Author: Michael Decaire
In honour of Star Wars day (May the 4th be with you!), FLEX is featuring a look at mindfulness trainings in popular culture throughout the month of May. And the series continues ...
No. Try not. Do or do not. There is no try. - Yoda (The Empire Strikes Back, 1980).
Pretty much everyone has heard this quote. At the same time, most have probably assumed it is synonymous with saying "don't accept defeat" or that persistence will pay off in the end.
While I do not claim to have the inside scoop on Yoda's motivations, I suspect that the intention here was not to infer the concepts of effortlessness and non-judgement. Effortlessness is not synonymous with laziness, but instead relates to a lack of narrow intention during mindfulness practice. If you anchor yourself on "trying" to do something there is a possibility of failure. Either way, the result of trying is undoubtedly that it worked or it did not work. An opposing way to look at this would be to simply acknowledge or observe that this happened, it did not, or something in between occurred. There is no judgement here, this is simply an observation or reflection of what happened.
An example: If my mind is busy and I am finding the thoughts overwhelming or distracting I may choose to do a sitting meditation where my attention is at least part of the time on my breath. If I "try" to keep my attention on my breath the entire time I will undoubtedly fail and may very well perceive the meditation practice as a failure as well. If I simply "do" a mindfulness of breath practice I will be sometimes have my attention on my breath and I will sometimes not. This exact example is one of the first barriers I observe when training my clients mindfulness (e.g., "I tried that, it did not work").
When conceptualized in a framework of "try", the fact that I was not always able to sustain my attention on my breathing inherently implies that I failed. When conceptualized within a framework of "do or do not", I am simply acknowledging what happened in the present moment. Now, some of you are likely saying this is simply an argument in semantics and that what I'm really doing is choosing to not judge myself (which is also an important mindfulness lesson), but the key here is effortlessness versus intention. If I simply "do" something and observe what happened there is no possibility of failure. If I "try" to do something and I do not succeed then I have undoubtedly failed.
In the end, I'll admit there is a bit of a semantics argument going on here. Still, we examine and describe our world and experience in words. A shift in how we interpret these experiences is the anchor of many therapies and is undoubtedly part of a mindfulness practice. I have personally found that having a good "vocabulary of mindfulness" is one of the keys to my personal training and is often how I transmit these tools to my clients. This can come from a mindfulness teacher, therapist, or a self-help book, but as you will see over the rest of this month, it can also come from the world around us (and from a galaxy far far away). Do or do not return in a few days for another pop culture mindfulness training.
The information provided on the Think FLEXibly Blog is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered as therapeutic advice.