Mindfulness, Consistency, and You

Maurício Barbato (Brazilian, b. 1963), Southeast Forest, 2005. Acrylic on canvas, 80 x 119.4 cm. (Yes, this is a painting.)

Getting started is often the most difficult part of any endeavor. The human mind will do anything to procrastinate, especially when it has been trained by distractions and a general cultural acceptance of laziness. A few years ago it was discovered that nearly half of all the people who take anti-depressants have nothing wrong with them chemically. Having gone through periods of both profound laziness and profound productivity, I can say with assurance that what people sometimes misperceive as depression is often just a sense of purposelessness. A lack of direction makes one feel hopeless, but direction is self-imposed. In other words, the ball is in your court. Recognizing this is a crucial step in reorienting yourself towards a life of meaning.

Let’s back up for a second. Thinking from a Zen or a Taoist perspective, the key to accomplishing anything is the details. Lao Tzu famously said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Some people achieve great things and never feel satisfied. Some people achieve nothing and feel perfectly satisfied. Others achieve great things and feel perfectly satisfied. The key to belonging to the latter group of humans is to focus on the details rather than the big picture. Make each step count while also detaching yourself from expectations.

How does this relate to the previous paragraph about self-imposed depressive periods? Well, if you haven’t trained yourself to be detail-oriented, you likely indulge in a variety of small behaviors that contribute to the feeling of meaninglessness. Contrast the aforementioned anti-depressant statistics with statistics for junk food, Netflix, porn, smoking, drugs, physical inactivity, video games, illiteracy, and financial irresponsibility and you start to paint a pretty grim picture of a large portion of the modern population. People think they are depressed because they’ve neglected the fine print of life. They feel that they have no hope because they exhibit behaviors that show they have given up. They take individualism as an excuse to be indulgent and hedonistic rather than controlled and intelligent.

The key to reverse this destructive cycle is mindfulness. It’s why meditation has become so popular. Meditation wakes people up from this existential slumber. Those who are least disciplined, healthy and happy are often the first ones to jump at the throats of anyone who criticizes their lifestyle. People only become defensive when they recognize truth in what the critic is saying, but feel helpless in the face of this truth. The person who is self-satisfied and confident in the details of their life experiences no ill feelings towards critics. Most of the time they don’t even pay attention to critics!

Meditation allows you to receive criticism from the deepest parts of yourself with grace. It allows you to reflect. It lets you recognize your complete freedom in this world, but simultaneously recognize that indulging in whatever you want is not the way towards contentment. It’s actually just a path towards more craving. Meditation reminds you that what you perceive as unhappiness with life is often just unhappiness with petty circumstances. Changing these circumstances can revolutionize your emotional state.

Most importantly, mindfulness teaches us consistency. A thousand miles is roughly 2,000,000 steps. That’s a lot of steps. If we think about how many steps that is it makes us want to go drink a whiskey, smoke a cigarette, and bark at the moon. How the hell are we going to make the most of 2,000,000 steps? That’s the indulgent attitude. The mindful attitude is to simply start walking. Thich Nhat Hanh titled one of his books, “Peace is Every Step”. Think about that sentence as you go about your day. When you choose peace in a moment of profound distress, you make the most of that step. When you decide to use problems as fuel rather than getting angry, you make the most of that step. You get the idea.

You can never know for certain if you will make it 1,000 miles. We all die. We all get ill. You can’t know when it’s going to happen. But in making the most of each step, you cultivate health, knowledge, and consistency. Every healthy, wise and consistent step builds you up to be a healthier, wiser, and more consistent person. This sounds so simple but it’s important. The decision to learn, grow and be honest with yourself will help you rise above what you perceive as the underlying meaningless of life. This is what spiritual practice and mindfulness does for people. Instead of indulging, you learn to let go. Letting go will go a long way.

Get my book here.

Support Daily Zen with a monthly donation.

Get Daily Zen delivered to your inbox.