How and why awareness and acceptance are essential to personal growth and professional development
What is mindfulness? Opinions vary. Here is one that is generally accepted: It is “the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment”, which can be trained by meditational practices derived from Buddhist anapanasati. Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. It also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
I share all this by way of an introduction to Stephen McKenzie’s latest book in which he provides a wealth of information, insights, and counsel with regard to how to avoid stress, achieve more, and meanwhile enjoy life. As he explains, “Practicing mindfulness actually often involves, especially at first, simply being more frequently mindful of our mindlessness, more aware of our lack of awareness, and more accepting of our non-acceptance, and less frequently judging our judging. If we can even occasionally be conscious of our unconsciousness, then we are making huge progress on our journey to greater happiness and usefulness.”
Oscar Wilde once advised, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” To a significant extent, the goal of mindfulness is to accept who you are — warts and all — so that you can be more accepting of others. Greater appreciation of who and others are is a direct benefit of an acceptance of who we and they aren’t. With all due respect to Wilde’s insight, McKenzie would hasten to add, Acceptance of who we are now does not preclude becoming a happier, healthier, more fully developed person. Awareness and acceptance of one’s imperfections by no means condones them but there can be no improvement without them. That is why mindfulness is essential to that immensely difficult process.
He offers and discusses in-depth seven general mindfulness working principles, each accompanied by an appropriate quotation:
1. Self-knowledge: “This above all: to thine own self be true/And it must follow, as the night the day/Thou canst not then be false to any man,” Polonius in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet.
2. Utility: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” John Donne
3. Truth: “In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same.” Albert Einstein
4. Awareness: “Do not dwell on the past. Do not dream of the future. Concentrate the mind on the present moment” Gautama the Buddha
5. Service: “Would you like anything else?” The (hypothetical) General Sales Manual
Note: I found McKenzie’s selection of the quotation and subsequent comments about service on Pages 29-30 (at best) mediocre.
6. Reason: “Reason is the ability to discern the transient from the eternal, the changing from the unchanging.” Shankara
7. Wonder: “From wonder into wonder, existence opens.” Lao Tzu
“These general mindfulness working principles can help us do everything in our lives more peacefully, happily, and productively — even our work. If we put these principles into practical practice, then we can better understand whether our working situation is the best expression of who really are and, if it isn’t, how to improve it.” Or replace it.
Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out these: Clayton Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life?, Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, Ken Robinson’s The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, and Alan Watts’s The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are.