August 11

Convert Dammit!

Posted by William Berry | Filed under Blog | No Comments

For a while I’ve felt I needed to explain my “born again” fervor for mindfulness. A good deal of my writing focuses on using mindfulness to overcome a number of issues. I often feel if everyone just practiced it, they would be happier, and the world would be a better place. Some might wonder why I’m so convinced.

I was first introduced to Eastern thought over 30 years ago, when I was trying to overcome some of my own issues. I liked it, became more attracted to it, and read about it more. There was no doubt it was helpful, but I was still, to varying degrees, a mess. I focused on being present (which is a part of mindfulness) but my ego and its related voices remained a major part of that experience. I also focused on the acceptance aspect of eastern thought. I was never very committed to meditation. I am more so now, though I still fall short.

As the years continued on, my self-improvement continued, and being present and non-judging remained a major part of my attempt at transformation. As I think I’ve mentioned in other personal posts, I feel as I was raised to be miserable. There was a lot of negative energy in my family of origin. Into my early adulthood I was miserable, though I might not have even realized it because I thought that’s what normal was. I sometimes thought I was happy, but at other times I was in a dark place. Without getting into too much detail, with work on myself, my perceptions, my philosophy, and on mindfulness, in time my life slowly and steadily improved.

Recently, while reading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Coming to Our Senses” he relayed a story that relates. He discusses how he included a mindfulness quote at the beginning of his thesis, and it turned into a focal point in its defense. I gathered how enlightened he felt at that point of his life, and how much he progressed since then. He continued to grow exponentially and can look back and see how little he knew then. Today he still discusses how there is always part of the ego that needs to be overcome. In other words, despite all of his growth there is always work to be done.

Digesting several excellent books has also helped with my path. (I’ve read throughout my adult life, often becoming enthusiastic about certain books. There are so many that have helped, but “Buddha’s Brain” by Rick Hanson has to be one of the most influential). Ina story that relates to ego and the work that needs to be done, I want to discuss “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. When this book first became popular, I had some sort of bias against it. This often happens for me when a book is hugely popular and everyone is telling me how I need to read it. I think to myself I’ve been reading Zen books for decades; I don’t need some new fangled slant to explain it to me. In other words, my ego got in the way. Because it was so often recommended, I would pick the book up in the store, read the beginning or, later, open it to various pages. I always found evidence for what my ego believed: I knew the initial story that began chapter 1, and I found it contrived. In later attempts I would see the question and answer format and again find it lacking.

A client, who I’ve frequently recommended books to and who is an avid reader, donated a shelf worth of books for me to lend to clients. One was “The Power of Now”. Since I sometimes have time between clients, I picked it up. For whatever reason, I got past my initial distaste and suddenly found the book relevant. With further reading I began to find the book brilliant. Now I recommend it after someone has read “Buddha’s Brain”. (As a funny aside, I had initially disparaged “Buddha’s Brain” when a student recommended it as well, because I had watched some of Rick Hanson’s videos and felt I knew the material. Even after reading, and loving, “Buddha’s Brain”, I still felt I knew most of what was taught in it. There is just something about the way it is written that puts it all together beautifully {as does “The Power of Now”}) I could go on about books that have contributed to my progress with mindfulness, but this blog has a section for reviews, and you can find many of the books there.

Today I consider myself a happy person. It has taken some therapy, some difficult life lessons, and the work I mentioned above. But I’m not writing this to pat myself on the back; like anyone who has found something that works, I want others to benefit. Just because I’m happier, just because I am more skilled at using mindfulness than I was when introduced to it 30 years ago, it doesn’t mean I’ve mastered it. I feel people believe they can’t practice mindfulness and meditation because they don’t do it perfectly.

I’ve thought of writing this post twice in the last couple of weeks. Both times right before I was about to I got in an argument with my girlfriend. Neither time was I mindful, nor was I very “Buddha” (a term used when someone embodies love, compassion, understanding, calm, and equanimity). In fact I was far from it, getting caught in the drama of the argument and the ugly stories about her in my head (normal thoughts we all have about the other’s failings when we are angry with them). I thought at those moments there is no way I can write a post about how much mindfulness has helped me when I fell so far short of the practice of it.

The truth is, however, that mindfulness has changed me. Sure, I suck at it sometimes. But I am more aware of my thinking, and am often able to stop it with effort. I am much less reactive than I have ever been (though we all react sometimes). I buy into the drama of life less than ever, thus being less affected by it. I see more humor in life than ever. Most importantly, I am so much more in control of myself, and when I say that, I mean surpassing years of conditioned responses, where I thought I was making the decisions.

To get to the point, I’m not selling anything here. Sure, I’d love if you read my Psychology Today articles, or the book largely drawn from them that I sell for next to nothing. I love doing therapy, and would certainly love more clients paying me to assist them on their path to enlightenment. But everything one needs is available for free, or at a low cost. There are scores of articles about mindfulness, meditation, acceptance, enlightenment, eastern thought, and everything else relating to embarking on the path. It is, in all likelihood, a long path. In an article I read not long ago, where Matthieu Ricard quotes the Dalai Lama: “The problem in the West is people want enlightenment to be fast, to be easy, and if possible, cheap.” He goes on to ask, “We don’t mind spending 15 years on education, why not the same to become a better human being?” Ultimately, time will pass anyhow, so even if it takes a long time to be enlightened, why not?

As Gerald Cory says in “Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy”, “For some time there has been a trend toward ‘giving psychology away’. This involves psychologists being willing to share their knowledge so that “consumers” can increasingly lead self-directed lives and not be dependent on experts to deal with their problems” (p. 250). It simply starts with movement in the direction of mindfulness. You know I’ve written enough about it on Psychology Today. I’ve mentioned quite a few books (and in other posts, TED Talks). You know how to work Google. So what’s keeping you?

Copyright 2015, William Berry

References:

Corey, G.; 2009: Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy; Brooks/ Cole Cengage Learning

Raz, G.; 2015); Interview of Matthieu Ricard and Pico Iyer for TED Radio Hour; article retrieved from: http://ideas.ted.com/want-to-be-happy-slow-down/

 

 

 

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 11th, 2015 at 12:24 PM and is filed under Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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