I received this email from a coaching client who was interested in being more creative:
“After our talk I have really been noticing how uncreative my workdays are. “
His comment reminded me of something my grandmother used to say. She’d say, “The truth will set you free,” and she’d pause before adding, “but first it will make you very uncomfortable.”
Then, she’d laugh.
I didn’t find her funny.
Though over the decades, I’ve come to appreciate her insight more and more. The pathway to change, to creativity, to freedom tends to pass through Discomfort-vile.
But, it’s a special kind of discomfort. The kind that comes with increased awareness.
It’s like an ad my son and I saw on T.V. the other night.
It was for some kind of facial hair removal device costing $14.95. And it came with a lighted mirror with 5 times the magnification power of a normal mirror. The whole idea of such an up-close and personal look at my facial pores and hairs sounded . . . well . . . uncomfortable.
It takes awareness to make substantive change.
Superficial changes can be implemented without awareness.
Band-aid “solutions” can be applied to mask problems. Quick fixes can be instituted in reaction to unsatisfactory results. But, in short order, the illusory effects of “rearranging the deck chairs” wears off and you’re left to confront the harsh reality of a sinking ship.
The truth of your situation becomes clear in the light of awareness.
Such clarity, while liberating, can also be embarrassing, disappointing, upsetting, infuriating . . . and basically uncomfortable. That’s why what happens next, is key to the transformation process.
The tendency is to spring into action.
Do to something. If you’re wanting to build your business – you might sign up for a marketing class. Send out emails. Make calls. If you want to lose weight, might join a gym, throw away your candy bars, drink more water.
You could google about your problem and gather a list (a huge list) of tips and techniques.
In and of themselves, these aren’t bad moves.
It’s just that immediately moving into action, and searching for tips and techniques can be a way of avoiding the deeper shifts needed to make substantive and sustainable changes.
Deeper shifts rarely come from a list of tips or an instant technique.
Deeper shifts come through deepening awareness.
What I mean by deeper is really simply sustained awareness.
Just spend more time paying attention to what is true, rather than seeking ways to fix the problem. Become a deeper, sustained, student of your own habits of mind/speech/body.
The more you truly see what you’re doing – the more clearly you’ll realize “what to do differently”.
New perceptions, new actions, new choices emerge as awareness infuses fully into your mind and body. You don’t need to think of a new strategy – rather deepen your awareness of the ways in which your mind/body react habitually.
When unconscious habits are infused with awareness, they naturally transform.
Awareness is the secret to accelerating change.
One of my all-time favorite books on learning and leadership is a slim volume called Extraordinary Golf by Jerry Shoemaker. Full disclosure: I don’t play golf. And don't plan to. But, his profound wisdom can be applied to any human activity. To anything you want to change or improve.
Shoemaker points out that most golfers who come to his clinics and programs want to fix the problems in their game and get better. They say, according to Shoemaker, “There’s something wrong with my swing, and I must fix it.”
Shoemaker explains out that in order to fix (change) something you have to be aware of it.
He asks rhetorically, “How can you correct what you’re doing when you don’t have any idea what you’re doing?”
It turns out that awareness itself – not techniques or tips – the catalyst of improvement & development.
Shoemaker writes, “The best way to become aware of what you are doing is not to fix it.”
Let’s go over that sentence again: “The best way to become aware of what you are doing is not to fix it.”
This is a huge idea. Notice your mind’s reaction to it. Don’t try to change your mind or argue with me or him. Just notice, be aware of what your mind is doing . . . (Good . . . in doing so, you’re already practicing this powerful method of transformative change.)
Premature fixing is a manipulation strategy designed to avoid the discomfort that awareness brings.
But, this very discomfort is the evidence that you’re on the right track. You’re on the track of being aware. So, instead of leaping into action, deepen your awareness. Stop looking for how to change and learn become more fully aware of what’s already present.
To adopt this awareness-based approach to change is counter cultural.
All of us have been raised in the “fix it”, problem-based culture where the dominant mindset is “find the problem and make it go away”.
The notion that awareness itself - not techniques and action – will give rise to substantive change seems absurd. It begs the question – “How can I improve what’s wrong if I don’t fix it?”
This question can’t be satisfactorily answered within the framework of the “fix it” culture.
All you can do is notice, for yourself, the difference in results that comes from pursuing tips and techniques versus following the path of awareness.
One of the first things you’ll notice is that the problem-based mindset is fueled by a persistent sense of dis-satisfaction, driven by the perpetual quest for what’s wrong. The awareness-based mind doesn’t look for what’s wrong. Neither does it look for what’s right.
The awareness-based practice is grounded in a non-judgmental - yet highly discerning mindset.
Awareness is non-judgmental. It’s like sunlight – illuminating the roses and weeds equally. But, this is not to say that awareness is non-discriminating.
Awareness illuminates what is true without judgment and allows you to make finer and deeper distinctions. Rather than being preoccupied with judgment, your attention is freed and can notice (previously unseen) possibilities. Possibilities for new ways of thinking, speaking, and taking action.
Again, don’t be in a hurry for a solution.
Don’t rush towards an answer. Rather, rest in the awareness of what you’re actually doing. For my client who is experiencing his days as “uncreative” the practice is to notice:
You can substitute any other unwanted experience in the place of uncreative and try this for yourself.
Substantive and sustainable change is not a product of the fix-it mindset.
These come from a different, more appreciative, open, and even playful orientation. One that is interested, curious, and engaged in the moment-to-moment activities that are unfolding. The fastest path to change is to let go of the need to change and instead to cultivate awareness of what is true.
This takes getting used to.
Fortunately, people around the world have been working on ways to cultivate this kind non-judgmental, discerning awareness for thousands of years. You can too. Here’s how: take time each day to practice being fully aware. You can attend to your breathing – not trying to improve it - but simply deepening your awareness of the breathing mechanism as it operates.
You can do this while walking – attending to the movement of your limbs, the touch of your feet on the ground, the rhythm of your breath.
You can cultivate awareness while performing any simple manual task.
Washing dishes, chopping vegetables, pressing the elevator button, opening a door, brushing your teeth, and folding clothing are good examples.
By cultivating awareness in activities that are simple and “unimportant” – you build your capacity to practice awareness-based change with behaviors, habits, and situations that are more “important” and demanding.
You’ll see the truth and it will, in it’s own time reveal the path to freedom.Of course, it will probably make you uncomfortable first.
And my grandmother will still laugh.
Love & Shanti,
E & D