The Value of Mindfulness

                                                                                                                                                                              Photo Credit: Emily Scott

                                                                                                                                                                            Photo Credit: Emily Scott

The tagline of my business is “Your values, vision, and money,” which makes the first question I ask my clients natural and obvious: “What are your values?”  Ah, you say, what do you mean by values? Values are the fundamental beliefs a person holds, which can serve as a guiding force in one’s life. I’m with the many gurus and philosophers who believe that knowing your values and acting in concert with them is key to happiness and success.

A key piece of the work we do together, my clients and I, is to evaluate whether their values and priorities are reflected in their legacy planning, philanthropy, and spending.  For instance, if they claim to value the environment, are they donating to nonprofits specifically focused on any of the environmental issues such as land use, water, forestry, or global warming? Simply put, is their inner life brought forth in their outer life; that’s the question. This alignment is what we curate and as their thought partner, I strive to help them achieve this objective. Here’s the big take home point:  We create mental conflict for ourselves when our values and our actions are in opposition.

Recently, someone asked the same question of me. It’s all well and good that I spend my days exploring values, but what are mine?

Ten years ago, I wrote out my values list. Curious, I went back to see if my values had remained the same and indeed they had.  I believe that values can change over time as we grow, gain experience, and learn.    That being said, I continue to work on the alignment between my values and my daily life. I think that job is never really done. I thought I might share what I rediscovered on that long-forgotten list.

The first value I wrote is mindfulness.

I chuckle at the memory. When I wrote this list, which I did in conjunction with my husband (now ex), he’d written in that very slot, “Strive for perfection, go for the gusto, be the best you can be.”   

When we compared our lists, this glaring difference seemed to explain a source of conflict. We approached decision making very differently, and because of this, we often butted heads.  At the time, we came to appreciate that, by combining these different values and perspectives, we were capable of making much better decisions. That is, if we were willing to be patient with each other’s approach.  I remember thinking, “Well, that’s mindfulness at work right there!”

Mindfulness also played a role in how I thought (and still think) about spending.  While my ex-husband’s normal response was “We can afford it,” I would say, “Is this how we want to spend our money?” We were fortunate in that our disposable income allowed for luxuries, the kind that far too many couldn’t even consider.  Yet, I grew up with a depression-era mother who instilled in me the value of being mindful about spending.  She helped me understand the tradeoffs and choices, for example, whether to save money for a special occasion or spend my allowance on something that would give me immediate satisfaction.  

How is mindfulness reflected in my daily life now? In some ways, it’s a subtle undercurrent, and in other ways, overt.  The subtle ways I would call part of my personality; I’m in my head a lot and think longer about an issue, a situation, a plan, a friend, a blog than probably anyone should.  It is with conscious mindfulness (the more overt variety) that I keep track of and acknowledge my friends’ important events, for I want them to know their importance to me.

Between subtle and overt is the “in general” course of action. Often, my approach to a problem is to reflect, think of different scenarios, ask others for their perspective, and to gather data.  Mindful, to me, is the opposite of impetuous, reactive.  It’s much more about going in, exploring how an idea sits with me, what it requires of me, and others. Of course, there are times when my gut instinct has the easy and obvious answer.  And, unfortunately, there are still too many instances where my knee jerk reaction is what I act on; rarely is that outcome good.  

My observation – which perhaps you share as well – is that rash action is the antithesis of mindfulness.    Those rash actions, those are the ones that get us into trouble, that derail us, that get us thrown completely off course. One day we wake up, and we don’t know how we got where we are.

The very conscious, or overt, acts of mindfulness are the best parts of me.  Taking this value and acting on it in my daily life has proven, time and time again, to bring me joy.  

I often talk about “coming to the conversation curious,” the idea being that when you approach something with an open mind, the amount of information, understanding, and enlightenment you are rewarded with is off the charts.  When you come to the conversation curious, that’s when you truly connect. I will say that when I practice what I preach, the outcome is full abundance. Still a work in progress, I make it a point—I’m married to the concept--of coming to the conversation mindful, curious; open to the possibilities, the choices. When I betray this value, nothing good comes of it. I find myself dissatisfied.

Perhaps this struggle of merging my inner life with my outer life is why I admire people who have found alignment between the two.  I think of Dr. Denis Mukwege in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a man I call my Ghandi.  His deep value of holding precious the human life has had him working tirelessly for over 20 years, mending thousands of women and girls who’ve been brutally raped and tortured.  His eyes are bloodshot, his body shows signs of fatigue, his heart and soul are scarred by what he has witnessed. He has survived death threats and attacks and he is now unable to come and go as he pleases.  Yet, even with the many sacrifices, he has found deep satisfaction and joy because he has never wavered from his values.

When we think of someone who has his/her act together or seems so grounded, is he/she displaying the alignment of values and behaviors?  Is that what resonates with us? When we think of our heroes, of the people we deeply respect and want to emulate, is part of that the ideal that they “walk their talk?” Is that what we’re after?  For me, I would say yes.  

You don’t get there without carefully considering your values and living by them.