By Tracy Ochester Psy.D.
The New Year is upon us and people are mulling over their resolutions, filled with hope for a better 2017 after what has been, for many, a difficult 2016.
This got me thinking about a common frustration for those who are new to practicing mindfulness. First time practitioners are often confused by a seeming paradox; how can one maintain motivation for practice, and at the same time, set aside attachment to outcome?
Most of us begin our mindfulness journey for some pressing reason. Maybe we have experienced a crisis or have been somehow set adrift, and we are seeking a life-buoy or an anchor. We approach mindfulness with all types of agendas such as wanting to be a better person, to find truth, or feel less awful, to become more lovable, or kinder to our loved ones, to help others, or to help ourselves. These goals motivate our initial thirst for learning and dedication to practice in the early stages of the path.
Early in our practice we are confronted with some pretty radical concepts.
Non-striving, letting go, and acceptance are some of the interdependent fundamental attitudes of mindfulness that are consciously cultivated during practice, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book Full Catastrophe Living. Fostering these attitudes help us to open to what is here in the moment by suspending judgment, letting go of habitual grasping and aversion, and allowing things to be as they are without agenda. This makes space for clearer seeing and wiser responding, decreasing suffering.
So, if we’re supposed to let go, cease striving and cultivate acceptance, how do we reconcile this with the wishes and desires that bring many of us to practice mindfulness in the first place?
One possibility is to clarify and continuously revisit our intention for practice.
An intention is a guiding principle or vision that is consciously articulated, but is not dependent upon results. Like a seed that may grow given the right conditions, intention lays the groundwork for what, if anything, might be coming. Intention alone doesn’t necessarily bring results, which are the goals or desired outcomes.
It can be helpful to think of intention as the map or path and goal as the destination. Our motivation becomes the fuel that drives our actions toward cultivating our intentions, making it more likely that our behavior supports our highest values.
Another possibility is to awaken curiosity.
Like a good scientist, we can set aside our biases, resist urges to intervene, and just observe with a measure of objectivity how this mindfulness experiment plays out. Do we notice even the subtlest nuances as they present themselves? Are we willing to accept an outcome that contradicts our initial hypothesis? Are our findings based on fact or do we insist on what is wanted and deny what is unwanted?
If we can approach practice with a beginner’s mind, the outcome will reveal itself with no undue interference from us.
How can we hold our intentions lightly and remain motivated without attachment to outcome? Practice cultivates the best conditions within which our good intentions are most likely to come to fruition and bear fruit.
Daring to trust in experience to reveal itself in its own time and allowing our patient observations to guide us takes great courage, but it is our best chance at working well with what is already here.
Tracy Ochester, PsyD is a psychologist, Qualified Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) teacher, and yoga instructor who lives and practices in the Kansas City metro. You can read more of her writings on mindfulness, meditation and yoga at clearmind-openheart.com.
Editor: Dana Gornall