Saturday, March 14, 2009

Detachment and Mindfulness - Zen Pursuits

As you might recall, I have a Zen calendar on my bathroom wall – I blogged about it last week.   Aside from the humour of the month and the Zen thought in view while one is busy on the throne, which may have made you think otherwise, I am quite interested in the practice of Zen.  It is a helpful tool to break out of stressful situations and unproductive “self talk”.  Right now, work is a bit stressful, I have my PMP exam next Saturday and personal thoughts, hopes and dreams are intruding on my days so a reminder to cultivate a Zen like attitude is timely for me.

I looked forward in the calendar this morning looking for inspiration.  The thought that grabbed me: “When we become detached from things, everything will be ours”.   The idea behind the Zen belief in detachment is to do without expectation of outcome.   This is the antithesis of our competitive world – we immediately think why would we do if not to achieve an expected outcome?

I did some research to try and understand the meaning and value of this Zen tenet.  I found some interesting quotes which shed some light.

“Desire nothing, and you’re content with everything 
Pursue things, and you’re thwarted at every turn. “
1758-1831, Japanese Zen Master, Poet, Calligrapher

“Detachment is not indifference. It is the prerequisite for effective involvement. Often what we think is best for others is distorted by our attachment to our opinions: we want others to be happy in the way we think they should be happy. It is only when we want nothing for ourselves that we are able to see clearly into others’ needs and understand how to serve them.” 
Mahatma Gandhi 
1869-1948, Indian Spiritual Leader

“Much of our inner turbulence reflects the fear of loss: our dependence on people, circumstances, and things not really under our control. On some level we know that death, indifference, rejection, repossession, or high tide may leave us bereft in the morning. Still, we clutch desperately at things we cannot finally hold. Nonattachment is the most realistic of attitudes. It is freedom from wishful thinking, from always wanting things to be otherwise.” 
Marilyn Ferguson 
1938-, American Writer, Mind Researcher 
The Aquarian Conspiracy, 1980

The idea is that you do what you believe you need to do without attaching any ego or yearning for a particular outcome.   Certainly that will reduce disappointment and unhappiness – expect little and you will be happy with what you get.  I also happen to believe on the whole one gets what one deserves and it will be commensurate with what you put into an activity.

However,  with a measure of detachment one is freed from the stress of worrying about what will happen – a good thing as far as my PMP exam is concerned that is helpful – I tend to over study in order to achieve to the high standards I set for myself. If I can detach expectations from the result of the exam, I would probably do no worse but might study a bit less. 

In personal relationships, it is also a bit of good advice, if we just be ourselves and do what we feel we need to do, things will either happen the way we would prefer – or not.  If they did not there will be less angst and if they do we will be pleasantly surprised.   In the spirit of Que Sera, Sera detachment is important.  
The other Zen practice which goes hand in hand with detachment is mindfulness.  Mindfulness means we live in the moment.  Yesterday is gone and tomorrow has not arrived we need all our attention to the moment in order to completely harvest the present. 

Being Mindful also mean that you are becoming more self aware of your thoughts and feelings, without judging them.  It’s perfectly natural to feel nervous, afraid or confused, depending on what’s going on with your life.  The task at hand is to accept the feelings, but to also let them go and finish the job.   So for the exam – just before the exam I might be nervious.  I should let myself  feel the nervousness and then let go of those thoughts.  For things that happen which stress or disappoint  - be in the moment and experience the frustration, sadness of disappointment in order to then let it go when the moment passes and then move on.  Of course, mindfulness is easier if one has  detachment.  

With that in mind, I have completed enough studying for one day and am setting out for the movies!  Intend on staying in the moment all evening, not thinking about outcomes and completely detached from any expectations.  No thoughts of exams and no thoughts of work or other things which might otherwise wriggle into my brain!   What will be will be.

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