2021 is in full swing – and so am I. At least that’s the theory.
Practically I’ve been crafting THE perfect New Year’s post for the past two weeks – and of course I stressed myself out about it.
As I indicated in ‘outdated’, I want to start afresh this year – with my creative processes and also in my professional life. The year has just begun and I had already been pressuring myself towards ‘a new me’. Guess what? I cracked solemnly with this approach – and disclosed a deep truth: Change is hard.
Transformation is a long and tiring process. It requires determination. It includes the celebration of small wins and the acceptance of continuous losses.
This is what change is: It is the destruction of the old and the creation of the new – all at once. And: It is not a straight line. Inherently ‘change’ is messy.
“Being the change” – This is nothing simple to strive for. It denotes the turning of the tides and the solidity of a rock at the same time.
The other day, on one of my numerous walks during lockdown, I saw a sticker at a gutter that shouted the catchphrase: “Be the change.”
‘I am the change!,’ something inside of me shouted back.
I exhaled and felt a sense of ease when I understood: ‘I am a prototype. I evolve in iterations.’
These days we all are ‘the change’. And this big change doesn’t happen overnight. It is uncomfortable and debilitating at times and it doesn’t smell like incense sticks and essential oils.
These days I remember what this blog is about. This blog is the result of a lot of frustration and the realisation that there is no change possible in this world, if I don’t start changing myself.
“The first step is to become aware of the fog that is in your mind. You must become aware that you are dreaming all the time. Only with awareness do you have the possibility of transforming your dream.”
As Miguel Ruiz induces in ‘The Four Agreements’: I became aware that I am not aware, when I started this blog experiment in 2017.
It dawned me that I’m the creator of everything in my life – all the achievements as well as all the turmoil.
Only gradually I comprehend the depth of the deconditioning process I got myself into:
Most of our life is determined by the subconscious. And most of the time we are unconscious about what our subconscious is doing. That’s why it’s called the subconscious. I’m referring to psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung here, who determined the state of the art when it comes to shadow work. He claims: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
So, how do we not let the subconscious rule our life? Or let’s say: How do we become conscious of the unconscious?
Yes, we practice mindfulness. (Yay, I got there in the end…)
Even though mindfulness experienced a devaluation due to its inflationary use. In my personal journey of self-discovery it continually increases its significance…
So: “What’s the role of mindfulness in the process of self-discovery?”
I would say mindfulness is the protagonist of this whole play. (In the end it’s a game. Call it karma if you like.)
So, what will happen to your life, if you become more mindful?
1. You Will Arrive Where You Are
Okay, where to begin? Just to make sure we have a common ground to start from: How do I define mindfulness here?
When you research the science of mindfulness, the first thing you are going to come across is the practice of mindfulness meditation or zen meditation.
From a buddhist point of view mindfulness is the essence of meditation: By watching your thoughts pass you will create a gap between you and your thinking. You will eventually learn to differentiate the thought from the thinker. With time you will start to perceive reality in a different, less personal way. Zen master and buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh describes meditation as ‘a serene encounter with reality’.
A german translation for the word mindfulness is ‘Geistesgegenwärtigkeit’. ‘Geist’ is the spirit or the mind. ‘Gegenwärtigkeit’ is the presence. ‘Presence of mind’. What is the presence of mind, if we look at it plainly? It is being aware of what our mind is doing…
There was a time in my life when I couldn’t peel potatoes or wash the dishes without getting an anxiety attack. I was not able to focus on the present moment, because I was so tangled up in my to-do-list. I was so focussed on my achievements that regular household-chores seemed to be a waste of time to me.
There was a huge discrepancy between what I was doing in the physical world and what was going on in my head.
Life became very dissatisfying this way, because I missed it.
Through mindfulness I started to return to the presence. Already meditating for a view minutes a day changed my perception of the world around me drastically.
Especially through long-term-travelling I learnt to look closely at things. By looking closely at my environment, I learnt to look closer at my thoughts, too.
I became mindful. I stopped rushing and I started to enjoy the small things again.
2. You Get To View Yourself From a Different Perspective
‘To be mindful’ means so much more than ‘arriving in the presence’. According to etymonline it can be translated as ‘remembrance’. I like that translation.
When you become mindful, you start to remember – not only how much pleasure it is to walk slow or to prepare fresh food, but over time you will remember who you are deep down inside…
“Know thyself,” is the only way to go in the process of ‘awakening’.
How do you want to ‘know thyself’, if you never take the time to actually look at who you are?
Mindfulness is your tool in becoming aware of yourself: What are you telling yourself each day? What do you truely enjoy doing? How do you treat yourself? What do you put in your body? Do you use a lot of I ‘shoulds’ or ‘musts’?
From my current perspective on ‘awakening’ it is a constant process of surfacing – layer after layer after layer. There is so much to look at:
There is your behaviour.
There is your way of thinking.
There is your environment.
There are the activities you invest your time in, the people you spend time with, what you eat, how you are treating your body and so on and so on…
It sounds simple, but it’s a big step to look at all aspects of yourself.
