A well-respected mindfulness meditation master, advised that "A mind which thinks, expects, and plans, blocks off wisdom." Following this advice would leave most of our projects at sea without a rudder. That is the problem with a great deal of the mindfulness teachings that have become common in the project management and general business communities - over simplification. The wise embrace both-and thinking.
The full quote is:
"Notice every time the mind is eager for
results and remind yourself of the right attitude.
You need to practice patience.
Only when the mind is simple, can wisdom develop.
A mind which thinks, expects, and plans, blocks off wisdom." Tejaniya
Mindfulness is the ability to objectively observe everything occurring within and externally. It is beneficial, based on many studies and personal experience. Mindfulness techniques - formal and informal meditation methods - increase mindfulness and concentration. Mindfulness enables responsiveness as opposed to reactivity. Concentration brings calm, relieves stress and enables focus in the face of distractions. Together with effort mindfulness and concentration promote wisdom.
But how many project managers will sign up for simple mindedness? How many organizations will hire simple minded project managers who are not eager for results? Not many.
The Wisdom of Paradox - Eager and Patient
Yet, there is wisdom in the master’s advice. Like all quotes it is taken out of context. No meaningful statement about the nature of mind and mindfulness is absolutely true. There is paradox - events or ideas that are unlikely to coexist. Paradox is "seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true:" Oxford Dictionaries.
Investigating more deeply, we can know that to be aware of the eagerness for results and to have patience is good advice. Over eagerness in projects leads to rushing to complete, by-passing risk management, testing, and other parts of planning and controlling the project. The over eager stakeholder is more likely to make mistakes and set unreasonable expectations. The eager stakeholder is motivated to achieve.
Right Attitude - Patience
The "right attitude," is to be both eager and patient. Patience is a tough one, particularly when faced with high ranking stakeholders who are eager for results. Patience is "the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset:" Oxford Dictionaries
Patience requires a stepping back to mindfully observe the uncomfortable feelings that get in the way of consciously taking stock of the situation, planning, communicating, and establishing the most effective foundation for performance. Alan Lokos, in his book "Patience:The Art of Peaceful Living" makes the point that patience is not passivity. Patience is taking control of thinking, speech, and action so that what you say and do makes good sense and gets the results that you want. Patience is an ingredient for effective project management and performance.
Practicing patience requires effort. It requires the ability to notice and be able to accept the urge to dismiss the annoying functional manager or team member who is 'obstructing' progress. Noticing and accepting are part of the practice of mindfulness. When I teach meditation practices, I often recommend "sitting with an itch," patiently waiting for the itch to change or disappear on its own rather than scratching it. Try it the next time you have an annoying itch. It builds the patience "muscle."
Who Wants a Simple Mind?
Now lets turn our attention to "Only when the mind is simple, can wisdom develop."
"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." Albert Einstein
To have a simple mind does not mean to be simple minded. A simple mind, in the context of mindful awareness, is a calm mind that sees things objectively, as they are. There is elegance in simplicity. The simple mind can integrate the sophisticated, complex skills and thoughts needed to manage and perform complex tasks in a complex, changing environment. The simple mind is free of the unnecessary noise of biases, confusion, and obsessive thinking.
Bertrand Russell said, "Every man, wherever he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day." The simple mind, the mind that is mindfully aware, sits behind it all, open-minded, free of the comforting convictions. It observes objectively. The simple mind is like the eye of the storm - calm and clear while the storm rages. The flies are still there but they no longer get in the way of clear, focused thinking. In fact, mindful awareness promotes greater clarity and focus.
We can have a simple mind and simultaneously achieve objectives by applying our intelligence, skills and knowledge.
Planning, Expectations and Wisdom
To say that "A mind which thinks, expects, and plans, blocks off wisdom." is overly simplistic. It is misleading. It is the kind of thing that can drive people, particularly project managers, away from the practice of mindfulness and the benefits it brings. The meaning is clarified by saying that a mind that is distracted by thinking, that unrealistically expects, and over-plans blocks off wisdom.
Wisdom is seeing things as they are and having wise intention. Wisdom can be blocked by Russell’s "flies."
In Buddhist thought, things are impermanent, imperfect and the result of a continuous process of causes and effects. Wise intention is to give up the causes of suffering, cultivate good will, do no harm, and to ethically achieve objectives to benefit stakeholders.
Expectations are normal. Planning is necessary if you want to successfully achieve project goals and satisfy stakeholder expectations. However, having irrational, unrealistic expectations leads to disappointment and suffering. Constantly changing the plan moment to moment, gets in the way of being in the moment and performing optimally.
In the spirit of both-and thinking, we can say that we can both be patient and take skillful action. We can keep the mind simple and apply complex skills and knowledge to complex problems. And we can expect and plan and be in the moment, performing optimally, while allowing wisdom to develop.
Mindful awareness is the foundation for optimal performance. Cultivate it by practicing to focus the mind and open it to the full range of internal and external experience. Practice both-and thinking.