What’s the purpose in being alive? This is the question my husband posed to me when we were discussing what we should do about our son’s school. He was four years old and I had looked into Waldorf school, Montessori school, Sudbury school, a co-op charter school, a back to basics charter school, a regular public school, Catholic school, two expensive private schools and homeschooling. (Can you tell I was a perfectionistic teacher with a twinge of anxiety?) My son had some sensory sensitivities that made school a challenge and I was trying to find the perfect fit. He was very bright and loved learning so we weren’t worried about his academics, more about his ability to tolerate the environment. Our son taught himself to read, devoured non-fiction, and love children’s museums but he didn’t like sitting, crowds or loud noises. What’s the purpose of sending a kid to school if it’s not academics? This led to my husbands question of what is the purpose in being alive?
The answer we came up with was “The meaning of life is to experience, experiences”. To be fully present and conscious of every experience we have along our journey of life. We hear a lot these days about the power of meditation and mindfulness. I talk a lot about the brain state we enter when we are in “play” or “flow”. I’m at a conference in San Diego listening to Tom Sterner, author of The Practicing Mind, talk about being in the “present process”. As American companies and schools stress out their employees and their students with their goal-oriented, results focused culture, ancient Eastern practices are finally earning some street cred here in the West.
Eastern teachings have always focused more on perfecting the PROCESS. I remember my brother-in-law telling me he spent three months learning only to squat properly, from his Japanese Aikido teacher. This sounded horrible to my Western trained mind! But while he was learning to squat, he really was learning to enjoy the process of mastering the mind and body. When we can calm down, slow down and focus our attentions, we access a serene, but expansive, mental state. From this calm mental state, we are fully aware, fully experiencing life and we have choices to steer life where we want it. This is what life coaching is all about. We study our lives like we’d study a piece of art, a golf swing, or a poem. We take a look at the thoughts, feelings and actions taking place that aren’t serving the goal. We use the goal to inspire, but the focus in on mastering the process, observing ourselves with compassion, so we can make choices and build habits that lead us to our goals. Learning to slow down isn’t easy, but life improves so much that you get hooked on the process.
Children who study music or art can learn the value of “present process” from a very young age. They learn that it’s the process and practice of mastery that makes life worth living. Kids who play video games understand this. Video games keep you on the edge of capability with a goal of mastery. As soon as the goal is accomplished, the game becomes boring. The result is not the point. It’s this flow/play/present-focused brain wave state that makes kids, and adults, coming back for more. I think we do kids a disservice when we stress the importance of grades, scores and points. Our goal-driven, results focused culture has robbed us of happiness and health and now the tide is changing. Non-reactive sports like golf, swimming, running, ballet, martial arts, gymnastics can give us the opportunity to grow our ability to enjoy the learning process. We get to decide what our art is going to be. I like to study people, parenting, kids and the everyday aspects of a person’s life. Whatever is bugging you the most could be your art, a place to slow down and study to get the results you want.
After deciding that the purpose of life was to experience it, we put our son in a less stimulating, small school with hopes that he could make friends and have a shared experience with others in his culture. It hasn’t been perfect. He still gets sick a lot and struggles with over-stimulation. His love of learning has been diminished by his results-focused school and it may take him a while to remember what it felt like to learn for the sake of learning. When I see him recording Jeopardy and documentaries about World War II, I know there is still a glimmer of joy in there. I suppose the obsession with video games is a good sign that he still knows how to play.
If you struggle with staying in the present moment and want to learn more about making your life, your art, sign up for life coaching today.
If meditation sounds as appealing as it sounds tortuous to you, watch this “Meditation Olympics video” and this funny meditation video to get you in the playful, present-process mindset. Experiencing, experiences don’t have to be torturous.