“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindfulness is a state of mind. It is a form of meditation which allows you to access control of your emotions, thoughts and actions. This valuable form of concentration is a skill dating back to Buddhist teaching.
“Nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded.” – Buddha
To understand mindfulness, it is beneficial to understand the state of mindlessness.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to you that you can gather more than enough examples of yourself in the aftermath of being in this state.
Even though I love the feeling of drifting off into a daydream and finding the littlest inspiration for future ideas. I also understand how it can be exhausting to constantly be engaged in every single conversation you have. However, there seems to bring a sense of anxiety when the moment is lost and there is an emphasis on the past, or the future.
Another reason I believe mindlessness occurs so often throughout the day is that our society loves to romanticize multi-tasking. The expansion of one’s attention is glorified in our culture. For example, in our capitalist society, an abundance of material is thrown at us through media (and even more efficiently) through social-media. Our minds can get easily distracted because there’s always a competitor around the corner, and one waiting around the next corner for their moment to grab your attention with an ‘even better solution’.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not placing all the blame on capitalism, there are many external factors. However, I am attempting to bring awareness that we as individuals are constantly being judged. There is an enormous value in acquiring materialistic objects and idolized characterizations of identities. And god forbid, your composure falls while trying to juggle and maintain all of these society’s praised ideologies. People often will do anything to show others they are juggling everything just fine.
In a sense, mindfulness gives you a break from all these external forces, and allows you to resort back to what is important to you.
Another way to put it is all of these external forces; excessive responsibilities and high expectations on ourselves can result in our consciousness drifting off into multiple places at once.
“Most people get distracted, “zone out”” and “spend most of their daily lives being unmindful or running on autopilot.” * This behaviour can play a heavy role in anxiety and people can easily be irritable, highly emotional, or disappointed when an undesired outcome occurs.
So you see, mindlessness is the experience you have when you are in your car, on the same route home day after day, when you suddenly realize you can barely remember the drive.
Mindlessness is fading out in the middle of a conversation with someone you love, and not remembering half the things they just said.
Mindlessness can occur while your reading your textbook, brushing your teeth, placing the conditioner in your hair while showering, going into another room to grab your keys – the list is endless and you will notice it more than ever.
If you can recognize yourself when you are in a state of mindlessness, you can understand mindfulness.
It is to place all mental energy and focus into one simple action.
A great example of this is breathing. Concentrating on your breath is fundamental to learning mindfulness.
This may sound confusing (so read it slow)… the act of mindfulness can only be fully explained by the actual experience of the act of practicing the mental state. It is also important to note that the process of pursuing a meditative mental space is different for everyone.
One thing I have noticed from my own experience of practicing mindfulness is how I have new perspectives in many everyday situations. My clearer mental space encourages me to have a view outside of my cultural lens, which helps me see through illusions to find alternative approaches to solutions.
“In today’s rush, we all think too much — seek too much — want too much — and forget about the joy of just being.” ~Eckhart Tolle
We may think too much, seek to much or want too much, and there definitely is joy in meditation. While practicing mindfulness, you can become more aware of your wandering thoughts, and observe them. Your own wandering thoughts are very normal, and no matter how many times they wander, all you have to do is simply focus back to the act of breathing.
Whatever thoughts arise, observe them, then let them pass, along with your breath.
Next post: How mindfulness helps us cope with our emotions.
* Notes from Provincial Eating Disorder Prevention & Recovery Program