I haven’t been mindful in a long time. Mindfulness is the way to avoid the death of a thousand small cuts I wrote about yesterday. I have a phrase I’m always barking at my son (and, given her tendencies towards blissful unawareness, soon will to my daughter): BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS! When I say it to him, I mean it in a simple physical sense: don’t walk into the wall because you’re distracted by a bird. But mindfulness – simple awareness of the march of time and our place in the world – is something that’s been driven out of many of us by an onslaught of input and information.
I’ve had some mild success this year with small habit changes. I quit eating cheese, for example. I love it, but I had become too fond of slapping some cheese on almost anything I ate: eggs, sandwiches, you name it. I didn’t need it, and it usually was overpowered by whatever the ‘main’ food was, anyway. So that habit has helped in a small way.
Mindfulness is a small habit, too. How many hours a day do you spend awake and quiet? Not talking, not reading, not watching TV, not doing something? I can say it’s close to 0 for myself. Maybe a few seconds when I wake? A few minutes before I get home when I switch off the podcasts I listen to?
I have tried meditation and prayer at various points with varying levels of success. Meditation didn’t work for me – I probably didn’t give it enough time. The main benefit I’ve reaped from meditation (Zen methods) was the ability to clear my mind prior to sleep, which turned me from an insomniac into someone who falls asleep in minutes every single night for going on 20 years now; insomnia for me is failing to fall asleep within 10 minutes. Prayer was something that helped me a lot during my early twenties when I became quite serious about Christianity, inspired by C.S. Lewis and my heavy involvement with the community-type activities of my local church. My faith was utterly shattered and discarded during my years in Russia and New York, but now that I’m back in a place of mild agnosticism instead of militant atheism, I look back and realize that I got a lot of value out of prayer as simply an exercise to be mindful of things I should be grateful for, and things I should be remorseful for. It put me in a state of simply focusing on something other than the hammering inflow of information we absorb every day.
I think the solution is simple for most busy people. Find a time during the day when you “stuff your brain” for no other reason than habit. Don’t read a book or watch TV while you eat: concentrate on conversation, or if you eat by yourself, on your food. In the evening, spend 5 minutes looking at the stars or the moon. And it may even sound silly, but use shower time to clear your mind. There are many opportunities for mindfulness during a day, and the rewards are an increase in calmness, lower stress and a clearer mind, better ready to process information once it’s ‘restarted.’ Many people can achieve this mindfulness through prayer or meditation, but even if those don’t work for you, take time to simply do nothing.