Being Mindful In A Mindless World

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IMG_0027In this age of multitasking and always needing to be first in line, I work at keeping myself from getting involved in doing too many things and out of the general hubbub around me. I want to live in the moment. Mindful of the way traffic is flowing. That there is someone tailgating me and that I need to be careful. I want to notice all of the colors the sky takes on at sunset. And yes, I even want to experience the sadness I feel about losing a friend or the pain I feel in my hip. Being mindful is about being awake and aware of where you are, how you feel, and what is happening around you. It’s about being present in the moment, in relationship, and with the world around you.

It’s taken me a long time to figure out what mindfulness is all about. I first heard the the term years ago when I started going to the local Insight Meditation Community meetings on Tuesday nights to meditate with a large group of other seekers and to hear dharma talks espousing the teachings of the Buddha. I thought that during meditation you are supposed to empty your mind completely and experience some altered state of being. I thought, “Wow, that will surely make my life happier and I won’t have to suffer anymore.”

Imagine my disappointment when I found that wasn’t going to happen. I tried over and over again to concentrate on my breath, only to find myself planning tomorrow night’s dinner or badmouthing the lady who pushed herself ahead of me in line at the grocery store today, resulting in my dropping everything I was carrying and breaking the eggs I needed. But with time and a lot of missteps, I realized that everyone else in the meditation group struggled with the same thing.  I learned that meditation was not only about relaxing and bringing a peaceful vibe to the day or evening. It’s about learning to understand how our minds work and what pulls them away from the moment of quiet and peace we are currently trying to experience.

There I was trying to empty my mind while my mind insisted on being full of other stuff that seemed to be more important than what I was currently trying to do. Have you and your mate ever gone out to dinner and spent a good part of the time checking your email on your iPhone instead of enjoying each other’s company? Have you ever been driving your car lost in thought, suddenly discovering you’ve been unconscious for the past five minutes and didn’t remember to turn right after the last traffic light?  It’s what happens when we don’t give ourselves enough time and space to breathe deeply and be with ourselves in the moment.

As I sit here at my keyboard I’m aware of the words forming on the screen as I dictate to my fingers.  I’m aware that I’m writing about something that is important to me and want to share my thoughts. I notice that sometimes the words I find on the screen aren’t the best ones I could choose. I go back and change them.

I notice that my eyes are dry and tired. I close them and stop typing. I hear a robin and a several other birds practicing their spring mating songs just outside the window and the hum of the heater warming the room. I notice my back feeling stiff and my need to get up and do a few minutes of stretching before getting back to work. When I’m mindful of what my body needs I can help it feel better and my writing will be easier and better.

The problem is I easily get distracted. As I write I find myself keeping one eye on the clock, knowing I have only a few more minutes to finish this post. I’m going to be late getting to my Pilates class if I don’t hurry up. Before I leave I need to put the dogs out, check the washing machine, and find the list of groceries I need to get after class. My writing is no longer making sense and I’m just wanting to finish it.  All that leads to a host of other possibilities: like speeding, running a red light, getting a traffic ticket, or causing an accident. I stop and ask myself, “Is it worth it?”

For me the secret of being as mindful as possible is to slow down and give myself the time and space to practice being in the moment. Instead of filling my plate with too many things for me to handle at one time, I slow down and take my time choosing one thing to do. I decide I’ll finish this post later. Otherwise, I’ll become as mindless as the next person, charging down the highway trying to keep up to speed with the world around me.  I’d rather pay attention and do one thing well, than do two or three things and only do a half-assed job at any of them.

Hope you’re enjoying these wonderful spring days.  To my family and friends in New England, I’ll be thinking of you over the next few days.  I hear you’ll be getting yet another snowstorm.  I’m extremely grateful to be here in Virginia.


  1. Joan – I love that you “notice all of the colors the sky takes on at sunset,” and make the opportunity to listen to “robins and other birds practicing their spring mating songs.” That’s the type of living I aspire to.

  2. Joan, this is a wonderful reminder to stop and “live in the moment.” I have recently become more aware of the passing of time as it relates to my family and friends. It is so easy to get caught up in the minutia of tasks and events in our busy lives. Paying attention to the things that matter the most ” in the moment” is a challenge and a necessity. Thanks for the nudge. 🙂

    • Kathy, Thanks so much for your kind words. I constantly need to remind myself of being in the moment and what those most important things are. Family and friends are certainly a huge part of where I try to pay attention. Especially when it comes to my grandkids.