In our last blog post, we discussed Mental Hygiene and mind training to observe how our machinery-like mind can undermine our best efforts. Recall the distinction of being exhausted as rooted in biology that impacts our physical health, and being drained as rooted in language that impacts our mental health.
Our Perception AS Suffering
Another way to say this is to distinguish between pain as a biological phenomenon and suffering as a linguistic phenomenon. If valid, then suffering is connected to our perceptions and how we interpret them. Therefore, we may have more to say about our suffering than we believe or perceive.
This isn’t new; more than 2,500 years of Buddhist and Eastern precepts acknowledge as much. Consider the foundation of Buddhism and its Four Noble Truths:
- Suffering exists, in the common humanity in everyday living.
- Source of suffering involves a distorted view, a craving for (attachment to) desires.
- Cessation to suffering involves purifying the mind to release attachments to desires.
- Path to cessation involves eight-fold path, with the eight paths allotted as wisdom (2), as moral conduct (3), and as mental discipline (3).
Whether one chooses to follow this path or not, the inherent timeless wisdom offers an important insight: We have a more durable relationship with suffering than we have come to believe.
Performance and Practice
As we uncover this relationship and focus on mind training (see last Blog Post), we can begin a regimen of practices.
In the West, much of any mind training focuses on performance NOT expanding practice. Consider the following:
- In our work life, we hold a practice-to-performance metric fallacy: that we can endlessly achieve peak performance and barely practice.
- Professionals in the arts, music, or sports — where performance yields immediate and lasting results — practice 90% of the time to optimize 10% (90-10) performance.
- Business reverses this: at best, we practice 10% of the time for 90% (10-90) performance.
- The result is an over consumption of (over)stimulating, inputs, and stress in the name of productivity without any attention on clearing our mind, or restoring our being to an optimal state.
- Drained and exhausted we underperform, become resigned, or are no longer engaged and burned out.
What if we could shift this practice-to-performance metric from 10-90 to 50-50?
Engaging 3 States of Being
Much of any hope to increase performance lies in our perceptions of our level of engagement. Being engaged requires engaging our whole being. What then prevents full engagement?
Let me digress a bit: In the book, The Power of Full Engagement (published in 2003) sports psychologists Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz define full engagement as integrating the energy of our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions. When integrated, each dimension supports our whole self to expand and focus. Beyond these dimensions, however, lies a bandwidth of being — an inner ecology of internal states — we can access to enhance each dimension of our lives.
With our highly fragmented lives, we’ve splintered this bandwidth to manage many tasks in a single day. Often, issues related to this fragmented view might disappear if we experienced events as connected and whole. Becoming mindful (last blog) we pause to experience concealed tasks or hidden aspects that we may rush through or skip over, that structure whole events.
For instance, I schedule time to walk daily. I also take the subway from home to work. I manage both of these tasks. But what if I exited my subway car one stop before my usual home or work stop? The extra 10-blocks offers a brisk walk built into a regular routine twice daily. Now, I’ve coupled two tasks into a fuller event that manages itself.
If we viewed events as less fragmented tasks, a fuller view might naturally disclose concealed elements to enliven our lives. This matter of perception requires framing events. There are three states of being — universally available and accessible — that we can use to frame every event to bring us closer to wholeness and engagement:
- being nourished, enthused and moved to foster joy and creativity from within;
- being stimulated, excited and aroused by external stimuli; and,
- being reflective, contemplative and restorative with focus and openness.
Review your daily life. Notice which of these states you engage and whether it’s intentional or reflexive.
Between complex technology, fast-paced change, and the saturation of information we may be overstimulated, undernourished and non-reflective. We may even seek out more excitement or stimulation just to keep ourselves engaged, and yet find ourselves mentally split and drained.
The need-to-be-always-on self must be fed by more stimulation. Life has discarded the necessary “,” or dignified “.” in favor of the overhyped “!!!!” that leaves us bereft of reflective or nourished states. We are unavailable for subtle features, nuanced moments, or smaller details life has to offer: The color of leaves, smell of food, sensations of a shower, joy of a blooming houseplant, or deep moment revealed in silence with a friend.
Calibrating internal states offers a new view of balance by intentionally experiencing states of being to reframe activities we otherwise might not engage or enjoy. We can view or frame any task through these three states.
Now, seemingly ordinary chores can be viewed as an opportunity to practice and master our self.
- Washing dishes can be meditative.
- Caring for plants hones cultivation and elegance.
- Repetitive tasks focus our attention on the nature of an object to reveal its qualities.
