I’ve had some amazing realisations of late.
Through searching for answers to the question of ‘why I cannot tolerate working in a corporate environment?’ I have started to fully engage with and properly understand the fundamentals of Buddhism and Mindfulness.
There are many different schools of thought that give mindfulness diverse and different names, but they all deal with our ability to be attentive in the present moment.
I was Christened at a young age, but in my teens and early twenties I avoided learning anything that was remotely to do with religion. I was unfulfilled with the ideas of sin, confession and repentance. I found these areas negative and limiting and I held a misplaced belief that all religions shared this as a common foundation.
I first encountered mindfulness in 2004 when I read ‘The Way of the Peaceful Warrior’ by Dan Millman. A great story of mindfulness that has also been made into the film – Peaceful Warrior. Unfortunately for me, I had completely forgotten the very existence of this book and its teachings until my recent search for answers to why I was feeling stressed out about my job.
My interpretation is that mindfulness deals with the ability to focus your thoughts and attention on the present moment in time. Engaging mindfully gives you a heightened awareness of things that exist in your current environment, which means you are not dwelling on past or future thoughts (off in some daydream state).
The idea is that if you focus on ‘the now’ your mind cannot attach itself to thoughts of the past or future, which usually take the form of positive or negative (both extremes of the spectrum). How often do you find yourself having a neutral thought?
We all know that positive thoughts are awesome and make people happy.
Dwelling or focusing on negative thoughts is how we induce stress within the body, which (as most of us know) can manifest into mental and physical suffering (tension created by a chemical imbalance which is brought about when our natural fight or flight response is triggered). In our complex modern lives, stress can be triggered by negative thoughts that come from anything that does not align with our values or belief system. Thoughts (past or future) appear in our minds with (seemingly) pre-prescribed positive or negative feelings associated with them. These thoughts emanate from our subconscious mind, which acts like a computer processor that assimilates the stimuli from our senses and cross references them with our bias (core values, belief system, moral compass).
Not getting a good nights rest through worry (negative association) of the work presentation you have to give next week (thought of the future).
Day dreaming of last years (thoughts of the past) family holiday in the Bahamas with the warm sun and the clear blue water as you relax on the beach (positive associations).
If we perceive a thought as being positive or negative then we are passing judgement on it and giving it time of day. Mindfulness teaches us that our thoughts are impermanent in their nature and we do not need to judge them or latch onto them. We can let them pass by without effecting us and we can be completely non-judgemental with not only our thoughts, but also the stimuli that creates those thoughts.
In the case of the holiday example above – positive thoughts feel great, but achieving the real world version of those thoughts is what we are ultimately after. If our minds have total clarity in the present moment, then we are more likely to have a higher awareness for seizing opportunities in our environments when they present themselves. Understanding this allows a daydreamer to become an achiever.
Since understanding this, I have assessed my situation and realised that stress has only been apparent in my life when I have put myself in situations that do not align to my ‘personal bias’ or ‘moral compass’.
For me personally, this means any time I have tried to work in an agency or corporate environment. See ‘My Declaration of Independence‘ which is my personal promise and manifesto to never allow myself to be put in a working environment that makes me unhappy ever again.
Important Realisation – Mindfulness and Creative Practice:
I’m a laid back kinda guy, but my stresses first began when I stopped studying music (which was my passion and creative practice). I tried to work a day job whilst still continuing to pursue music in my spare time in the evenings and weekends and this did not work.
I have always been very interested in the dichotomy of creative arts practice versus profiteering and the balance of self-sustainability. Modern life is a war zone and balancing the art of living with creative passions and desire is not always an easy thing to do.
What I have learned from mindfulness is that when we are pursuing our creative outlets (a writer writing, a painter painting, a singer singing) we are all in the present moment. We are focussing on all the intricate stimuli that comes from our sensory of the creative environment (in the present moment).
I can easily spend a whole day writing a song or working in the studio with friends and not feel fatigued. I can probably go for about 2 hours before my mind starts to wander or I start to procrastinate in the office (and I am pretty sure I am not alone).
The presence of mindfulness within creative practice first occurred to me when a friend was talking about doing things on autopilot. She gave the perfect example of driving and how you can manage to get somewhere safely without being able to recall anything from the journey. When we drive alone (and we are not singing our hearts out to the radio) we are usually stuck deep in thought. Our brains automatically takes control of the safe operation of the vehicle, while we are off thinking about the plans for next months birthday party or the argument we had with the spouse earlier that morning.
The more I thought about mindfulness and creative practice the more compelling I found the links. In 2012 I went from creative song writing 7 days-a-week to cutting out all creative music practice completely for a whole year. I started to feel lethargic and my clarity, perception and mental arithmetic really started to diminish.
At first, I put it down to ageing and the fact that I had started smoking again. But since properly understanding mindfulness, my clarity and perception have once again been restored.
I am writing music again and expressing myself creatively in many other ways – such as this blog. Having the ability to be constantly mindful and properly assimilate information in the current moment puts (literally) everything you do into a new light, context and perspective.
“Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel’s life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted.” – Tyler Durden
This brings me to the point of newness and things being new. When we are young children, all of the stimulus we encounter is new and exciting. We have completely free and open minds and our imaginations offer us limitless potential. We can be mesmerised by the leaves of a tree or the stones in a pond and discover excitement and beauty in things that grown-ups would not even begin to comprehend.
The innocence of a child is a strength of not knowing or caring about something in the same way as you do once have comprehended it many times over (newness). I remember the feeling I had when I first saw the Sydney skyline lit up from Darling harbour. Now I cycle past the route I once took, trying to avoid the busyness and what was once such a spectacle.
This fresh-faced feeling of newness is what mindfulness offers to anyone willing to give it a try.
Creativity in the present moment is not just limited to the standard academic practices:
Who else discovers this magical sensory overload and maintains it throughout their being? Travellers. They say that once you become a long term traveller – you are a traveller for life and I believe this is because it puts you in a state of constant newness from constantly changing sensory of environment in the present moment.
Travelling through new countries with new sites and smells and culture puts us in the same state of mindfulness as the Buddha, a hadji or a creative artist. Travelling changed my life forever. I learned more from new interactions with new places, people, culture and all the other stimuli than I did from any formal education I had completed prior.
Real travellers and modern day pilgrims share a glowing happiness and wisdom that sees them completely content with being materially meager, yet mindfully rich.
I have met some of the happiest people in some of the remotest parts of the world with little more than the clothes on their back. They are not even aware of the stresses and dispositions apparent in the capitalist consumer paradigm.
Ask your average (western) middle age worker about the highlights of their year and they will be able to beautifully recall immaculate details of their 2 week holiday from all sensory – the sites, the smells, the tastes, the feeling of sun on their faces. All positive experiences that were experienced in the present moment.
Creativity can be found anywhere and everywhere – it’s just the lens we look through or the way in which we perceive the present moment. Whatever label you give your creative practice, pursue it with vigor and it will keep you vibrating in the present moment. And that, coupled with not dwelling on negative thoughts will put you in good stead for a happy and prosperous life.