Focus

ADHD to Zen: Inside Job

This is the last post in the transformation series. As a recap, this series is intended to help you change nothing in your life but your perspective of it. We are speculating that: by starting to see your life, yourself, or your ADHD differently – without doing anything at all to change it – you will find yourself in a more powerful position to effect positive change down the line.

In Transform Your Life: ADHD to Zen, we talked about embracing the chaos of your life and getting out of your own way, to see the beauty of what you already have. In ADHD to Zen: Non-Doing, we discussed how the practice of non-doing or, of doing things effortlessly, without attachment to the results, can actually help you do things better. And in ADHD to Zen: Living Fully, we explored the notion that living fully is not about living happily, all the time. It’s about accepting every aspect of our situation as being okay, just how it is. Only then can we truly move forward, if we need to.

Today, in this last post, we’re going to talk about you. More specifically, we’re going to talk about the way you experience your life – through your thoughts.

I’ll try not to make this rabbit hole too long or confusing.

Most of us experience life through our thoughts about it. We ADDers, typically have more thoughts than the average person. Not ordinary thoughts, rapid-fire thoughts. Frequently, these thoughts can be very negative and drag us down.

In the past, I have written a lot about changing the way you think about things. We experience life through the lens of our thoughts. Life is bound to be unhappy if those thoughts are always negative.

Certainly, positive thinking has a prominent role in happiness. However, if you want lasting peace and contentment, then you need more tools in your belt than just optimism. Another “tool” for finding serenity can be to allow whatever thoughts occurring to exist, without changing or endorsing them.

“Thinking is the natural activity of the mind. Meditation is not about stopping your thoughts. Meditation is simply a process of resting the mind in its natural state, which is open to and naturally aware of thoughts, emotions and sensations as they occur… When you don’t understand the nature and origin on your thoughts, your thoughts use you… we can use our thoughts instead of being used by them”.  Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, The Joy of Living

Think about rain for a minute. Imagine big droplets of raining falling gently from the sky, splashing down into puddles, hugging the curb outside your home.

What are those rain drops? Are they the sky? Are they the condensation from the clouds within the sky? Now they have fallen, have they become puddles? What becomes of each rain drop that has fallen? Is a puddle a large collection of single rain drops, or one, single entity?

Your thoughts are those rain drops. They come and go. They are not you. They are an expression of part of you, but they are not you. And as they pass, they become like the rain drops in the puddle. A puddle which, by the way, will eventually evaporate and cease to exist.

You are something much more than the rain or the puddle. You are so much greater than those thoughts that drop by and evaporate just as quickly.

When you follow or cling to your thoughts – when you chase them, or give in to them, you allow them to become you, when actually – they are nothing but a passing phenomenon.

When you sit back and notice them – simply notice them without judgement or trying to shoo them away – you tap into the nature of your own mind, the ebb and flow of conscious cognitions. And you realize that, while they are part of you, they are not the whole.

Rinpoche tells us:

“Everything I’ve learned about the biological processes of thought and perception indicates that the only way to break free from the prison of pain is performing the type of activity that imprisoned us in the first place. As long as we don’t recognize the peace that exists naturally within our own minds, we can never find lasting satisfaction in external objects or activities. In other words, happiness and unhappiness (is an) inside job.”

Living successfully with ADHD is certainly an inside job. Notice when you are thinking negatively, feeling scattered, or unable to settle your mind. You don’t have to change it – just notice it. Notice how one thought passes and another replaces it, only for that thought to quickly be replaced as well.

This is the nature of the mind, but not the nature of you. Thoughts can be scattered, negative or unsettled – but you exist beyond your thoughts. Noticing them from this vantage point, allows you to navigate through them and, as Rinpoche says, use them instead of being used by them.

I hope this series has been helpful. I am curious to know what you’ve made of the concepts we’ve explored. For now, I am going to take a break from the mindfulness topic and explore other issues in managing ADD and creating extraordinary lives. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, feel free to share!

