Compassion Training 2: Mindful or Mindless?

In my last post, Compassion Training: Trying not to fall in the hole, I described the eight-week online compassion/mindfulness course I’m taking. Each week we have meditative tasks to practice and reflect on. My hope is to write a bit about something from each week that has had an impact on me, and how it relates to teacher/learning. Below is something that struck me during week 1.

*Reflections

What causes you to lose contact with mindfulness in your day? What are the situations in your life / experience in which you find it most difficult to be mindful? What would support you in bringing mindfulness into these parts of your life?

As I was typing the question above, I felt a desire to click on Facebook and my hand reached out to click the new fitness app I downloaded on my iPhone. Clearly, social networks are external stimuli that keep me from being mindful. They chop up the moment, making it necessary for me to put pieces of that moment together again. It feels like I’m starting from the beginning every time. Not an easy task. I know paying attention to the moment creates satisfying results, but I just can’t resist the click!

Click!!!

*Practices

Continue to meditate every day, perhaps expanding the time from 20 to 30 minutes, cultivating mindfulness of the breath. Take time in the week, both in formal sitting practice and at other times, to notice when you are feeling uncomfortable, either in your mind, body or heart.

After writing the answer above, I had a strong urge to stop thinking about all this. I felt uncomfortable and I could hear myself thinking I needed to be doing something else, so I decided this might be the perfect moment to work on the following task:

Notice how you are relating to the uncomfortable experience – with care or reaction?

Reaction! Here were my thoughts at that moment:

I want to check Twitter; Byongchan is doing things in the kitchen so I should help him; my stomach is grumbling so I want to get a snack; I should bring Samsoon (our dog) for a walk so I need to get ready; my butt is asleep so I should get off it!

It was very hard not to do at least one of these things, but I sat with the discomfort. I just sat and allowed all my thoughts to happen: not judging, just watching. It took a while, but all those “shoulds” turned into curiosity. How could I worry about all those things at once? I wonder how often that happens during my day? How does it impact my ability to focus on what is happening around me?

Choosing this small moment of inner turmoil gave me a lot of insight into the power of patience and observation. By watching the feelings that were passing through me, they eventually moved along, and then I was able to make a decision that was more grounded. If I had chosen my regular pattern, reaction to any or all of those thoughts, I may have gone through the rest of the day in a frantic manner.

I know all the options I mentioned above weren’t decisions that were serious, but that is the power of that moment. It gave me something to weigh up against heavier moments. Like moments at school that require that extra bit of attention. The time when you have to plan a class, finish up paperwork, and your boss knocks on the door. That moment when a student tells you something he has been too afraid to tell anyone else. Those times when you wonder how your class could have taken such a wrong turn. All these moments might not be as intimidating from a mindful place. The only way I can test this is to keep aiming for mindfulness rather than my old mindless reactions.  Practice sitting rather than clicking. We’ll see how that goes. Six more weeks to go.

For more about mindfulness, I recommend visiting:

*The Reflection and Practices questions were provided by Mark Coleman, the teacher of the Compassion Training course.

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23 thoughts on “Compassion Training 2: Mindful or Mindless?

  1. Thank you for this Josette, It is immensely useful for me personally and gives me direction on my own path to becoming more mindful.

    I think what you said near the end struck me the most. It isn’t the big decisions on which we practice to become more mindful, its the small every day ones that allow us to hone our abilities. It is the daily work with daily events that give us the strength and presence of mind to be there for the big moments.

    This is something I have utterly failed to address. This failure has left me confused and demotivated when the big moments have come and I haven’t been up to the task. I have some free time now and in the next few months. I think I know where much of it will be directed to now!

    Thank you!

    John

    1. It’s hard to be present when big emotions rear their ugly head isn’t it? You really point to something important there, and the first step to change is just being able to see it. It’s a process and the only way to get through it is by knowing that it’s okay.

      I used to think that “doing you best” meant trying really hard. Pushing myself to the limit of my potential. But now I realize that doing my best is really doing what I can do with what I am given at the moment, and sometimes that isn’t so pretty. Hindsight right? But I feel so grateful for that hindsight. It is in looking back without self-judgment that we can start healing.

