In one of my recent coaching sessions, the client turned up in a very agitated state. Even before they sat down, they launched into a torrent of free-flowing irritation directed at their manager, their colleagues, the organisation as a whole and generally “the way we do things round here”.
They were caught up in a state of complaint about how “other people just aren’t doing it right”. Their world view had collapsed into a monochromatically binary state of right and wrong. And right now other people were wrong.
In a situation like this, I usually try to elicit even more information from the client. I deliberately ask them to share more of their irritations so that their experience is further amplified and their projections are more firmly articulated. After a while, the client usually becomes quieter and starts to recognise the black and whiteness of their current perspective. At this point, I change the conversation and ask the question:
“what proportion of the time are you walking around mindfully / fully conscious of what you are doing?”
One client had an interesting way of talking about this: she said she noticed that there were three different states she could be in:
- a passive one where she reacted mechanically to the world around her like a billiard ball;
- one where she worked hard to spot things happening and responded to these stimuli;
- one where she freely resonated with her context.
It was only in the third state that this client felt ‘in flow’, mindful, grounded, present and able to freely respond from her intuitive / higher self. She reckoned that she had only been in this state for a few moments over the past year and calculated it at 0.001% of her life … [pie chart diagram of the three states]
When we consider things from this mindful frame, it becomes easier to appreciate that for much of our time, we are walking around in a mindless state – one where we are simply reacting to events, or working hard to choose what response to make. This frame helps us to appreciate the importance of developing a strong and stable level of attention in everyday life … if we have an attention deficit, then we will be perpetually distracted by our thoughts, feelings, outside events and not be able to remain present.
I sometimes get people to reflect on their mindful minute, or ask them to stare at a watches second hand for a minute to ‘test’ their mindfulness. If they can do either without being distracted / without identifying with the millions of sensations, emotions, thoughts that arise, then they are in an advanced state of mindfulness. If they can’t do this, then they begin to see how mindless their everyday lives are.
Once we can begin to accept our mindlessness, two things usually begin to arise:
- A sense of self-criticism … a voice that says: “I should be able to do this …”
- An impulse to do something about it …
In teaching clients how to be more mindful, one of the most important lessons is in training oneself to be more self-compassionate. Mindfulness is a two part cycle: the first half of the cycle is about whatever event we are caught up in in a mindless way … [diagram]. Once we notice our mindlessness, the second part of the cycle kicks in and is usually a self-flagellation, a criticism, a sharp contraction around “Unnnh – you idiot – why are you doing THAT again!”
If we want to evolve our attention, our consciousness and our state of being, we must find a way to be compassionate at the point of noticing. We must relax, soften, open our heart and allow the sensations to move through us. As we begin to bring a compassionate light to ourselves in the act of noticing our very mindfulness, we paradoxically become mindful. When we are more fully present to our very limitations we become more freed up.
As we practice self-compassion, as we focus our attention on a relaxation in the face of our contractions, as we train ourselves to be mindful in the moment of mindlessness, we begin to experience more and more moments of flow, of resonance, of obviousness in the face of intractability. And when we apply this very act of compassion to the ‘other’, the very people we think are ‘inflicting’ pain and suffering onto ourselves, we notice a profound change in our relationship. With an open heart and a compassionate field a space for dialogue can be created – we can start to be curious, inquisitive about what’s going on for the other.
As we do more and more of this work, we begin to increase our tolerance for more and more people in the world – we begin to understand the meaning of the phrase ‘Love thine Enemy’. We can be compassionate towards all the people who are inadvertently and mindlessly acting in ways that could create pain onto others.
And we also begin to see the origin of our own suffering … our ego. We see how it’s only the ego that suffers and when we are in a mindful start of resonance we don’t experience suffering. This starts us on a new quest – how might I live more of my life in the flow state … the cat is now firmly amongst the pigeons.