Taking Aims – Cultivating Independence from Moods

In our lives, we seem to have lots of moods that have incredible power over us – now I’m angry, now heavy, now lazy, now being hard on myself, now gregarious, now cranky, now afraid. Although moods naturally come and go, I’m noticing something that is rather obvious – our moods significantly impact our behaviors,beliefs and perceptions. As an example, if I am feeling kind of cranky, it will affect my sociability, the foods I eat, my productivity, the quality of my interactions with others and many other things. At the moment I am questioning that, questioning whether or not our moods need to have so much of an affect on the specifics of our lives. If we can learn to recognize the separation between our true selves and our ordinary minds, couldn’t we also learn to separate ourselves from our moods?
That thought has been stewing in my head since reading something a few days ago from Jon Kabat-Zinn:
“One of the principle virtues of a daily discipline is an acquired transparency toward daily mood states. A commitment to getting up early to meditate becomes independent of wanting or not wanting to do so on a particular morning. . . . It provides a constancy that’s independent of the day you had yesterday and what kind of day you anticipate today.”
That statement struck a chord that has been humming along in me ever since. I’ve often thought of meditation as a way to practice being attentive, to learn to witness one’s mind and emotional states so as to not let them take control of our actions and life. What I hadn’t thought about though was how our relationship to this practice itself has it’s own power. What I’m saying is that, in this case, it’s not so much the actual meditation, but the commitment to the meditation that has the power. I go through phases, but in all honesty, I haven’t been a very consistent meditator at all. Most of the time I’m not really in the mood. There are also about 3,800+ things that my mind would prefer that I do rather than just sit there and do nothing. Sometimes meditation can be downright emotionally excruciating and I do my best to avoid that experience at any cost.
But what if I just did it, just made a commitment to sitting each day, no matter what mood I was in, or how much more important my mind tried to tell me that everything else is? It is certainly worth the experiment. As such…
I am taking an aim to do that.
“Taking aims” is a very important process that we rarely undertake. To take an aim, it’s best to have3 facets to your aim:
  1. be as specific as possible regarding the behavior you are going or not going to do
  2. be clear on the extent
  3. have a finite time commitment
All three are critical and it is very important that the aim be achievable, as we need to reinforce our capacity to follow through with our commitments rather than underscore a belief in our tendency to fail.
For example, people will often say something like “I’m going to go to the gym 3 days a week.” While a worthwhile intention, it is something that, at some point in time, is sure to fail. Some week will come along where we don’t get around to it. Better to say, “for the next 30 days, I am going to exercise (at least a quickly paced walk) for 30 minutes, 3x /week. It’s specific(“quickly paced walk” – not just “exercise”), clear (3x per week), and has a time frame (for the next 30 days). Although completing this aim may not be a done deal, it is certainly not destined to fail. One can always extend the aim at the end or take a new one.
I started this post back on the 27th of October. At that point I took the following aim:
I aim to meditate at least once / day for at least 1 minute until the end of November.
1 minute? Serious? That’s not much of a commitment, is it? The important thing here for me is that I do it everyday. I didn’t expect to sit for just one minute, but it’s nice to have that option just so as to not have an excuse for missing it. The important thing, at least for me, is getting on that cushion.
I also took another aim:

I will not take my laptop to bed with me starting then (Oct 27th)through the month of November.

I spend too much time with technology and waking with it rather than more naturally rolling in to my day is a terrible way for me to start the day, and is a habit dearly in need of breaking.

The more grounded I am in my experience, the more present I am with others, the more aware I am of my own mind and it’s tendencies, and the more Joy I have in my life on a moment to moment basis. This is worth making an effort for. It’s my only life, and I’d rather not sleep my way through what’s left of it.
I’ll write more about this after the aims are complete at the end of November, but so far, I am pleased. If any of you are interested in taking an aim and want a witness to share your aim with, send me a message or post a reply here.

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