      Sorry that turned into a mini-teaching. :P

      Keep practicing the small moments John. I’m here with you. :)

  2. Hi Josette – I’m really happy that you are writing about ‘mindfulness’ as recently I’ve started to explore this myself, I recently attended a workshop led by Gen Kelsang Thekchen http://www.madhyamaka.org/resident-teacher/, he was so wise and i got to learn so much just in a day. I wanted to share some of his wisdom with you as a response to your post here.

    At the beginning of the session Gen Kelsang Thekchen compared our minds to that of a wild elephant, and that when such an elephant gets into a village, imagine the havoc and destruction it causes. Our minds are like this and we have to find a way of taming that wild animal. The first step as he put it is to be alert, to be mindful of what is going on in there at that moment. This is the first step, simply observing what is going on in our minds, being aware of those every moment thoughts that pass through our minds like clouds in the sky, there one minute and gone the next. He suggested that we should look at our thoughts, like a scientist simply observing, not getting involved, just noticing, making a note of those passing thoughts, not getting sucked in by them nor forcefully pushing them away.

    There is no doubt that this ability to simply observe is an incredible one.

    Thank you for your sharing your post, thoughtful as always.
    Richard

    1. Thank you for sharing these lessons Richard. The imagery they provide really help make something so intangible, tangible. The visual of the clouds really gives me a sense of ease around my thoughts. Instead of seeing them as these solid, forever constructs, they become less heavy and much easier to release. And the visual of the elephant reminds me of the metaphor of the elephant and the rider http://sourcesofinsight.com/the-elephant-and-the-rider/ used in relation to behaviour modification. I hadn’t made the connection to meditation, but it makes a lot of sense. You have found a wise teacher. Thank you for sharing his teachings with us.

      Maybe your days be full of observations. :) Your beautiful photography is evidence that you are already doing just that. :)

    1. You’re welcome Kang Ju-won! What a coincidence, I used to listen to him a lot too! I should revisit his talks. He is a great teacher. These days I really admire Tara Brach’s teachings and I listen to almost all the Sounds True podcasts.

  3. As I was here, sitting and reading your post, I looked around me and saw how many things I was doing at the same time, and wondering what really was my focus. Thank you for bringing me back to what really matters, dear Josette. As always!

    1. Dearest Malu,
      Thank you for stopping, for soaking in the moment, and for sharing it with me. When we take time to stop, it’s easy to see the magic isn’t it. Big love. <3

  4. I like your observations, Josette. I wonder though, what if we yielded completely to the tornado of experience and just flailed and flopped and failed and were helpless and confused and frightened… This is your one chance to get it wrong. “When the Perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.” Don’t hurry past.
    What I have found is that there is an observer, yes, we know about that – boring – but there is something beyond. There is the eye in the tornado seeing everything at once, but there is more. Something beyond detached observation. It moves, and is. “Seeing moves.” We are God’s children, so that means we must grow up to be …
    Love, Zulaikha

    1. Thank you for connecting me to your blog, Zulaikha. I think you captured it beautifully in this line of your poem:

      And watching the self disappear,
      a movie of a balloon popping –
      played back over minutes.
      It just… let go.
      The little pieces shrivelled up to nothing.
      It was so happy.

      This is the mysterious and magical part of just sitting. It is something that is hard to understand without trying it out for yourself. It seems we are speaking a similar language with different styles. :)

      Please feel free to share your links directly in my comment box. That way I’ll know exactly what you want to share with me. It’s much easier that way for everyone. :)

      Keep on shining!

  5. Hi Josette, another timely post. I think that without doing the same course we are mentally in sync with one another. Today when I arrived at work a teacher with whom I share some students had not even attempted to pack up from the lesson the day before. My first reaction was annoyance. Then I stopped and thought about how expressing this would just ruin both of our days and that there was probably a good reason, like being rushed off her feet, for the mess being left. Stopping and being mindful made my crankiness evaporate and we all had a pleasant day.

