You know how it goes: If you're searching for personal meaning -- in a fortune cookie, horoscope or even a HuffPost bog -- you're going to find it. The temptation is almost irresistible and the outcomes, well, they depend on whether you know when you are searching and what it is that you hope to find.
Take for example the reassuring little slip of paper that emerged in the midst of cookie crumbles last fall. It said, "You will receive a much deserved career advance soon!" I knew that I liked that idea and was aware that I interpreted by fortune as an omen. So I lightly tucked that welcome missal into my purse and carried it around for months, a talisman for the future and a reminder of my dreams. I'm still hoping for that career advance (It hasn't happened yet), and I'm still following my fortunes: both of them. The one predicted on a slip of paper, and the oh-so-personal one in my heart unexpectedly warmed by a cookie from China.
Now let's talk about horoscopes. Today's prediction from one website reads, "Work could be a real drag today." Work would be a real drag today, but perhaps that not surprising as it's Saturday. Okay, so the horoscope was right. But the message wasn't terribly significant because I'm not working today anyhow, and so my investment in the meaning is low.
Here's another, this time from Yahoo: "A mistake someone else is making should help you redefine some of your own values." Yes! I'll take this one as a much awaited confirmation for writing this particular blog. I'm quite serious, and yet, thanks to mindfulness practice, I recognize how my inner needs intersect with my assessment of reality. I searched, and hallelujah, I found.
When we assign a specific meaning to someone's words, and take action accordingly, we run risks. There is no problem with interpreting another person's words personally -- seeking what we're looking for, and finding the message as expected. The problem arises when we confuse our own subjective interpretations with the another's intentions, and hold them personally accountable for our own meanings, not theirs.
Writers spew words into the public domain the same way children release prized butterflies into the air, freeing what's private and glorying in the flight. And, writers, like children (and butterflies) always risk the consequences of their actions.
Mindfulness, however, lessens the dangers. Mindfulness means knowing what's happening in the here-and-now, within you and around you. This includes knowing when you expect to find particular meanings (in fortunes, horoscopes or HuffPost bogs) and search for them accordingly. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it's only problematic when we mistakenly assume that our actions are clear and clean of projection, so we fail to notice our own subjective projections.
Consider the best-case scenario: If you search for virtue, you're more likely to find it and reap the benefits. If you prime your mind to see compassion, generosity, wisdom and tolerance, you'll find these qualities in abundance. The world will be a more pleasant place to live, for you and everyone with whom you interact.
Seeking virtues won't blind you to the challenges, obstacles and pain of life. Thing is, you'll be less distracted by the unimportant insults, distractions and offenses. You'll be less likely to see insults where none were intended, or read aggression into inadvertent actions. You'll have more energy and mental focus for what's truly there, so you can face those difficulties with greater skill. You won't risk attributing your meanings to other people's words.
So, yes, "Seek and ye shall find." Seek the good in others to enjoy a kinder and gentler world. Seek malicious intent, and your world will be marked by ugliness and anger. Either way, knowing what you're looking for means you'll recognize what you find.
For more by Deborah Schoeberlein, click here.
For more on mindfulness, click here.