Friday, January 2, 2015

Meditation and The Trap of the Intellect

One of my clients had left two companies before we started coaching and was about to take a third job. All three positions were internal consulting roles for which she was well suited. Bright and innovative, she’d been hired in start-ups because she was comfortable with a new and/or ambiguous role if she was able to influence its parameters. But in the two organizations she'd left, she wasn't given the authority to define her role as she saw fit. She'd received positive feedback about her talents, but slipped pretty regularly into despair about her capability to make any real difference.

The job she was moving into appeared to be a better fit in terms of her potential influence, so she was more likely to stay there in spite of her historically predictable dissatisfaction. In addition, she began to shift her perspective with a mindfulness practice of gratitude.

All of us, no matter what our personality style or key emotions, can benefit from being mindful of gratitude. How do we do that? Phillip Moffitt suggests, "When you are contracted due to self-pity, fear, or anger, more than likely gratitude isn't present, so notice those things for which you are grateful."

This is not the same as positive thinking. Instead of denying the difficulties of life, the practice of gratitude is rather a way to turn the mind. Instead of moving too quickly to erase the reality of the moment, stay with the emotions you're experiencing: I'm despairing at this moment and grateful I can observe this and know I am not my emotions. 

In “Meditation, Happiness, and The Trap of the Intellect,” Eric Armstrong described the transient quality of grateful feelings:
“As powerful as the feelings were, however, on each occasion they dissipated. It was rather disheartening. I mean, there I was—enlightened! And now it was gone.”
The trap of the intellect is a focus on what’s missing, so the ego can kick in by criticizing our inability to maintain a meditative focus as yet another sign of incompetence and yet another reason to despair of ever finding happiness. 

We can learn to observe this pattern and move through it, to continue the practice of gratitude even though its effects come and go. 

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