And have an awesome day.

Focus

Transform Your Life: ADHD to Zen

 

Going from ADHD to Zen… is that even possible? You probably think I’m kidding. Actually, I’m not – and you shouldn’t be fooled into thinking they are dichotomous either.

Life with ADHD may seem restless, unfocused and disorganized on the surface. Dig just a little bit further, though, and you may find a layer of peace and calmness under the chaos, just waiting to be excavated.

When ADDers seek help through medication, counseling or coaching, they are hoping for strategies to overcome their symptoms and live “normal” lives. What they really want is to transform themselves, to have a different experience of life altogether. At the core, they want more peace and happiness.

Isn’t this what we all want?

But who has time for personal transformation? It’s hard enough just getting through the day with your head still on. Transformation is for caterpillars and Autobots, not people trying to muddle through each day without falling apart. Most of us would settle for just getting to work on time.

We should want more from life than just muddling-through. What about having a life in which we are flourishing and having a great time at it? We assume that by becoming more organized, productive and focused, our paths will eventually lead us to a life of tranquility.

What if we’ve got it the wrong way around? What if the way to organization, productivity and focus was through peace and calmness? What might be possible if transformation was the first step, not the result?

What I’m saying is this:

What if Zen came first and the rest followed?

I believe that complete transformation is not only possible, but inevitable, when you open yourself up to a new experience of life, even when circumstances haven’t changed one iota.  I’m not the only one. My ideas have been influenced by several likely suspects. Specifically – two monks, a professor and of course, a punk rocker. In this four-part series, I will explain what I have learned from them and challenge you to shift your perspective.

What have you got to lose?

You’ve already lost time and perhaps money trying to find the perfect system/treatment/cure for your ADHD. I’m daring you to try something different. Expand your horizon. For now, change nothing in your life but your perception of it. The nice part of this challenge – you don’t need to do anything but think. And we all know you’re good at that.

Transformation Step 1 – Embrace the Chaos

If you’re like me and many other ADDers, then I’m sure you’ve had this experience. You’ve tried countless tactics for getting yourself, your home or your work organized, and no system thus far has managed to stick. It’s not that you don’t know how to get organized, but keeping organized requires focus and effort – every single minute, of every single day. Focus and effort are limited resources and often – we’re just tapped out.

How can we transform this?

There is nothing inherently wrong with being disorganized or scattered. Sure, it makes our lives more difficult but there is no immorality in being less “together” than society seduces us into believing we should be.

However, the problem runs deeper than this. The pursuit of “getting-it-together” can actually divert us from the true purpose of our lives. Having an organized home, for example, should be something that supports us in getting on with our life’s purpose (if you don’t know what yours is yet, check this out). Yet the stress of trying to get and stay organized can be all-consuming, robbing us of the peace we are intending to achieve. A clean kitchen is a nice thing to have, but not something to record in a resume or obituary.

In The Art of Meditation, Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard tells us:

“We expend a lot of effort to improve the external conditions of our lives, but in the end it is always the mind that creates our experience of the world and translates it into well-being or suffering. If we transform our way of perceiving things, we transform the quality of our lives.”

What if we see chaos as the tariff we pay for lives rich in creativity, purpose and meaning – lives that don’t rely on neat-and-tidy togetherness to substantiate them? Let me clarify:

‘Ms Jackson’

One of my clients was a highly creative work-at-home mom, whose creative spark invariably saturated her world at work and at home (they happened to be the same place). She was amazing at her job but her home looked like Jackson Pollock’s studio. And she wasn’t even a painter, so you get the drift…

In her “home time”, she engaged her kids in wonderfully imaginative projects that inspired their own creativity, curiosity and joyful experimentation. But she was always three loads of laundry behind and rarely could she string together a meal that didn’t come out of a bag.

Although my client highly valued creativity, being a mom made her believe organization and “togetherness” were something she should be good at too.

