We find ourselves immersed in a hyper-competitive, goal-obsessed culture where striving and achieving is highly valued. However, when we never disengage from striving it becomes detrimental to our mental well-being. With mindfulness meditation we can practice non-striving and disengaging from our striving mode.
Non-striving doesn’t make sense if you’re immersed in a hyper-competitive, goal-obsessed culture like most of us are.
A friend of mine told me about her response to another colleague who is training to swim the English Channel. Her colleague stuck a “Swim 40 km” sticker on the back of his car and my friend said to him, “Good thing it says SWIM on there, because you wouldn’t want anyone thinking you only ran 40km and didn’t make it the rest of the 2 km to the finish line of a marathon.”
My friend, just like most of us, is a goal-oriented person and live in a corner of the world that breeds overachievers, so the idea of setting aside a half hour to do nothing (meditation is non-doing) makes her uncomfortable. She twitches, adjust her legs, and stretch her neck. She sees the long to-do list pop up in her vision as she shuts her eyes, and does her best to let it go. Even scarier is a life of non-striving.
Beth1 calls herself a “recovering striver.” Twenty years ago she was immersed in a high-pressure and successful career as a consultant for a large advertising agency. Too much pushing and striving resulted in a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. She was unable to work full-time for five years. The practice of mindful meditation and mindfulness practice allowed her to reclaim her life. Now she is so passionate about it that she has dedicated her career to helping others become “recovering strivers.”
Pete2 belongs in her flock. The debilitating depression that descended on him last summer has slowed down many of his biological systems. A lingering cognitive haze makes it impossible to accomplish what he used to be able to do in short periods of time. Before the crash, he was able to crank out ten blog posts a week. Now he is happy to publish three.
With meditation, there are no numbers or goals.
[Meditation] has no goal other than for you to be yourself. The irony is that you already are. This sounds paradoxical and a little crazy. Yet this paradox and craziness may be pointing you toward a new way of seeing yourself, one in which you are trying less and being more.
Reflecting on my own experience of understanding non-striving, I realized that initially “striving to meditate well” with the goal to relax became a hindrance, because I tried so hard to relax that I judged myself as “not being calm” and as “not Ok the way I am”. This attitude undermines what we are trying to do in mindfulness which is simply to pay attention to whatever happens.
By adopting a non-striving attitude through being fully engaged in whatever you are doing without the struggle to get anywhere other than where you are, I discovered the benefits of mindfulness meditation. I learned through a non-striving attitude to still put my best effort in to be fully attending to the present and be more open to new possibilities emerging in the moment.
Each of the seven attitudes of mindfulness relies on each other and influences how easily we cultivate the others. For example, if I can cultivate acceptance of where I am with a chronic illness, I can better let go of the goals I once set for myself and practice “non-striving.” And if I can pay attention to my thoughts without judging them, I can more easily develop a basic trust in myself and in my feelings.
The Mindfulness & ACT For Beginners group therapy program facilitated by clinical psychologists, Dr. Ilze Grobler & Dr. Christina Reynolds (www.zestinfusion.com.au) introduces participants to the 7 attitudes of mindfulness. As we learn to apply each of the seven attitudes to our formal and informal meditation practices, they become a foundation on which to build a more meaningful, purposeful life.
1 & 2 Pseudonyms for purpose of confidentiality
Reference: Kabat-Zinn, J. (2004 edition), Full catastrophe living: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation, London: Piatkus
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