In Pursuit of Mindfulness

Life + Faith

July 11, 2016

In Pursuit of Mindfulness

I graduated from college 7 months ago. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays I work at the University that released me and on weekends, I work as a restaurant hostess. When I graduated from school, my goal was to work somewhere that I could write. I didn’t specify what kind of writing though, and so the universe answered with guest checks and outlook emails. Throughout this period, I’ve dealt with doubt, anxiety, anger, resentment, and most of the negative emotions along the spectrum of ‘what am I doing with my life.’

About a month ago, I started listening to a podcast called, Buddhism Guide, and came to a pretty jarring revelation. The negative thoughts occupying my headspace, the constant chatter of, “You’re not good enough, you’re not smart enough, you’re weak, you’re broken, you’ve failed, you’re not worthy of love,” were something I could control, react to, and stop. I picked up a book on meditation from the library called, Finding the Still Point by John Daido Loori and began trying to do just that, find some stillness amidst my chaotic mind. It’s not that meditation makes the negative thoughts go away all together. Something will always trigger a knee-jerk thought of anger, defensiveness, etc. Instead, it gives you a toolset to begin controlling your thoughts.

My issue has always been that a negative thought arises and I cradle it. I rock it in my arms and it grows, it gets bigger, more powerful, and adds weight to my mind. The negative thought bounces off the walls of my brain and wakes up different neurological centers. It says, “Hey, wake up, you should think about this too. How could this destroy us?” And thus, my anxiety builds and begins to feel insurmountable. When I would catch myself in these patterns of negative thought, I would get mad at myself. I would yell, “Stop it. What is the matter with you? Why are you thinking like that?” And my sadness would grow and the cycle continued.

Meditation teaches you to catch your thought at the baseline. The thought fires off and you respond. You hear the negativity, you acknowledge it—there is no need to deny or condemn it—and you release it from your mind. This works when you’re meditating, but it also works when you’re living. For example: I’m working at the restaurant, someone snaps at me for not being able to seat them right away. My knee jerk reaction is to get mad back, to answer rudeness with rudeness. The key is catching this thought and considering it before you react. Why is this person angry? They’re hungry, they want to sit down with people they love, and they’re probably disappointed. And I’m the one delivering the disappointing news.

In this moment of pausing, breathing, and acknowledging, a lot of important emotional work happens. You choose empathy over instant gratification, which ultimately is far more satisfying. Meditation makes it easier to differentiate truth and emotional recklessness. Now the difficulty comes in applying these principles to my writing, focusing on the behavior and not the goal. The thought process must evolve from, “This is what I want,” to: “These are the behaviors I must practice every day in order to obtain what I want.” Making your dreams come true must become as habitual as brushing your teeth or doing the dishes. Eventually, you’ll find that having to make your dreams come true is as sensible as having to brush your teeth and do the dishes.

So now this is my mantra of sorts: “I am a writer who is building her repertoire, building her experiences, and building her empire.” You don’t have to be a writer to tell yourself this though, it’s a fill in the blank sentence and you choose the blanks. The important thing is training your thoughts to enable your greatness rather than disable it.