery shopping online. Moreover, we walk around with mini supercomputers in our pocket that connect us all over the world. However, despite — or perhaps because of — this “connection,” we are more stressed out and disconnected than ever before. Dr. Ned Hallowell refers to this as the modern paradox – connected electronically and disconnected interpersonally.

There is a part of us all that desperately wants to heal this disconnect. Nature has made us out to be social beings that yearn to make friendship networks, not artificial ones made up of wires and computer chips. Yet, our culture increasingly wants “hacks” and quick fixes for these problems too. We believe our happiness, ability to manage stress, and our desire to enhance performance should be on-demand.  But what if that which we are yearning for isn’t available on-demand? What if we need to take a deeper, more meaningful path?

What we propose to you with the next nine articles is bold — a way to push back against our on-demand culture and experience life in a new way. To be clear, what we will present is not a “hack,” but rather a new way to experience and approach life.  What we offer to you is an invitation to develop a mindfulness practice that supports the mind, body, and spirit.  It has the potential to decrease stress, increase happiness, and lead to improved performance on the field, in the boardroom, and at home. It is a simple, necessary, and yet an entirely radical act that flies in the face of on-demand culture. 

This series of articles will include certain topics that have been “off-limits” or deemed as tastelessly taboo in our modern culture. One such matter is that of spirituality. Mindfulness comes to Western culture from the spiritual traditions of the East. Yet, like a dirty and unsavory word, the spirit has been extricated from many mindfulness programs. We, the authors, are not here to say that the Westernized programs are wrong or ineffective. We are merely saying that the time is ripe to put the spirit back into mindfulness training.  This brings us to the purpose of these blogs which is to rectify the split between spirit and performance. 

The ancient art and science of mindfulness itself has not been immune to on-demand culture. Recently, as mindfulness has shown compelling outcomes and has gotten more popular, it has been bastardized and morphed into what Ronald E. Purser calls “McMindfulness.” McMindfulness is everywhere you look — news segments, articles, podcasts, and seemingly every street corner — pedaling mindfulness Happy Meals with the promise to change your life for the better in the least amount of time.  The way mindfulness is often presented in these forums makes it look like you can just pull up to the McMindfulness drive-through and order up some mindfulness with a Coke and fries. It has become a hack, a technique — cheap food for the mind with limited nutritional value; empty and void.

Let’s be clear, surface-level mindfulness can have quickly emerging benefits. But early on, these benefits can be like sand castles built at the beach; sooner or later, they will be washed away by the tide. In order to fully reap the benefits of mindfulness, digging deeper is necessary. Jon Kabat-Zinn talks of meditation practice as the slow, disciplined work of digging trenches. “You can’t just think you understand how to be mindful and save using it for the moments when big events or stress hit. They will overwhelm you instantly. You need to lay the groundwork in the calm times so it is there in the stressful times. Over and over again, we must practice finding stillness and embodying equanimity.” As the saying goes, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training.

To really experience the benefits of mindfulness, we need to dig deeper than the drive-through McMindfulness variety and nourish the trio of mind, body, and spirit. This path is hard work and takes a lot of courage because it involves moving toward difficult emotions and thoughts. As Pema Chodron wrote, “Like all explorers, we are drawn to discover what’s out there without knowing yet if we have the courage to face it.” As we all know, our culture likes definitive outcomes – being in control while getting to the result quickly. But, mindfulness doesn’t operate like this. Choosing this path is fundamentally about deliberate discomfort — simple, yet not easy. Although it is the road less traveled and we might have reservations about going inward for fear of what we might find, we must dare to face it. As it is said, “the only way out is through” and mindfulness is the appropriate tool that will allow us to dig deep and come out the other end.

The rule of thumb with mindfulness: what gets practiced gets improved. As athletes, servicemembers, and businesspeople, we seem to intuitively understand this idea and know that we need to devote hours upon hours, years upon years to honing skills and becoming the best we can be. We understand that when we begin a new skill, like riding a bike or marksmanship, we don’t immediately become an expert. It is a long and arduous process of practice that we embark on to perfect these skills. The same is true for mindfulness practice.

It can be helpful to think about mindfulness like a parachute. It can come in handy when life gets difficult and things fall apart. But, we can’t wait until we are freefalling towards the ground to start weaving our parachute. If we want it to be available in the tough times, we need to cultivate it in times of peace. So, over the next nine articles, we will share with you science-backed strategies to help you find stillness, cultivate equanimity, connect to the spirit, and improve your performance. We will also provide practical exercises and guidance to help you dig your trenches and weave your parachutes of mindfulness. To get you started, here is a short breathing meditation from Headspace. We suggest doing this meditation five days this week. Headspace Mini Meditation 1 min

In closing, a word of advice on building and sticking to a mindfulness practice. To paraphrase to an old Zen Koan, first, we must develop a routine and commit to it.  Then, we need to cultivate the capacity to easily let go of it. Join us as we dig deep and resist the on-demand culture of our times. Onward and inward. 

Reference List

Hallowell, N. (n.d.). Note From Ned. Dr. Hallowell. https://drhallowell.com/category/note-from-ned/page/12/

Purser, R., & Loy, D. (2013). Beyond mcmindfulness. Huffington post, 1(7), 13.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2009). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. Hachette Books.

Pema Chodron (2000). “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times”, p.1, Shambhala Publications

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2009). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. Hachette Books.

Williams, M., & Penman, D. (2011). Mindfulness: An eight-week plan for finding peace in a frantic world. Rodale.

Stulberg, B. (2020, February 5). The Truth About Routines. Outside. https://www.outsideonline.com/2408732/truth-about-routines

MichaelGerson