Contented as opposed to Overwhelmed, Stressed and Dissatisfied – Six Key Elements
We were sitting on an old log overlooking the beautiful landscape; cattle grazing , drifting clouds, green fields, the sound of birds and a gentle breeze. He looked harassed and stressed. I asked him what he was hoping to feel once the project that he was working on was completed. He hesitated while thinking about the answer… Appreciation? Success? Happiness? After a pause he replied: “No. Contentment”. I asked him to listen to the birds, feel the log beneath him and the breeze on his skin, to look at the green grass, and suddenly the expression on his face shifted. “Wow,” he said. “ It is right here. Contentment is right here, right now.”
What are you seeking? What are you hoping will happen at the end of your busyness, deadline, your project? One thing I know is we don’t reach contentment by chasing it.
Often people say to me that they feel overwhelmed and they want mindfulness to help them become more efficient and effective. The belief is, “ If I can be more effective and focused then everything will be completed and I will feel calm”. Hmmm. This is a delusion. Contentment is not a result of becoming more effective, focused and successful. Experiencing calm and contentment is an inner journey and this is where mindfulness shines and leads the way.
Also, the earth does not need us to be more efficient nor more effective; the earth needs us to be in alignment with its heartbeat and to feel and embrace life and love. The earth needs us to stop, think, be aware and sense the miracle that life on this planet is and then act in deep respect for that. We all need to slow down, consider, reflect and act out of respect for what we find in the quiet intimate space of connecting, calm and contentment.
Yes, we need to de-stress and become more resilient and less reactive, but not so that we can be more productive and work harder. We need to live like this simply because it is good for us and for the earth.
Mindfulness is more and more being sold as a “tool” to create more efficiency and higher productivity and it does deliver that. It is natural that we only see mindfulness as a tool when we are functioning in the drive state. From this place there is a focus on the next thing, the to-do list and “I have to, I must, I should”. It is hard to access other perspectives when the “drive” state it is all about my task and me, me, me. When I dwell in this state I cannot access further consequences than the ones that affect me in the near future. I cannot sense the pulse of life and instead I am imprisoned in the relentless need to get the next task completed.
If you don’t go within, you go without
Capitalism celebrates the drive system and is based in a belief that if we have little discomfort and pain but a lot of pleasure then we will be happy. As much as we appreciate clean water and food on the super market shelves, holidays, cars and a nice home, this does not automatically bring us to contentment. It is interesting that it is the countries that enjoy greater affluence that are also affected by high rates of depression and anxiety. It is time that we consider a mature version of the capitalistic model, one that puts the brakes on extreme profit and on the imbalance of wealth distribution, one that is not based on incorrect observations about the planet and life in general, one that is not based on a belief of endless growth and consumption. We need to consider a model that dares us to see clearly and take responsibility not just for the immediate future, but for generations to come.
Many centuries ago, the Buddha, along with many other wise people, realized the fallacy of this belief. The Greeks knew the difference as well and distinguished between hedonic pleasure and eudemonic contentment. Our way to contentment, mental freedom and compassion, is through not identifying with and giving into the “lower-level” functioning, of always either being in some form of avoiding and/or wanting.
In our mindfulness practice we notice discomfort and dissatisfaction, we notice wanting something to be different, we notice wanting a new jumper, some wine, etc. Part of the practice is not giving into these impulses. Out of that, gradually arises more freedom, inner contentment and “maturity”.
The elements leading to contentment
- Protect your mind – notice how much you are always on your phone, social media, watching the news, etc. Limit this by ensuring you have times during the day without any of it. Go for a walk or go home after work without your phone.
- Stabilise your attention – practice mindfulness so you become more aware of what is going on within and without and so that you can enhance the healthy states and reduce the time spent in the unhealthy. You can find our mindfulness practice resources here.
- Make the Dear Body your number one priority – get enough sleep, move, eat a healthy diet, listen to the body, and manage anxiety.
- Take in the good – harness the good experiences, really notice them, and drink them in – try our mindfulness practice ABCD here
- Engage in Hygge, the Danish every day tradition of lighting a candle or two, sitting with loved ones with a good tea/coffee and perhaps some food, nothing fancy, chatting, reading, playing a game or watching the fireplace or a film together.
- A retreat, if you can afford it, go on a retreat to ‘reset’. We still have a few places left on our Bali July Retreat.