Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I started reading a book recently by Thomas Bien (Ph.D.) called Mindful Therapy: A Guide for Therapists and Helping Professionals. It's the second book I've read for pleasure since finishing grad school (the first being The War of Art).

Although I am making slow progress, it's already afforded a little nugget of wisdom I've been turning over in my mind for the last week or so.

In the introduction, Bien talks about the distinctions we make between selfish time and time for others. This translates many ways... compartmentalization so many of us engage in using various labels. What I want to do versus what I have to do... me/my time versus his time her time time, their time. Freedom versus obligation.

He suggests this act of delineation (which is a process of labeling and attachment) actually reduces our ability to be mindful and present in whatever time we are using. We name it and pre-conceive the meaning we assign to those actions, and thus we are unable to truly be in our daily living and experience it authentically.

Of course, I'm paraphrasing here and he's much more eloquent in his explanation. But that's how I made sense of it and folded it into all the other lessons that overlap with this concept.

There is a concept in Buddhism, as best I understand it so far, about zen instruction. Essentially, the idea is that any teaching (be it a person, a book, a blog, a conversation, a meditation, etc.) is a "finger pointing at the moon."

Which is to say... the truth is not in the instruction, it's in the individual's understanding of the lesson to which the instruction is pointing. The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon itself... it may show you the way to look to see the moon, but you will not truly know moon until you have stopped looking at the finger and seen the moon.

My clearer understanding of Bien's words come in applying them to my experience, primarily in the present, as a mother, wife, pet owner, artist, and colleague. I noticed, as soon as I read those words, that I had been separating my time in many areas of my life, rather than experiencing it all as my life - interconnected, whole, and filled with opportunities for mindfulness at all points.

  • Things I do for me versus things for my husband and daughter.
  • Time when the bunny is awake versus times when she is sleeping.
  • Chores versus pleasures.
  • Grunt work versus fun work.
  • Selfish time versus obligatory time spent on shopping and cooking and bill-paying.
  • Time writing everything down ahead of time to get it okayed instead of just being able to go and do.
  • Walk the dog versus sleep in bed undisturbed.
It's been a true challenge, even in the last few days, to try and eliminate those categorizations from my thinking. To stop labeling and defining my experience as dichotomous and instead try to be present in and enjoy every moment... to value each action, each use of my time, and see it as fruitful. I think too often I throw my time away - even when I'm in it! - because I am busy wishing it was being used differently.

This not only shortchanges my experience of those moments, but it also gives less to those around me - ensures they do not have my full presence and attention in my interactions.

So... my act of mindfulness lately has been a continued practice of noticing when I am "assigning" my time - naming, labeling, compartmentalizing. There is no good or bad, no right or wrong, no happy or sad... should I choose it.

If I can see all my time as valuable and connected to my practice of mindful living, then it will all be. Just as it should. Without a seeming struggle between positive and negative affiliations.

May you embrace all of your living today. May even the seemingly most mundane of activities bring you an opportunity to learn and be closer to joy.

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