- Engaging any ritual reveals the way we perceive, and clarity of our focus.
- How do the leaves we rake, onions or potatoes we cut for dinner, prepare us for our way of life?
- The practice of reconciling our checkbook and credit cards fosters accuracy.
- The practice of stillness, of witnessing, or expanding the moment, cultivates clarity for mastering the self.
In all these instances: we practice life, which becomes a context for living one’s life.
This brings us back to the practice-performance metric. If we practice identifying and reframing these internal states, we can actually shift the practice-to-performance metric from 10-90 to at least 50-50.
Engaging a mundane task as part of a fuller event may now hold more significance; or perhaps support another practice such as exercising, meditating, or creativity.
Once we master framing — using language to shape context or assign meaning — we can bring these three states as perspectives to all tasks: reading or bathing to nourish, editing an email or shaving as reflective, listening to music or working out as stimulating.
More practice finds these states accessible all the time. When we intentionally slow down to perceive mental attitudes in each event we will find ourselves practicing all the time instead of having to take time out to practice.
And over time with a clearer view, greater creativity and regular access to joy, we will realize an increase in our performance, just as artists, athletes, and musicians do.
The Balance Hidden in our Lives
We can also connect tasks and activities to larger events to combine multiple states.
When I cook (not microwave food) it involves related tasks to create the whole event of cooking. I shop, prepare food, cook, and eat. Each of these tasks can tap into a state. For me, shopping is stimulating, preparing food is meditative, cooking is nourishing, and eating is stimulating.
Framing tasks inside a whole event transforms mundane tasks into intentional, and meaningful connections.
Reflective state. When I chop, cut and prepare food I find myself meditative. I am mindful (see last blog) focusing on cutting, creating, and organizing the colors and textures of food that allows me to dwell in the moment, present to sensations. In doing so, I can release the day stresses.
Stimulating state. Shopping, however, taps a stimulated state. I am astounded by so many choices and drawn to labels and comparisons that peak my interested and refocus my attention in a new way that can overwhelm and inform.
Nourishing state. The experience of cooking draws me to boiling water, broiling fish, and stewing sauces that combine smells, sights, tastes and sense in creative flavors. Add a spice, or stir in a sauce and the creative juices nourish the artist within.
Stimulating state. Finally, consuming my meal engages flavors, tastes, and senses to guide me in new and stimulating experiences. Many cultures offer spices that allow for mixing different sauces and spices that offer rousing culinary sensations and cultural adventures.
I offer this grid applying the cooking example to how I view writing this blog.
Each event or activity in our life often includes several tasks. How we frame these, or which state of being we tap into is really up to us. Prepping food may be reflective for me but nourishing for someone else. Identify your experience, own it, and then weave it into other parts of your life.
Viewing Whole Events
The way we view cooking will determine something about how we experience our lives beyond cooking. What if our daily events were an opportunity to practice? And what if we can be engaged intentionally at that level?
For instance, if cooking includes shopping and preparing food as related rituals, we become present to a fuller experience from multiple states. If we view cooking only as eating, then we have to manage and get through several tasks so we can eat.
- This gets to whether we isolate tasks by compartmentalizing our lives or connect related tasks by reframing them into a whole.
- Preparing food might be isolated, and a drudgery – something to get out of the way. We play music or rush through prepping, so we can eat.
- But if preparing food is connected to cooking and dining through its own internal state – let’s say reflective – we might experience preparing differently.
- We might engage and enjoy the silence and reflective quality that offers us a chance to practice clarity, precision, and focus.
Singer and Empire music producer, Timbaland speaks to his experience of cooking in the kitchen and hearing the beat of the music in the pots and pans. His intention to bring stories to life in music is now using him as he cooks in the kitchen.
The Practice of Life
If suffering is a linguistic phenomenon, related to our perceptions and distorted views, then we have some say and some power in how we cope with suffering.
We can use each event as an opportunity to practice reflective for clarity and openness, nourishing to foster joy and creativity, and stimulating to move us into action.
We have a say as to what mind we bring to our events. We have a say as to our way of being in life. And we have a say about what the events in our life mean to us.
This blog post is a complement to the following blog posts:
Tony Zampella is the learning designer at Bhavana Learning Group (previously, Zampella Group), which serves coaches, educators, and learning professionals and executives.
As an instructor, researcher, and designer of contemplative learning programs and practices, Tony’s work explores the human side of change by bringing wisdom to learning. His focus includes ontological inquiry, Integral meta-theory, and Buddhist wisdom to sustain contemplative practice.