It’s been a great week here, celebrating the first birthday of MindfulMBA! Hoping your week has been noteworthy in its own positive way as well. If not, no worries, because Friday is here to break that pattern, with a “no-fail” mindfulness challenge befitting of some of the birthday reflection we got ourselves into this week.
This week, we went to work. Or rather, our conversation went in that direction. We talked about the idea that we want our work to be meaningful, but we often look to the work – and other external forces – to create that meaning for us, rather than making the effort to determine what is meaningful to us, and finding work that aligns with it. Although that approach can be exciting and lead you in lots of different directions, it’s not necessarily meaningful unless meaning for you is just about being constantly entertained…and then bored, and then entertained again, and then disappointed, and then entertained…you get the picture. As I said on Wednesday, if you’re looking for a magical source of good feelings outside of yourself, you’ll always find one, but you will also always be looking. I’m guessing that’s not what you’re after, at least not in terms of your life’s work.
Although external experiences are really valuable in helping us determine what our options are, your assessment of their “fit” with your personal mission will only work if you know what that mission is. To find that, you need to look inward. You need to give yourself the space and stillness to really notice when what you’re seeing in the world really resonates with what your “intuition and your heart” are telling you is the work for you. They’re always talking, but of course, you have to be paying attention to hear them.
So your mindfulness challenge this weekend comes in two parts. First, the mindfulness. You pick the flavor (meditation, walking, visualization, etc.) and you decide for how long (even a minute! You can do it…), as long as it’s time set aside for you to actively focus on something happening in the present moment (your breath, your body moving, that flower in front of you, etc.) instead of the chatter that is always running through your mind. Set a timer if you want to, but do your best to bring your focus back each time it wanders, because it will. That’s what your brain does – it thinks. When your attention starts shifting to what’s happening later or what you want for lunch, that’s ok. Gently bring it back, because that will all be there once you wrap up.
Eventually, this effort does actually lead to a more focused mind and a more relaxed body. It also leads to a greater understanding of what’s going on inside us. That “chatter” of thoughts and reactions starts to look less like a giant blob of noise and stress, and more like individually discernible ideas and feelings. You are better able to see how a certain reaction is connected to a specific stimulus. You find that microsecond of “space” between them to pause, to choose, and then to act. You become better acquainted with yourself, and more capable of understanding what is meaningful to you.
So after a little mindfulness, the second part of your challenge is to sit with this question: What is meaningful to me? I say “sit” and not “ask” because this isn’t about pushing for answers, it’s about seeing what comes up. There are no grades or awards for content or quality of responses. Just observe, don’t try. If nothing really happens, tell yourself that’s okay for now. The question can be an open one for as long as it needs to. Keep coming back to your mindfulness practice, and the answer(s) will slowly become apparent as you become more open to being able to hear them.
Even if something does come to mind, keep asking the question. The first things that catch your attention may be your family or your friends, or it could be something you think you “should” say, for example. If that’s the case, keep asking. Focus on that object or idea now, and ask again, what is meaningful to me? You may be able to push a little deeper into the layers of why this particular thing is meaningful. The more you peel back, the more you may be able to find the common theme that underlies not only the meaning of that thing, but informs the choices you make in general. The thing that drives you to push through discomfort and uncertainty to keep going, that energizes you in times of challenge. The thing that makes you feel like you’re on a mission – because you are. It’s your personal mission. When you make the choice to do work that in some way aligns with that, you will always find meaning in it, and it won’t be a coincidence. It will be what led you there in the first place.
It’s a big challenge this weekend, but as always, you can’t fail at it. Just try. Find a few minutes, check in with yourself, and when you feel that stillness settle in, ask yourself one, simple question. If you don’t find an answer, leave it open. You will, unquestionably, find it in time.
“What you seek is seeking you.” – Rumi
Photo credit: Aaron Burden