Photo credit: Flickr / Heidi Konttinen [Image slightly cropped]

Paradigm shifts

Give me someone with an air of authority – until recently a turban, beads, and grey hair would have done the job – and I am all ears for my lessons. Unfortunately, this has mostly led to disappointment. A case in point would be the recent documentary Wild Wild Country. Disillusion turned to anger; anger turned to a declaration that I was ‘over yoga’. (For the record, I am ‘over yoga’ at least a couple of times a month. I treat it with a yoga practice. Its effects are instant.)

I was taught yoga by a non-turban/bead-wearing, chronically over-yoga teacher a good two decades away from grey hair. Go figure. Yesterday, my latest lesson came in a book on meditation. (I am reading Bliss More by Light Watkins.) As he de-mystifies the process of meditation, he invites a shift of perspective from outcome-oriented to process-oriented. This blew my mind. I have gotten life – and meditation – all wrong.

The default conditioning of our upbringing has been to keep our eye on the prize. We are told to get goals. Make sure they are measurable. (SMART is the acronym I believe? Business bores me.) Intuitively, I felt I had a problem with this that I couldn’t explain. So I chose to shift my focus to moving forward – albeit toward a goal. In my heart, I knew that an outcome-orientation robs me of true presence (not in the sense of turban/bead/incense/Instagram presence.)

Take my (inconsistent) meditation practice as an example. I have been focused on/obsessed with the prize: enlightenment (samadhi). I would sit upright, eventually in excruciating pain from sore hips and numb legs, ‘pressing on’ in anticipation of the finish line and my liberation and/or union with the Divine. My focus – when I managed to grab it – would be miles ahead. Despite these lapses, I have occasionally enjoyed moments of bliss where I have lost track of time, space and all physical sensations. In fact, these rare brief moments have given me a sufficient taste of bliss to long for more. And hence, I picked up this book, in hopes of exploring a different (non-turban/bead/grey) approach to meditation.

It has only been three days of consistent practice for me following this new paradigm so far. No samadhi to report. But I have been enveloped in a soothing embrace of tranquility that I have not experienced before. I am not enlightened but ‘lightened’ by a new sense of enjoyment of the actual process, with honestly no regard for any end (until the writing of these words). There is a surrender of sorts unfolding, one that has actually uplifted my heart.

What it has done is gently uprooted expectation. You know what else is also permanently linked to expectation? Disappointment. A linear representation of the process (if you are into acronyms and SMART goals) would look like this: expectation → outcome → disappointment → giving up. And that is the kind of surrender that is not conducive to healthy living.

Here is how it currently looks from where I stand: When I become process-oriented, I am immediately transported and transfixed on the present moment. For an overly active mind, this is much more helpful than being told to ‘ground myself’. Believe me, I could not be more grounded. Literally. (I have giant feet.) Process helps my dynamic mind move with me on the now. Being process-oriented involves a surrender of another kind: a more active, dynamic trust, rather than a complacent one that has undertones of victimhood and disempowerment. And that is the surrender that is conducive to being human and thriving.

In truth, maybe samadhi is not in the cards for me. The process itself – all three days of it – has given me a sense of empowerment that keeps bringing me back. I cannot help but wonder if this is the missing link in our present world, from education to politics and all in between. The mere act of doing is success itself. It is the expected outcome which most often does not turn out the way we intended which leads to perceptions of failure. The kind of failure that then forces us to complacently surrender.

 A slight shift in perspective changes everything.

This is not an argument against goals. Without a doubt, I think goals are an important framework. I do however believe the time has come for me – and maybe for all of us – to shift from an over-emphasis on goals to a softer embrace of ‘process’. Work it backwards: allow the goals to help us identify the process. Lean out of the goals and into the process.

Part of the few perks of aging – grey hair included – is naturally developing this shift in perspective. I think that explains why as adults, we enjoy learning so much more. I for one cannot get enough. I understand why now. I was too busy focusing on the grade, the college, the degree, the job. Freedom does come when you have nothing to lose. And everything to gain. And nowhere to go.