Parenting comes with a lot of “shoulds”, ones that other roles don’t necessarily have attached to them. A chemist doesn’t feel a need to program a computer, yet creative parents are always expecting to be better homemakers, organizers, cleaners, cooks and so forth. When did these attributes become inherent in the Job Description of a parent?

I wondered:

“How many creative-types did she know – painters, writers or the like, that were organized and tidy in all aspects of their lives? And if she had to trade her creativity for organization, would she?”

There seemed to be an important part missing in her story.  I mean – her kids got to school, nourished and nurtured, and went to bed the same way. She loved them and did the best job she could for them. She gave them the best of her abilities and shared freely with them her natural talents.

In fact, they were lucky to have a mom who had so many great ideas and could show them the joy of colouring their world. But on another account, they weren’t that lucky. Their creative mom was always stressed-out by their messy and disorganized home life, because of standards she assumed were essential to good mothering. I’d have loved to ask them: did they want a creative mom or an organized one?

She wasn’t letting herself be herself. She disallowed her joy in creative living by pursuing the got-it-all-together-mom persona. Her joyful spark was lost because she was too attached to the notion of who she should be.

Eventually, she experienced a shift in her perception. In short, she gave up on being a “great mom” and instead became a great “her”, who also happened to be a mom. She let herself be herself.  While she did her best to organize day-to-day life, she didn’t sacrifice her peace and joy to do it.

She found calmness amongst her chaos. She found a way to roll with the punches and think on-the-fly, not beating herself up when she didn’t quite manage things so well.

How She Found Calmness in Chaos

  • She became more mindful, present and grateful for the moment, rather than focusing on how things should be.
  • She set aside her judgement, and allowed each day to unfold, vowing to take each moment as a learning experience rather than a test she must pass.
  • She noticed that, whenever things weren’t going as well as she would like, these moments (like all moments) would pass. Each moment was a new opportunity to start again.

What was really cool was that, as she found more calmness in her “chaos”, she became more organically organized. Not perfect mind you, but functional – enough to get through the day without feeling like a complete failure.

Let me ask you:

What area of your life could be better-served by an attitude of acceptance?

What sacrifices are you currently making to your life’s purpose, by focusing on some externally-imposed standard you think is more important?

What shift might you experience in your whole well-being, if you simply gave up your need to control this one aspect of your life, and allowed it to be just as it was?

Finding Calmness in Your Chaos

Let’s imagine, for example, that your desk is cluttered (not hard to imagine, is it?). You’re always searching for items needed to complete your work. Your productivity is seriously limited by this kind of disorganization, no doubt. But you’ve tidied your desk a bazillion times and it never stays that way.

Should you try to organize it yet again? Maybe you should flagellate yourself with a mouse-cord. Or hire a thug to stand behind you, slapping you upside-the-head every time you misplace something. Perhaps that would keep you organized.

Another tack might be to change your point of view.

A Fix That Fits

Accept that part of your work day will involve time spent looking for misplaced artefacts. I’m not saying that you can’t work on de-cluttering your desk, but you can factor-in a cluttered desk as a natural part of the way you work. You’re a square peg, so make the hole square too. After all, you’ll lose more time in endless cycles of de-cluttering and re-cluttering than you will by allowing a few extra minutes to find things.

If you can get organized and stay organized, you will. But if you can’t, you will have to make peace with your disorganization.

Zen in Clutter  

Allow yourself to find the Zen in a cluttered workspace. Take the pressure off. Be present and accepting of the way things are. When you notice your desk in disarray, take a moment to tidy it. Or don’t. But do not beat yourself up for being disorganized. The calmness in finding this Zen could actually help you get more focused and organized, simply by being more present and accepting of the moment.

Stop fighting the waves of ADD. Start riding them.

In the next three follow ups to this post, we will explore:

  • How doing less, or even nothing at all, can help you get more out of yourself.
  • How sucking lemons is the one of the greatest ways to live more fully.
  • How managing ADHD and living life well is truly an inside-job.