3. You Will Identify Triggers And Find A Way To Transform Them
For me it is still a painful and tenacious process to admit that I am the one who creates everything in my life – every success as well as all the chaos. And I don’t mean this in a sense of ‘prompting an order to the universe’.
I create by acting – in one way or another. If I don’t take the time to look at my actions and the roots of my actions I won’t live my own life, but the life controlled by a mind that is hacked by it’s conditioning – determined by reaction rather than intentional deed.
Luckily life offers potential for growth around every corner: Triggers are the signposts towards the land of self-discovery!
These days I get triggered a lot! And every trigger shows me an arena of my life, where I’m not willing or not able to take responsibility for my own life at the moment.
4. You Will Reveal Your True Motives
A quote of buddhist nun Pema Chördrön demonstrates the role of mindfulness in the process of self-discovery: “The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”
What do you want? And what do you think you want? How do you spend your time?
The more your start looking at yourself, the more you will ask yourself why you behave a certain way. And this is where the magic of mindfulness starts to unfold.
What drives you, really? What are your true values? Which values do you share with your friends and your family?
We are conditioned to believe in what we see. “To have faith is to believe unconditionally,” writes Don Miguel Ruiz in “The Four Agreements”.
What we see in our own reality is not what we are or what we are capable of. It is a story that either we have created ourselves or that has been told in order to make life a comprehensible experience. The human mind loves context.
It’s good to have context, but expansion can only happen if we create ‘space’ for ourselves. Imagine for a moment you would pursue exactly what you want to achieve in your life. You think you would fail? Have you tried it? I wrote an article on this two years ago…
The more mindful you become the more you will realize that the image you have created of yourself is just – yes – an image. You can easily rewrite it, reframe it, recolour it. But first you have to identify which story you are telling yourself.
The more aware you become of your true feelings and your needs the more aware you will automatically become of which beliefs are holding you back.
Slowly you will uncover your motives, recover your faith and ‘reinvent’ your own conditioning. But remember, it happens in iterations. And iterations are NEVER a straight line.
5. You Will Eventually Start Acting
For a long time I wanted to learn another language apart from english. But something inside of me always blocked me from pursuing it. Until I realized that I just have to do it – despite the belief inside of me that I don’t have the capacity to do it.
The reality was that I didn’t even get started, because by default I thought I would fail. By practicing mindfulness I identified my false belief system. I found out that a lack of self-confidence underlies nearly every shortcoming that I perceive. My lack of self-discipline was caused by this lack of self-esteem.
So, how did I eventually start learning Italian? I established a tiny language learning routine. And with the first results my old beliefs started to fade. There was no foundation anymore for my old beliefs, because over time I undoubtedly made progress. When I ordered my first breakfast in Florence in Italian followed by a loose conversation with the waiter I couldn’t deny it anymore: I am able to learn another language! This experience of self-efficacy opened my eyes.
And this is how I’m wishing to approach all challenges throughout 2021 and beyond.
6. You Will Start To Love Yourself More
What I understood throughout the practice of mindfulness is that I have needs that want to be met. The more I understand this, the more I’m starting to value myself and the more I understand what this self-love is everybody talks about (including myself).
More and more I understand that I’m not crazy, but human. ‘A human in denial’ could be a title for my book. (I don’t know where that came up from, but I won’t erase it from this post. Who knows – maybe it’s valuable information.)
It’s a Process
Okay, I realized that this article doesn’t really find an end.
There are SO many aspects to address around mindfulness. What I wanted to get across is that self-development is called self-development for a reason.
There is something to develop. It is already there, but we can’t see it. Like a film reel. We need to soak in various liquids and hang from the ceiling to dry in order to get a full image of who we really are. But be careful not to overexpose. Haha, that’s what I like doing. It results in tears and lengthy blog posts like this one.
As I mentioned at the very beginning: change is hard. This whole awakening process is not a straight line. It’s easier said than done to transform negative thinking patterns. But it is not impossible. I have the suspicion that we reached a point collectively where change is not to be suspended.
To throw in another Thich Nhat Hanh: “If we want to become mindful rather than just knowing about mindfulness, we need to establish our own regular practice.”
It is easy to do things the same way over and over again. It is easy to cling to assumptions about the world and about ourselves, because they allow us to stick to our belief patterns. They are convenient, because they don’t require will-power.
It is an effort to change our belief system, yes. But it is doable with awareness, patience and compassion.
“nobody can save you but
you will be put again and again
into nearly impossible
they will attempt again and again
through subterfuge, guise and
to make you submit, quit and/or die quietly
nobody can save you but
and it will be easy enough to fail
so very easily
but don’t, don’t, don’t.
just watch them.
listen to them.
do you want to be like that?
a faceless, mindless, heartless
do you want to experience
death before death?
nobody can save you but
and you’re worth saving.
it’s a war not easily won
but if anything is worth winning then
this is it.
think about it.Charles Bukowski
think about saving your self.”