Mindfulness Attitudes – Non-Striving

From our earliest days, right back to our childhood, we are encouraged to achieve. Our parents compare us to the developmental milestones, sitting, crawling, walking. These are necessary for our growth, but the arbitrary comparison with averages means that from our cradles we are programmed to achieve. As we grow and go to school, we are herded into classes where the expectation is that we will strive to achieve the highest grade, the perception of success in academic standards.

So, what does non-striving actually mean for us in our competitive world? Much of the discipline of awareness and mindfulness is the patient engagement with ourselves, which is non-doing, simply to be yourself. Some refer to this as meditation, but that may conjure up images of sitting in the lotus position, chanting and ringing bells. As you will know if you have read any other of my articles, I consider any experience of peaceful contemplation of one’s surroundings to be meditation. However, with practice we can cultivate the attitude of non-striving, starting with short meditations and contemplations, which can be extended over time.

Meditation is achieved by non-doing, no other goal than being yourself. A time that we set aside for ourselves, to focus solely on ourselves. A recent conversation with a client brought home to me how little time we are encouraged to spend on ourselves. They said, “I’ve reached the age of 45 and this is the first time someone has told me to spend time on just me.” In the act of meditation, we have no agenda, no specific purpose, other than to be in the moment. We are ceasing to strive (‘to try very hard to do something or to make something happen, especially for a long time or against difficulties’ – Cambridge Dictionary), simply reflecting on the moment and allowing ourselves to just ‘be’.

We feel what we feel; we hear what we hear; we smell what we smell. Our awareness might identify small sensations of tension or even pain in our bodies. We may be able to hear the sounds of nature around us, birds singing, bees humming. There may be scents of flowers, or plants. We acknowledge these sensations, but do not let them draw our focus. Similarly, we acknowledge and recognise thoughts as they occur, but do not let them carry us away from being. We listen to and observe our breath.

Non-striving is trying less and being more.

Jon Kabat-Zinn says:

“Mindfulness is never about doing something perfectly, because it is not about doing or accomplishing at all. It is about allowing things to be as they are, resting in awareness, and then, taking appropriate action when called for. Silence, deep listening, and non-doing are often very appropriate responses in particularly trying moments – not a turning away at all, but an opening toward things with clarity and good will, even toward ourselves. Out of that awareness, trustworthy skilful responses and actions can arise naturally, and surprise us with their creativity and clarity.”

Now imagine yourself in a difficult situation, where you are feeling out of control or anxious, but imagine the strength you will gain from not reacting, but simply accepting, what is happening.

In my years working in the IT industry, I spent a lot of time teaching people specific subjects in order to gain qualifications. This meant examinations and for me, as for so many others, the experience of taking an exam is not a comfortable or happy one. I suffer with ‘exam nerves’, which, if allowed to run amok, can cause me a sleepless night or even nausea the night before! There are so many elements to this anxiety. I am concerned about letting myself down, not performing to my best (striving, if you will). The worry of what others will think if I do not perform well, embarrassment, shame, feelings of inadequacy and lack of self-worth. The potential lost time or cost relating to the experience, often based on a period of intense study, culminating in a single moment of success or failure. The pressure of judgement in a single moment, all my endeavours summed up in one single event, the exam. The feelings of unpreparedness, even if I have studied hard, in the uncertainty of the content of the exam itself. By the time I sit to take the exam itself, I am struggling with thoughts and feelings based on the fear of the future, none of which are important, relevant or indeed likely to happen. But I recognise that this is my current state and rather than tell myself to “calm down” (when has that advice ever worked for anyone, I wonder?), I observe myself, accept the feelings and thoughts as transient and choose to let them be. Notice I do not say let them go, for me this is an unrealistic goal. If I have built up the exam to be a thing of fear, that is not going to simply vanish if I focus on my breathing. Instead, I concentrate on not striving, but on just being, tackling the questions to the best of my ability, facing the challenge without dwelling on the feelings and thoughts that have been consuming me. It is by no means a perfect solution, but it does allow me to complete the task making me anxious, by acceptance of my state of being.

Non-striving, then, takes an extraordinary effort, in the true sense of the word. (Extraordinary: very unusual and special; different in type or greater in degree than the usual or ordinary – Cambridge Dictionary.) It is to allow oneself to behave differently, unusually, in response to an ordinary event. Not to try to do something, but to allow oneself to simply be.

