I believe it was in a comment by Amar on one of my blog posts that I learned about a great book by Mark Williams and Danny Penman, "Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World."
I've been practicing mindfulness meditation for quite a while, as noted in Mindfulness has become my meditation and Mindfulness is meditation on reality, not supernatural illusion.
The book by Williams and Penman is the best I've ever read on this subject. Very clear, well-written, and creative.
A core theme is the difference between Doing and Being. Doing is fine, if what we're after can be obtained through specific actions. But as you'll read in the excerpt below, Doing leads us astray when we try to apply it in the wrong way.
Why do your best efforts to get rid of unpleasant feelings backfire so tragically? When you try to solve the "problem" of unhappinesss (or any other "negative" emotion) you deploy one of the mind's most powerful tools: rational critical thinking.
It works like this: you see yourself in a place (unhappy) and know where you want to be (happy). Your mind then analyzes the gap between the two and tries to work out the best way of bridging it. To do so, it uses its "Doing" mode (so called because it performs well in solving problems and getting things done).
The Doing mode works by progressively narrowing the gap between where you are and where you want to be... It's a tremendously powerful way of s0lving problems. It's how we find our way across cities, drive cars and arrange hectic work schedules.
...It's perfectly natural, then, to apply this approach to solving the "problem" of unhappiness. But it's often the worst thing you can do because it requires you to focus on the gap between how you are and how you'd like to be: in doing so, you ask such critical questions as, What's wrong with me? Where did I go wrong? Why do I always make these mistakes?
Such questions are not only harsh and self-destructive, but they also demand that the mind furnishes the evidence to explain its discontent. And the mind is truly brilliant at providing such evidence.
Imagine walking through a beautiful park on a spring day. You're happy, but then for some unknown reason a flicker of sadness ripples across your mind. It may be the result of hunger because you skipped lunch or perhaps you unwittingly triggered a troubling memory.
After a few minutes you might start to feel a little down. As soon as you notice your lowered spirits you begin to probe yourself.: It's a lovely day. It's a beautiful park. I wish I were feeling happier than I am now.
Think about that: I wish I were feeling happier.
How do you feel now? You probably feel worse. This is because you focused on the gap between how you feel and how you want to feel. And focusing on the gap highlighted it. The mind sees the gap as a problem to be solved. This approach is disastrous when it comes to your emotions because of the intricate interconnection between your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations.
...The mind can do so much more than simply analyze problems with its Doing mode. The problem is that we use the Doing mode so much, we can't see that there is an alternative. Yet there is another way.
If you stop and reflect for a moment, the mind doesn't just think. It can also be aware that it is thinking. This form of pure awareness allows you to experience the world directly. It's bigger than thinking. It's unclouded by your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
It's like a high mountain -- a vantage point -- from which you can see everything for many miles around.
Pure awareness transcends thinking. It allows you to step outside the chattering negative self-talk and your reactive impulses and emotions. It allows you to look at the world once again with open eyes. And when you do so, a sense of wonder and quiet contentment begins to reappear in your life.
Makes a lot of sense.
What's said above applies to spiritual goals as well, like believing that you need to do something to reach God, heaven, holy spirit, or whatever. That belief creates a gap between where you are now and where you want to be. Then that gap becomes a problem to be solved, which takes work and creates anxiety.
Yet where is the evidence for any gap at all? God, heaven, holy spirit, and such are just concepts, ideas, thoughts. Give them up, and you are much closer to where you want to be: reality, here and now.