When we learn to focus on and embrace the process of experiencing life, whether we’re working towards a personal aspiration or working through a difficult time, we begin to free ourselves from the stress and anxiety that are born out of our attachment to our goals, our sense that ” I can’t feel happiness until I reach my goal.” This ” goal” always takes the form of someplace we have not yet reached, something we don’t have but will at some point, and then, we believe, all will be right in our life.When we subtly shift toward both focusing on and finding joy in the process of achieving instead of having the goal, we have gained a new skill. And once mastered, it is magical and incredibly empowering.
Everything in life worth achieving requires practice. In fact, life itself is nothing more than one long practice session, an endless effort of refining our motions. When the proper mechanics of practice are understood, the task of learning something new becomes a stress-free experience of joy and calmness, a process which settles all areas in your life and promotes proper perspective on all of life’s difficulties. This method of practice needs a desire to learn but also a need to not focus on the goal but the process. When the mind practices in this way, it is not worried about the result. We engage our whole being in the present moment doing what we are doing and completely aware of what we are experiencing. We are not in our thoughts but we act as the observer of our thoughts and use the thoughts to serve ourselves. We are aware of ourselves. We just keep doing what we have to do in a calm and measured way with no worry about whether we reach the goal or not. This is what probably Lord Krishna meant when he said: Do your duty but do not worry about the results. How calming and peaceful if we really followed it all the time!
To do this we need both patience and discipline. A paradox of life is both of them require the other. They go hand in hand. When we practice we are involved in the deliberate repetition of a process with the intention of reaching a specific goal. It is more than just passively learning something. It is where we focus on the process of doing something and not on the product or outcome. These rules may help:
- Keep yourself process-oriented.
- Stay in the present.
- Make the process the goal and use the overall goal as a rudder to steer your efforts.
- Be deliberate, have an intention about what you want to accomplish, and remain aware of that intention.
As we practice this way of living, let go of all thoughts of perfection. As we attempt to understand ourselves and our struggles with life’s endeavours, we may find peace in the observation of a flower. Ask yourself: At what point in a flower’s life, from seed to full bloom, does it reach perfection. The answer, as you may have figured out is that it is always perfect. In the same way, you are also perfect in this moment and every moment till eternity. Yes, you will grow like a flower in many ways but in essence you are always perfect. With this attitude and staying present-moment and process oriented you will find that you can be full of peace and calm no matter what you are doing.
Habits are learned. Choose them wisely. Be aware that all your motions, be they physical or mental, are habits and that you have the power to choose which habits you will create. This will liberate you. You are in control. Remember that if you start to experience an emotion such as frustration, you have fallen out of the process. You are back in the false sense of thinking, ” There is some place other than where I am actually now that I need to be. Only then I will be happy”. This is totally untrue and counterproductive. To the contrary, you are exactly where you should be right now. You are a flower.
This way of living requires patience. All the patience you will ever need is already within you.
The first step toward patience is to become aware of when your internal dialogue is running wild and dragging you with it. Step back and notice the real you, the Observer who just quietly watches all this drama as it unfolds. As you practice staying in the present you will become more aware of the difference between the real you and your ego’s internal dialogue, without trying to do so. This will happen automatically. Staying in the present and in the process is the first part of the perspective change that creates patience.
The second step in creating patience is understanding and accepting that there is no such thing as reaching a point of perfection in anything. True perfection is always evolving and always present in you, just like the flower. What you perceive as perfect is always relative to where you are in your life. You will never be happy when X happens. You need to let go of the futile idea that happiness is out there somewhere and understand the endless quality to life and embrace the infinite growth that is available to us as a treasure and not as something we are impatient to overcome. You attain a sense of freedom in knowing that you would never run out of room to grow. The race is over. Where you are right now is where you should be. Your real joy is found in your ability to learn and experience your growth, moment by moment. There is no need to look at the end-point, although for practical purposes you will glance at it occasionally. Progress will come, as it is the natural result of staying focused on the process of doing anything. When you stay on purpose, focused in the present moment, the goal comes toward you with frictionless ease. On the other hand, if you constantly focus on the goal, it goes further away from you. The real thrill of acquiring anything, whether it is an object or a personal goal, is your anticipation of the moment of receiving it. Once you acknowledge the goal, let go of it, put your energy into the practice and process that will move you toward that goal. You are patient because your perspective has changed and doing the process is akin to achieving your goal. You are always achieving your goal and there are no mistakes or time limits to create stress.
There are four techniques which can help with this process:
- Simplify. Simplify a project or activity by breaking it down into its component sections. Don’t set goals that are too far beyond your reach. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
- Small. Be aware of your final goal. But break it into small sections that can be achieved with a comfortable amount of concentration.
- Short. Do it for a short period of time
- Slow. Do it slowly. Slowly means to work at a pace that allows you to pay attention to what you are doing. You need to be aware of what you are doing. You will do it faster, with less energy and lose your sense of time.
You can do this for any area of your life. As you keep doing this, the Observer within you will become more apparent, you watch yourself going through daily life and you will become more and more aware of when you are in the present moment and process oriented and when you are not. You will slip back into the product mindset now and then but you will realign yourself. Keep thinking of yourself as the flower. You are always perfect.
The fifth technique that can help with this process is to develop equanimity. Equanimity is even-temperedness and calmness. It comes from the art of nonjudgment. Nonjudgment quiets the internal dialogue of our mind and is the pathway to a quiet mind. We judge everything in life from the moment we wake up and even our sleep. We filter it through our opinions, preferences and past experiences compare it to some imagined ideal in the present or the past. This is necessary to function in life, but we don’t judge with a detached nature and that creates issues. We judge them emotionally and that leads to disappointment and exultation which disturbs the peace and calmness we are seeking. Our concepts of ideal and perfect keeps changing and what we consider good or bad for us also keeps changing. When we become aware of us, we realise that we have an observer as well as ego within us. The observer just accepts what is and does not judge. The ego judges everything and it is never content. To become equanimous we need to align with the observer and the best method is probably meditation and there are a lot of resources available and even many posts in this blog for you to get started.
An adjunct to this is the method of DOC. DOC stands for do, observe and correct. Do is the action or the thought you have done or had. Observe is just being aware of what you have done and whether that is what you want. Then if it is not what you want, you change it . No judgment, no emotion is involved.
Wisdom is not a by-product of age. Teach and learn from all those around you. Our priorities and kids’ priorities are the same: sense of security, lots of free time and experiences that are fun and free from stress. But some things are different: their sense of time. Kids naturally live in the present but then they cannot see the value of discipline and patience that is required in long-term growth. This is a paradox as the ability to see long-term and simultaneously live in the present moment is what we yearn for and that is difficult and that is what we want to develop.
Delay discussion of difficult events may help to remove emotion and deal with it on an objective basis. Delaying gratification may help to realise the transitory nature of our desires. Teach with your actions. Listen to how they feel they are living their lives. Focus on real priorities, good perspective and engaging their practicing mind.
Stay in the present moment. Make the process your goal and not the outcome or product. In that way you will experience a sense of success every moment. With deliberate and repeated effort on the process, progress is inevitable. We will then truly understand and realise that material things, like houses, cars, status, position all will come and go, what is truly with your forever is the love you have created for others and the Divine you have realised. All material success, if grasped for themselves will reveal their emptiness. Let go of instant gratification and focus on the process of living that will reveal who you really are.
-reflections from the book, ‘The Practicing Mind’ by Thomas Sterner