12 December 2016

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Mired In Mindfulness

There are certain words that have become very popular, that may have lost their meaning as a result of being marketable. Grateful is one. I personally like the idea of recognizing those things in our lives that we have accomplished or that have been handed down to us by circumstance or fortune. However, when people post on social media about how grateful they are for the breakfast they are eating, or because they managed to take a day off work ostensibly so that their family won’t disown them, I feel the idea of gratitude is stretched to the point of not being as relevant. I’m also a writer, so I tend to be sensitive about language and the loss of meaning.

Another word to consider is mindfulness. We often see it used in conjunction, particularly as mindful meditation. Mindfulness is a way, in short, of appreciating the present moment without being hurried to multi-task, quantify, or complete something under the duress of a time allotment. There is something typically mundane about so-called mindful tasks: tasting a single raisin, deep breathing, a long walk.

I suppose my chief concern is the perspective that the commercialization of mindfulness channels us into, the idea that in order to be mindful — to seek a patient relationship between ourselves and the world — we have to first seek something or someone outside of ourselves: a book, a program, a guru. While helpful for some, I wonder if we lose sight of the basics of mindfulness, which I see (anecdotally at least) as a response to overstimulation; our day-to-day lives are measured in burdensome tasks and run ever more tightly, it seems, on an unforgiving clock. Add to this shifting financial concerns and less-than-ideal relationships at home or at work, our almost too well-informed media landscape where we are constantly exposed to the often sad and shocking state of the world, and…well…who wouldn’t want to stand back and find a way to slow things down? To notice time passing. To notice the relationship between the world and ourselves.

I think we can find mindfulness in the day-to-day rather than seeing the quotidian as just a variable in a formula. Perhaps we decide, even though it might initially seem inconvenient, to wash the dishes by hand and not use a washing machine (making sure that we aren’t on too tight a schedule, which would defeat the purpose). Perhaps, even though it means waking up earlier, we decide to try walking to work, or at least walking part-way. If we are thinking about external means to improve mindfulness, why not consider replacing an everyday object with something that promotes a slower, more patient approach: a double-sided safety razor instead of the modern cartridge style, taking the stairs instead of the escalator.

In the end, if you want to be mindful, you don’t necessarily have to add anything to your life — which I’m sure will be a relief to many. The point of the idea of mindfulness is to gain a perspective on your relationship with the passage of time and the world around you, two things we often complain about feeling like we are losing.