Mindfulness is a way of life

All we really have is right here, right now.

Any time is a time to be mindful. I used to think that mindfulness was all about the meditation sessions. I would be pretty conscientious when it came to sitting down on the mat and following my breath, but in every day life I was as unconscious as ever.

I’ve now come to understand that the time between meditation sessions is just as important, if not more important than the sessions themselves. After all, it is your life.

The last few weeks have been surprisingly stress free for me, and I’ve diligently meditated my two hours daily for the last month or so, but today was a bit different. Allow me to explain.

I’m going to the Canary Islands tomorrow, with my grandparents. They asked me to come along because they’re insecure about going alone. I jumped at the chance, since I’ve been craving some real sunlight and a respite from the dark, cold winter in Iceland.

However, there’s been a storm for the last few days, and my grandparents’ flight from the south-east where they live was cancelled yesterday, and it’s not certain that they’ll be able to make it on time for the flight to the Canary Islands.

I started to get pretty stressed out, wondering how we could figure this out and make sure to catch the flight tomorrow morning. I started playing little movies in my head, imagining myself stuck somewhere, or imagining the feelings of desperation at having missed the flight and so on.

My morning meditation session went terribly, and I was unable to sit still or focus at all. Afterwards I made some breakfast, and I decided that I wanted to read while eating, to make full use of my time.

However, after sitting for a few minutes half-eating, half-reading, I realized the ridiculousness of it all.

Instead of enjoying my food, I’m trying to milk every second I have. And instead of enjoying my book, I’m spreading my attention thin.

I put the book away and focused on the sensations and taste of eating. It’s a beautiful thing, fully immersing yourself in an activity. I wonder if the infamous “flow state” of athletes, artists and musicians can apply to fully concentrating on eating a good meal as well.

After about ten minutes (I was taking my time), I realized that my stress had dissipated dramatically. It was a wonderful feeling!

I started to ponder, what was it that calmed me down? I think it’s not so much what I did, as much as it was what I didn’t do. I think that when we try to multitask, it tells our brain that our time is limited.

This in turn encourages the mind to expend extra energy to juggle the tasks we set for ourselves.

This is an insidious twist.

We can’t be fully attentive of what we’re doing when we do more than one thing at a time, so we do a worse job of it.

We stress ourselves up trying to do everything at once, but ironically everything runs smoother and better if we focus our attention on one thing at a time.

The brain’s autopilot mode is a glorious thing. It allows us to drive cars, to wash the dishes, or sing in the shower without imploding. But when we try to abuse it, cramming in as many activities as we can in as little time possible, we reap less rewards and more stress.

So I’ve decided to focus on only focusing on one thing at a time. There are exceptions though, because some things complement each other beautifully, in my experience. Things like listening to music while cooking, or talking over dinner, or reading in the bathtub are great combinations.

But some things are just way better when you allow yourself to fully experience them.

The word mindfulness is all over the place. It’s hip to be mindful these days. But I think often, the true meaning of the term is lost on us. Instead of trying to make mindfulness just another activity, something to add to the to-do list, we should make it a meta-activity. Meaning mindfulness should apply to everything that’s already on our to-do lists.

Being mindful is a beautiful thing, and a wonderful way of directly experiencing ourselves and the world around us. In fact, it may be the only way.

After all, if we rush through washing the dishes, in anticipation of the hot cup of tea waiting for us after we finish, we’ll probably be thinking of our next activity when we finally get to drinking our tea.

Love life, experience life.

Much love.

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