Mindfulness Activity #198
Good Morning. Zen teaches us that often our problems often result from misperception. Take for instance, Seligman’s puppies. There was a science experiment that involved puppies being locked into a pen and shocked. The puppies tried to escape, but they failed. Soon, the experimenters unlocked the door to the pen, but the animals remained. They were so conditioned to lay there and accept the punishment, that they failed to leave, even when leaving became possible. This can happen to us when we are in the midst of a problem and fail to see it with fresh eyes. We either give up or repeat responses that are unhelpful over and over again. Zen involves asking yourself to see situations from multiple perspectives…to see what you have left out, and to PERSIST in your efforts.
Recent studies have demonstrated that mindfulness practice increases students’ persistence when solving difficult problems. When we practice mindfulness, we learn at least two things: 1) we train our brain to actually stay on task and connected to the present moment alert to changes-seeing each moment as an opportunity, and 2) we train ourselves, like an athlete, to persist despite frustration, fatigue, or obstacles.
Today’s practice involves reading or listening to a Zen Fable…
One day a farmer’s donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried out for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. He got a neighbor to try to get the animal out, but they could not figure out what to do. The farmer thought that he should have covered the old well long ago. He blamed himself and he decided the animal was old and needed to be put out of his suffering–and the well needed to be covered up anyway.
He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone’s amazement he quieted down.
A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well. He was astonished at what he saw. With each shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing. He would shake it off and take a step up onto the dirt, elevating himself to the highest point.
As the farmer’s neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take another step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and happily trotted off!
Life may indeed shovel dirt on top of you. The farmer and neighbors were not actually trying to save the donkey. They had given up and were out of tricks. But, the donkey took what was available, and persisted long enough until the path forward (or upward) became clear. He saw the same situation in a completely different way. This is dialectical thinking. And he did not give up. This is persistence. Note also that the donkey did not waste time being angry or distressed that the farmer and neighbors had given up on him. He was upset at first but soon changed his focus. So today, when you feel stuck, try to see the situation in a different way. Try not to waste time thinking about the motivations of others. Think about how the obstacle can be turned into an opportunity to learn or to move forward. Make it your goal to persist until you are able to see the situation differently and to be more effective or until you succeed. Persistence is not giving up, even when things are challenging and they seem hopeless. It means breathing and discovering each moment as new, carving out change.
Have a nice Saturday!