I had been meaning to write a post in Medium for some time, and it took a recent Wired article about me and others that spurred me to do it. The article brings up issues I would like to address. The first is around practicing mindfulness as a means to “get ahead” or make more money.
There is a tendency to use anything as a means to an end … “I am doing this one thing, but I expect to get this other thing out of it.” The moment is not engaged fully, but is used as a stepping stone to a hopeful future moment. This approach has its limits. As one Zen teacher put it, “With one eye on the destination, there is only one eye left to find the way.” Thus, we are never actually present.
Now, does this mean that we need to blindly take action with no sense of possible benefit? I think not. But the benefit comes in its own from being present, not as a means to an end. Interviewing the former mindfulness teacher for the Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers some time back, he told me he tells players, “If you try to get in the zone, you can’t.” It is not about trying to make something happen. He went on to say it only comes from engaging the moment as it is.
It is this “as is” that is the heart of it. If you ask yourself, “What is wrong with this moment I am living right now?” what do you discover? Your mind could say, “I should have more money, I should be more successful, I should not have this conflict with my partner I am having, I should not have this back pain, etc.” But try to find some moment in life where there is not something “wrong,” where there is not someone acting in a way we think they should not … and we may wait forever.
Winston Churchill described history as “one damned thing after another.” And if we are always trying to get somewhere other than where we are, to change the external to make our internal feel better, this is how life feels. There is always one damned thing after another getting in the way of our inner peace or our getting ahead.
Now when there is less resistance to what is, less fighting with life, does that bring about more ease, and potentially more economic opportunity? Quite possibly. People want to be around us and maybe do business together. But if that is your goal, and you are using the moment as a means to an end, and thus you are less present, will you experience this ease? Quite unlikely. It turns out life is much more interested in our growth than our agenda. It asks for a full embrace.
If desire for power or money is arising in the moment, there is something calling our attention. We can feel that deeply in the present moment and access that in ourselves … or we can create a future-based agenda on how we can get it. If the latter worked, those with the most power would feel the most powerful, those with the most money would feel the most fulfilled, and those with the most popularity would feel the best about themselves. Definitely not the case, and quite often, just the opposite is true.
So while people spout off the benefits of mindfulness to “get that” or “achieve this,” I think it is good to remember that the only moment we ever live is now, and that if we are not enjoying “this now,” what makes us think we will any more enjoy “some future now” where there is more of x or less of y in our life?