The Day I Decided to Quit Killing Myself

Let me start by saying I LOVE smoking. That is a horrible fact to admit especially with today’s stigma attached to the subject but I really do enjoy it.

So this story starts about 38 years ago when I was just a young boy. My parents were 70s kids and they grew up in a time where smoking was normal and socially accepted. Everyone smoked and you could smoke anywhere you went the grocery store, the restaurant where you were eating dinner, work and even the doctor’s office. Heck even the doctor was probably smoking in the visit with you.

Now I was about 5 or 6 years old and my parents smoked around me and I hated it. I just could not stand the smell of the smoke and I hated smelling like smoke all the time. I would gripe and moan begging them to stop telling them it was nasty and making me sick and of course they would respond with the normal parental response of “quit your bitching”. I remember one time I was still really young but I had gotten into my mother’s purse and decided I was going to make her quit. So I grabbed her pack of “Marlboros” and I was going to show her and I threw them in the toilet and just left them floating there. Well my mom found them like that and she was furious at me. I probably got called every name in the book but at the end of it all she calmed down and talked to me about it. She said “it really bothers you that bad huh?” Well I just told her that it was gross and stinky and didn’t like going to school and smelling like smoke all day. She agreed it was a nasty habit and that she would try to quit. Well of course like many people who “try to quit” it didn’t really work. A couple of months after this event my mom found out that she was pregnant with what I was sure was my little brother and when she found out she was pregnant she looked at me and said “I will grant you your wish” and she never smoked again. Following my mother’s lead Mt dad even decided to quit smoking and to this day they have never smoked again.

Fast forward about 10 years. I was about 15 or so and I knew by this point I had an addictive personality even if I didn’t know what that was at the time I knew that I tended to over indulge in anything I found enjoyable. One day I was riding my bike along a highway(small town highway) and I found a pack of cigarettes that must have accidentally been dropped.by someone. I picked them up even though I had never had any interest in smoking I thought I was cool with those things in my pocket. You might be thinking to yourself that must be when he started smoking but you would be wrong. I kept that pack of cigarettes hidden in my room for months and every once in a while I would get them out and look at them and smell them and even act like I was smoking but I knew better than to ever actually light one up because I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop once I started and remember all those years ago how nasty my parents smelled because of those things.

Years went by and I resisted the urge to join all my friends and all the “cool kids” and start smoking. I worked in restaurants where people smoked and took cigarette breaks while I was left working but I refused to smoke so I would take air breaks 5 minute breaks where I would walk away like everyone else but but I wouldn’t smoke I would just stand there and breathe. One day I guess I was about 19 to 20 years old I was coming back from a trip to Louisville KY with a friend and he was smoking and I said oh to heck with it I am going to try one and just see what all the hype was about. From that first hit of that cigarette. Marlboro Menthol Lights I was hooked. My nerves seemed to calm and I was relaxed and just felt satisfaction.

So for the next 18 years I was an avid smoker. Smoking anywhere from 1 pack to 2 packs daily. I had to have my cigarettes even choosing to smoke over eating at times because I couldn’t afford to buy both food and cigarettes.

I got married about a year and a half ago and my wife is a non-smoker now she doesn’t really gripe at me about smoking and she has always helped facilitate my own murder. Recently however she had begun to get frusterated with my smoking worried that it was going to cost me an early life so she has been asking me to quit and grumping at me about it every chance she gets.

Six months ago I decided she was right I was paying 6-7 dollars a day just to KILL myself and I had to make a change. I knew I was never going to be able to just quit cold turkey so I started doing some online research. I found all kinds of advise on how to quit and what all these other people had tried, gums and lozenges, patches and hypnosis. After a number of failed attempts I learned about Vaping. I ran across a website that told me all about this new alternative to smoking called Vaping where people had these contraptions that took this juice and when you hit them you blew out these large clouds of vapor. I read a lot about the products and the benefits and the downfalls. Some will say it’s worse than smoking some will say it isn’t as bad but it’s still horrible. After all my research I have found that overall vaping is far better for you than cigarettes. Tabacco is sprayed with tons of carcinogens and arsonic along with a multitude of other deadly chemicals and then rolled into a cigarette and lit on fire. That just sounds horrible already.