in praise of maladjustment

Updated On — 11th Oct, 2022

What is maladjusted? It is someone who lost the ability to be surprised, adjusting to themselves to mediocrity and mindless consumerism. We must re-learn how to be surprised. Be the most maladjusted person in society!

Alice Walker has good advice for all of us who practice mindfulness meditation:

Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.

As a meditation teacher, I’m happy when folks describe feelings familiar from childhood resurfacing in meditation, such as waking up in the morning and feeling excited for no particular reason.

Feeling causelessly excited by life; it just bubbles out of our true nature, which we uncover in our meditation practice.

the delight of watching young children play

When our kids were little Katina and I would delight in watching them play in the big yard in our old house. Our son would spend hours in perpetual wonder and surprise, digging in the yard, looking at bugs, and playing with lizards and geckos.

We delight in the company of children because they remind us of our own wondrous capacity to be surprised and delighted.

Mindfulness meditation allows us to play in a kind of continual surprise, as we let go of that heavy know-it-all part of us, and just bask in the unfolding moments.

Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel, the late polish-born American professor of Jewish theology, had this to say:

An individual dies when they cease to be surprised. I am surprised every morning that I see the sunshine again. When I see an act of evil, I’m not accommodated… I’m still surprised. That’s why I can hope against it. We must learn how to be surprised. Not to adjust ourselves. I am the most maladjusted person in society.

what is maladjusted? It is being brainwashed by consumerism and the conspiracy of mediocrity.
what is maladjusted? It is being brainwashed by consumerism and the conspiracy of mediocrity.

be maladjusted!

What a thing to say–that he is the most maladjusted person in society! What is maladjusted? It’s simply drinking the Kool-Aid served by the media 24/7.

He is saying we could do well to challenge the messages we receive on multiple media channels toward mediocrity and mindless consumerism.

Luckily for us, mindfulness meditation has a built-in channel of innocent delight and contentment. As we sit quietly in meditation, contentment seeps into our being like the smell of the sweet pikake blossoms on the evening breeze.

to be spiritual is to be amazed

Abraham J. Heschel again:

Get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Meditation simply helps us stay content and sane in this crazy world. What is maladjusted? It means not being content with your life as its is.

Genuine contentment is one of the most revolutionary acts for a person in the 21st century; it goes against cultural norms and conditioning. This all begs the question: just what is this contentment?

being maladjusted to society is being content with what we have
being maladjusted to society is being content with what we have

being happy

For me, it’s about being happy with who I am right now: overweight, under-exercised, and not looking forward to the hour-long drive home in heavy morning traffic from my night shift job.

Krista O’Reilly-Davi-Digui, a Holistic Embodiment Coach, writes:

What if I just accept this mediocre body of mine that is neither big nor small? Just in between. And I embrace that I have no desire to work for rock hard abs or 18% body fat. And I make peace with it and decide that when I lie on my deathbed, I will never regret having just been me.

What if all I really want is a small, slow, simple life.

I used to feel quite depressed. A part of me was still consumed with fantasies and expectations: my kids, my marriage, my meditation practice, my night shift job, my… my… my…and “I” always fell short of those fantasies.

no regrets

What is maladjusted? It means living a life of no regrets. I’m much happier now. I am living Krista O’Reilly-Davi-Digui’s line above:

…when I lie on my deathbed, I will never regret having just been me.

Nothing terribly dramatic happened. No huge epiphany. No burning bushes. No lights, sparks or kundalini rush.

discover contentment here and now

Discovering contentment is about letting go of these fantasies, and realizing that life is truly amazing without them. I would even say–especially without them.

It’s about embracing my limitations and not being defined by them. It’s about relishing in being maladjusted.

As we silently watch these fantasies arise and fall within mindful awareness, we see how powerfully they filter our perceptions, how they distort our view of things, just as they are.

let thoughts come and go

We experience the relief of letting thoughts come and go. As psychologist Elisha Goldstein says:

It’s like being at a laundromat watching the clothes tumble in a big dryer. We don’t have to tumble along with the clothes; we can just watch them fall through space.

The mind doesn’t need to go blank–we just need a little distance from thought so we don’t tumble along with them. As we gently let them pass through us, and we see how incredibly awesome this precious life truly is, just as it is right now.

As we expect nothing, we join hands with Alice Walker and Abraham J. Heschel, living frugally in surprise and amazement.


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About Tom Davidson-Marx

Former Buddhist monk, now father of two and full time registered nurse, my passion is sharing what I have learned from a life-long love, study and practice of the early Buddhist teachings. Thanks for reading.

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