My Guru, The Pita Bread!
I have a somewhat regular and sincere contemplative mindfulness practice that helps me understand why I experience life the way I do, both internally and externally. I've been able to see my own urges, those I'm not really aware of such as the urge to multi-task. Practicing mindfulness meditation and other mindfulness practices I've learned to become in touch with my own urges, how they've controlled my life and work and how now to control them through awareness and self discipline. So, here are a few reflections for your coffee time. As you sip on your deliciously made aromatic coffee, tea or hot cocoa, accept these thoughts for your own reflection.
At the third mindfulness class I took with Daniel Davis, I finally decided to do the homework he had suggested, which was to do one thing we do routinely during the day, mindfully. That is, to be with the experience of it and fully give it our undivided attention. For example, if we chose brushing our teeth, he said to brush slowly, feel every stroke as the brush moved around the mouth, what it felt like, the taste of the tooth paste, what the mind was doing; observe everything about that experience, while also focusing on our breath. This was our mindfulness exercise, which to me didn't sound too exciting. It took a lot of self discipline to be able to stay with an activity and not wander off in the mind.
So I never did the toothbrush exercise.
Until that final day of having burnt my 1967th pita bread and screaming to myself, "this is so annoying. It's not acceptable anymore!”
Aside from running my business, tending to clients, raising kids, continuing to graduate school, etc., I also managed to lead a life of arranging parties, cooking for anywhere from 25 to 70 people, for my kids and family and for different occasions. I'm considered a very good cook by those who enjoyed flawless dishes over the course of 25 years. With one helper at my side to help prepare I could cook and prepare up to 10 dishes for a party all in one day and have everything come out perfect with beautiful presentations. That takes self discipline, so I thought! I also viewed myself as very accountable and responsible.
So, why did I burn nine pitas out of every ten that I tried to warm up? That had to do with some kind of an urge that I wasn't aware of, an urge that was controlling my life in so many ways and now I saw it as causing me to burn so many pita breads.
You see, for we Persians, using the toaster or microwave or even an oven to heat up the pita is a no-no. At least that's how my grandma taught me. So, we have to heat our pita bread over the fire to cook it to perfection. This takes anywhere between ten and thirty seconds. I know. I've timed it. So, for a competent cook like me burning nine out of ten pitas is really absurd and very annoying.
Why was this happening? I had to find out. Hence, this became my mindfulness exercise for my homework. Oh boy, was I in for a huge lesson in getting to know how I went about living life. While I stayed with my pita bread to heat it up, I followed the instructions of my teacher, feeling all my feelings, being with the experience, being with my breath, etc. I observed how absolutely difficult it was for me to just do one thing at a time. I saw how I could not stay put for twenty seconds to finish this task. The urge to run and do other things was overwhelming. I'd leave the stove to get something from the fridge, to wash vegetables, cut them, put on music and so many other things while leaving the bread on the fire and rushing to turn it over in between all those other tasks. And of course, it would burn needlessly.
OMG, I could not, and I mean could not for the life of me stay put. I saw how absolutely uncomfortable it was for me to pay attention to one thing and wait until it finished. As if it was not worth my time or something! As if I had to prove I could do more or as if having accomplished heating a few pita breads was too low of an accomplishment! I couldn't figure out what this was all about. It was one of the most bizarre experiences I encountered with myself. At that moment it hit me, "Where else in my life do I behave in this way? Where else do I not pay attention where it might be so much more harmful than just burning a few pieces of bread?" I thought about my kids, my relationships, my business. I had to sit down with that overwhelming thought and start practicing loving kindness, acceptance and gratitude for myself or I would have felt like a total failure. The pita bread had become my mirror!
In that moment I saw how I reacted to events in my life through urges and the need to satisfy them. Now, I'm not an addict or alcoholic, but this sure felt like addiction to me, my not being able to stop running around. I also understood why my teacher had given us such exercise and what mindfulness meant. I had believed I was a self- disciplined person, but realized that at least that behavior was nothing more than being a slave to my urges of producing, entertaining, running to fix and to achieve.
After that aha moment passed, I tried heating my bread as an only task and it was not easy. It was as if I were a smoker or an addict who had to quit multi-tasking. At first, I tried to impose control over my behavior, like a chain smoker trying to quit smoking but couldn't do it all at once. As I put another pita bread on the fire, I stayed close by, opened the drawer next to the stove to get forks and knives out, and the cabinet above to get plates out. I needed a great amount of self-discipline and didn't have it.
How I learned to control my urges and exhibit self-discipline:
1. First I had to feel my urges, which took self- discipline and tolerance to be with something that was very uncomfortable.
2. Coming back to the task at hand made it easier and easier to feel the urge to control by doing one thing at a time.
3. Seeing clearly. I realized that only a fraction of my attention was applied to any of the tasks I did while multi-tasking. Control was not the right strategy because it wasn't sustainable. I needed to be aware of the underlying urges that activate my choices and actions and by acknowledging them not become a slave to the urge to multi-task.
4. Training the mind was what I needed to enhance my self-discipline. I needed the skill and ability to stay in one place and to finish one task at a time with excellent quality and the least amount of stress. Boy, this has really helped minimize a lot of humanly mistakes that I could easily brush under the carpet or just find some justification for.
Practicing mindfulness has helped me control my urges, increase my self-awareness and self-discipline and has enhanced my results dramatically (I burn one out of ten pitas, a 90% improvement). I clearly see the connection between my efforts, desired outcomes and my serenity. I've learned that the quality of time and outcomes definitely depend on the quality of my awareness.
By meditating routinely, bringing my attention to my breath and back to the task at hand I am so much calmer, so much happier and more accomplished. The quality of life is all in the way I experience things. And this, simply, is how the pita bread became my guru.First published in Nov 2008
Dr. Manijeh Motaghy is the founder of Mindful Business Institute an Organizational Effectiveness, Management Consulting, and Employee Training Firm. For workshops on Mindfulness at Work, Mindfulness in Time Management, Mindfulness in Your Strengths and other mindfulness training Visit us at: http://mindfulbusinessinstitute.com
Download free guided mindfulness meditation at: http://www.mindfulvalley.org
Download free guided mindfulness meditation at: http://www.mindfulvalley.org