We all come to meditation with some kind of wish for self-improvement. Less anxiety, more peace of mind, better focus – these are among the more common goals I hear. But somewhere along the way, most of us get stuck in a trap. When mindfulness helps us see ourselves more clearly, our goal can start looking very far indeed. We’re STILL too distracted. We STILL can’t seem to stop beating ourselves up. We STILL do and say things we regret.
Hence disappointment and self-criticism arise. A poverty mentally sets in. Clearly where I am now isn’t good enough, and I look instead to a far horizon when things will be better. Some day…
That’s the trap. Haven’t we just put ourselves into the exact opposite of the peaceful, content mindset we had aspired to in the first place?
Ironically, I think the best way to move forward toward goals like these is to be present, here and now. One way to do this is to reframe our concept of what “working toward goals” looks like. Rather than striving toward something off in the future, how about right now, in this moment, BEING more the kind of person that you aspire to be?
We can practice whatever skills or behaviors we understand of it now. And I mean literally right now. It means we make a choice in this moment to act in a different way then we habitually have in the past. Not succumbing to an anxious, poverty-stricken mindset might be one place to start. Even if it’s only 1% different than before, that’s a step in a forward direction. Put together a hundred steps like that, and over time we will have made great strides.It also helps to hold our goals and aspirations more lightly. It’s like going on a hike up a scenic mountain. Sure, the goal is to reach the summit, but if we’re hyperfocused on that goal, we could miss the whole point of hiking, which is to enjoy the climb itself. So instead, we keep pointing ourselves mindfully in the direction of the summit, but also stay fully present and open to whatever surprises might arise on the way. There are always unexpected scenic vistas or dangerous crossings to watch for. We might even decide part way up that a side road looks more interesting, and change plans. If we make that choice explicitly, what’s wrong with that?
With personal development goals, we often can’t know in advance what the summit looks like. And chances are we don’t have a clear sense of how to get there either. All we can do is show up, right now, and take one step from here. Isn’t that the only realistic option?
So next time you hear yourself bemoaning how you STILL get distracted in meditation, or STILL whatever, stop and ask yourself – am I falling into the poverty mentality trap here? Is it helping me to see things this way? What is something more positive I can do – even if it’s simply to forgive myself for my mistakes? That’s a perfectly good step in a forward direction. In fact, sometimes that’s best and only thing we can think of to do.
Take what small steps you can, and don’t forget to celebrate your small victories, too.