For the next couple weeks, work on your own perspective-shift. Whatever it is about your ADHD that bugs you the most – make a decision to see it from a different perspective.

What are the positive aspects or off-shoots of that challenge? For example, Ms Jackson was creative but that often meant she was also disorganized. What do you get to be despite your challenges?

Your challenges – are they really in opposition to your values, or to society’s imposed values?

What happens when you look for the Zen in your ADD moments? How do you feel? Does a shift in perspective help you when you other tactics don’t?

I’m curious to hear what you notice. And don’t forget – please share your experience in the comments below!

Focus

Mindfulness: What Is It?

Mindfulness: What Is It?
How to meditate: Mastering your inner maelstrom. Illustration: Cristina Guitian

First of all, I’ll tell you what it isn’t: difficult.

It’s actually pretty simple. So simple, in fact, that I intend to describe it to you in a very short post today. Simple concepts beget simple explanations.

Mindfulness is a way of improving your being. Being, in this context, refers to your entire experience of life. Through mindfulness, you develop greater self-awareness, hone attention span and find more calmness and gratitude in your life.

It helps you find serenity, while also strengthening your ability to make well thought-out decisions and congruent actions. It helps you accept the results of those actions, no matter what they are.

So how do you get more of this mindfulness thing?

It’s true that it is a form of meditation but don’t write it off just yet. Mindfulness is also a way of being. And of doing. And of thinking.
It’s about being here now, present in the moment. Fully aware of your environment, internal and external, but completely non-judgemental about what you see.

Mindfulness is about really, truly, fully living life – as it is happening. Not thinking about the future or ruminating about the past – but being here now.

Sounds impossible, doesn’t it?

It’s absolutely not. It just takes practice.

Practice, by the way, can happen formally and informally.

Formal practice occurs in the way that we typically thinking about meditation – sitting quietly, with relaxed posture, and clearing our minds of thoughts.

Informal practice happens as you go about your day – brushing your teeth, eating, driving to work … you can practice doing normal, everyday things. Mindfulness means paying attention to what you are doing – observing yourself in action . And when thoughts come up you notice them, label them, and let them go just as quickly as they arrived.

You think that’s the part that sounds impossible? How can you stop thinking with a wildly abundant ADHD mind?

The misconception about mindfulness is that you must wipe your mind clean of all thoughts. Mindfulness is not mindlessness. You allow thoughts to come and go. But you don’t “chase” them. Mindfulness is continually bringing your attention back to the present moment – over and over and over again. And over again if you must.

Let me ask you this:

How much of your life have you missed because you weren’t really there? (Click to tweet)

How much richer, happier and fulfilling could your life be, if you experienced it through the lens of mindful appreciation and acceptance?

If you think having ADHD excludes you from meditating, or from mental clarity and mindful being- think again. Go and read The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD, By Lidia Zylowska, MD. She might change your mind.

One last thing…

If you are taking this journey with me, you must make two promises.

Firstly, that you will not over-complicate it. We ADDers love to create marvellously-designed systems that we never use. Mindfulness is born out of simplicity. You don’t need a system to practice – just do it whenever can.

Secondly, promise you won’t be hard on yourself when your mind continually wanders off. Pinky swear you won’t! Even if you have to bring your attention back a hundred times a minute, it doesn’t mean you are bad at mindfulness. It means you’re normal.

Make no mistake, I am no Zen-Master. I’m learning along side you. While I have been practising mindfulness for some time now, I still have to bring my attention back to the moment frequently x 10. But I have certainly improved from when I started!

See for yourself. For the next week, practice being mindful for one minute a day, maybe while brushing your teeth or eating. We are starting small so we can grow this muscle slowly. One minute a day is a decent goal. If you go longer – wow, you’re awesome!

Tell me how it goes in the comments below.

Namaste!