    When the tweet came through that your blog had been posted I was tempted to stop what I had planned to do this evening and read it. Now having met my goals for the night I have read your post and done it justice by reading and reflecting on it instead of rushing through it and i am really glad that I did :)

    1. I love this idea that we are mentally synched together. What other reason would there be for us to find each other on Twitter? ;) I am very much a believer of “things coming together at the right time without our conscious awareness.” My thoughts on this another day or perhaps on another blog. ;)

      Thank you, for sharing your experience with your colleague. It is always inspiring for me to learn how other teachers are coming to this topic. The possibilities are endless really.

      And I also appreciate you commenting on how you read my post after accomplishing your goals. I think there is a lot to be said about delaying certain activities after we accomplish other tasks. As you mention, it connects to a sense of peace and ease rather than a frantic rushed feeling. The more we can bring that into our lives, I have no doubt the better our lives could be.

      Thanks again for reading and synching Anne!

  6. Hi Josette

    Have I ever told you that when I see that you have a new blog post it makes me leave what I was doing and go and read it? I think I am trying to find a creative excuse to justify why I am easily distracted. Or… I am trying to say that our mind can decide on priorities (once we give a chance to it) and then if we follow our mind, or heart, the discoveries might be amazing.

    I often find that I am able to focus more on the students or course participants if my problems or questions outside the classroom seem to be too serious/heavy at that very moment; after the lesson or a training session those problems feel or seem easier. Again, this might prove the idea that being really focused and mindful is powerful on so many levels (and bring our personal and professional self together…)

    Thank you for your insights and sharing!

    1. You’re comments always make me smile, Zhenya. You have a way of bringing warmth and light into my heart. Thank you for that. The way you described how you come to my blog was a lot of fun. :)

      When I read about how teaching gives you the pause you need when you are dealing with heavy problems outside class, the idea really clicked. I listen to a lot of podcasts and read a lot about what it means to be mindful, and theses questions always pops up, “when do you feel like you’re in the zone? When are you most mindful? Is there something that makes you feel like time doesn’t exist?” I think this is what happens for you here. Am I on the right track? And because you are focusing your attention on the moment, you are able to take a step back from other issues. In that stepping back, you develop lightness around the situation, or as I learned from my dharma buddy (my study partner on the course), the situation softens. I think you were right in your comment: I think it does prove something about the power of focus and mindfulness. Thank you for sharing such insight Zhenya! I learned a lot!

      1. Wow, VERY profound, can’t tell you how much your words relate to my experience, you Wise Woman, you!

        I particularly like these:

        ” I just can’t resist the click!”

        “The only way I can test this is to keep aiming for mindfulness rather than my old mindless reactions. Practice sitting rather than clicking.” (Or, being mindful in whatever way that fits best for us!)

        Thanks for helping me in my journey towards mindfulness!

        1. Thank you so much for your support Chuck! It means a lot to know you are out there reading, especially this. We have shared many conversations about the power of attending in one way or another.

          And yes, the first step is just being able to observe isn’t it? I still struggle, but at least I am able to see it now.

          Love & light NVC buddy!

  7. Sometimes I sit in front of the computer trying to read an article or trying to write a blog post, or trying to plan lessons or update my class’s website and at the same time thinking about all the other things I should be doing and noticing that a new email notification has popped up and there’s a little (1) next to the Facebook tab (maybe it’s a message!) and I haven’t refreshed Twitter in a while. And then I see myself noticing and just that awareness helps me stay on the task at hand. I haven’t yet figured out how to translate that into my classroom, where I’m a teacher who is thinking about 5 things at once and rarely manages to be fully present for my students.

    1. Thank you for the moment by moment replay of something that sounds incredibly familiar. Damn those little red 1s! ;) And we can’t forget checking for blog stats or new comments. Your lat point really got me thinking and realizing that I also am not sure how it translates into being fully present for my students. What I might do next time I teach is try to pay attention to where my mind wanders: am I thinking about board work? Am I concentrating my attention on only one person and not paying attention to the others? I’m not sure what it might look like, and how easy it will be without having an observer in class with me, but maybe the scattered social media me has a classroom doppelgänger. I’m curious for sure. Thanks for nurturing the curiosity Anne! XOXO

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