Mindfulness is the key to true self-mastery. It behooves us to awaken to our truer, deeper selves. And behooves us further to stay awake. It’s far too easy to live our lives on “autopilot.” That’s how we let our appetites and aversions govern our behavior. (See, also: Self Mastery over Appetites and Aversions.) Countering this tendency is difficult. It requires deliberate, proactive effort.
There are many ways to awaken. And there are many ways to remain as awake as possible. Most of the major philosophies and spiritual disciplines offer mindfulness techniques. Techniques include yoga, transcendental meditation, and centering prayer. But the end is the same: maximum awareness or consciousness. Heightened awareness has many benefits. Through it we connect ourselves not only to our deeper selves but also to the very energy that fuels our life. There’s great power in this, too. Mindful people are more likely to be maximally healthy. Moreover, they’re more likely to connect with others in healing, constructive ways.
How We Fall Asleep
We live in a stressful and often cruel world. So, we learn to cope as best we can. Our innate tendencies play a role in this. Our environment and experiences play a shaping role, too. Along the way, various things please and attract us. Other things frighten or wound us. We might fully realize it, but we’re always making decisions about how to deal with our appetites and aversions. If we’re not real mindful of this, we can become a slave to them.
Gaining mastery over our appetites and aversions is key to our character growth. Moreover, it requires deliberate, conscious, steady effort. But first we have to commit ourselves to staying awake. Mindfulness is a real challenge for most. It’s far too easy to fall asleep, to go back on autopilot.
The Dilemma for Disturbed Characters
Some disturbed characters are unwitting slaves to their appetites in particular. I’ve written about this before. (See, pp. 141-142 in Character Disturbance. See, also: Hedonistic Thinking.) Such folks become hedonists both in attitude and behavior. They expect life to afford them a good time. Moreover they feel entitled to this. They feel it’s owed them. Accordingly, they spend a lot of time “chasing highs.” (That is, they persistently and rabidly seek pleasurable experiences.) As a result, they can easily fall into addiction.
Disturbed characters expend a lot of energy avoiding the unpleasant, too. Therefore, they fail to develop the will to bear discomfort. It’s why they have such poor frustration tolerance. (See: Character and the Will to Bear Discomfort.) Many of life’s most ultimately rewarding experiences require that we suffer some first. Folks having no stomach for this will have problems forging a rich life for themselves. Of course, they’ll also have big problems forging good character. Mindfulness is the key to all of this. You have to know what’s driving you. And the odds are it will either be some nobler guiding principles or it will be your baser appetites and aversions.
I’ve worked with the character-impaired for years. And I can tell you that helping them cultivate the will to bear life’s inevitable discomforts is crucial to them becoming healthier. Most want everything to come the quick and easy way. They generally see no point in suffering. So they avoid anything that taxes them or demands anything of them. They’re quite content to let others shoulder life’s burdens. Never learning to cope very well, they simply fail to grow. They need lots of reinforcement demonstrating any willingness to bear discomfort.
Growing in Character
Mindfulness alone is not sufficient for character growth. Rather, it’s the tool by which we connect to something bigger. And it’s that something bigger that has the power to grow us. It can help us live life on a plane higher than the “pleasure principle” to which most of us are married. And I’ll be talking more about that in next week’s post.