Very often, we want to attain the perfect state of mind, the perfect peace. We strive to handle a situation in the perfect way. We want our relationships to be perfect, and we want our careers to be perfect. Can we attain perfection? Sometimes. For athletes, something akin to perfection is being "in the zone." It's a state in which everything seems to be moving in slow motion, and you can do no wrong. But what can we do in other areas of life? How can we seek perfection?
A better question is, "What am I doing right now?" Right now, I'm writing. Some days, words flow easily. Other days--unfortunately quite common for me over the last couple weeks--I find it very hard to write. But both of these experiences have causes; it cannot be otherwise. Logically speaking, if I could arrange it such that all of the causes that cause me to write easily and well are operating when I sit down to write, and all of the causes that cause me to feel blocked are not operative, then there is only one possible result: I will write easily and well. The Buddha taught us that we can accomplish this. We are capable of this. We just have to do the work. And the work is mindfulness.
So when we're working on a project and we're getting frustrated, mindfulness is noticing that we're frustrated, then pushing that out of the way and bringing our minds to thoughts of peace, right? Wrong. Repression does not uproot the seeds of frustration because if we repress the emotion, what have we learned? Maybe we can force ourselves to feel peaceful--that does actually work some of the time--but we won't have moved any closer to knowing the true causes of our frustration. Mindfulness is noticing that we're frustrated. Then we notice how that feels specifically in the body. We acknowledge whether the feelings are pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. We see them simply for what they are. We don't interpret the bodily sensations or feelings as good or bad. They are simply feelings, indicators of the frustration. By such "simple" practice--and I put simple in quotes because most of the time it sure doesn't feel simple--we will come to naturally know the causes of the frustration. Once we know the true causes, and have deeply realized for ourselves the skillfulness or unskillfulness of "frustration," we can choose to generate those causes, or avoid generating them.
When we experience anything, the question to ask is, "What am I doing right now?" When we are not being perfect, which is most of the time, we are being given a gift. We have the opportunity to look at ourselves and see what, specifically, we are doing right now, and how much of it, specifically, we are doing. And by simply observing the body, observing the feelings, observing the mind, we learn whether we are doing too much or too little. Only when we intimately know "too much" and "too little" can we follow the Middle Path.