You know the experience of mindlessness: you arrive at your destination, with a sudden flash that you simply don’t recall the drive. Or you walk into a room in your home and come up blank on your purpose. Or my personal Achilles’ heel: you are cooking dinner and suddenly realize you’ve polished off half a box of crackers. Multi-tasking, that supposed skill essential to accomplish ALL, feeds right in to mindlessness.
The autopilot mindset that is mindlessness is rampant. Cultural forces (from ever-present technology that fosters work addiction to sleep deprivation) threaten to suck out our brains like so many zombies. You know this is true when the comic strip Doonesbury devotes a whole week to the topic, as it did January 31 through February 4. (Enjoy it by clicking here.)
Why is this a problem? Extra calories and pounds, accident potential, and the frustration of standing in a room wondering what you were going to do next aside, so what? Why not drift through life, oblivious?
The opposite of mindlessness is mindfulness. Mindfulness connotes awareness, attention, and remembering. Implicit in healthy mindfulness is an attitude of acceptance and lack of judgment. It is popularly talked about as ‘being in the now’ or ‘living in the moment.’ Mindfulness directly translates into what Oprah calls “living your best life” or Gretchen Rubin, in The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, calls “living the right life.”
Mindfulness enables us to:
- see and accept what is
- be less self-obsessed
- experience the richness of life in each moment
- act more purposely to get what we want
- smooth interactions with others
Mindfulness makes us less likely to drift through life at the whim of random forces. With mindfulness, we can fully live our lives, the master rather than the servant; the driver, not the driven.
Mindfulness, while seemingly not innate given cultural pressures, isn’t hard. It doesn’t take much time–but it does take practice to develop the skill. In the words of John Teasdale, founder of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: “mindfulness isn’t difficult. What’s difficult is to remember to be mindful.” Your grandmother was talking about mindfulness when she said “stop and smell the roses.”
To develop this skill, just truly notice. Check in with your five senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, hearing. Where are you? What is your body doing? What are you feeling? What are your thoughts? If you sense your sixth sense, trust that intuition as well. Let these perceptions register–remember that just 20 or 30 seconds at a time can enable your brain to develop this skill.
Here’s the hard part: offer yourself acceptance, not judgment about where you are, what you are feeling in each moment. Speak to yourself as nicely as you would a loved one. Acknowledge that we are always doing the best that we can do. Embrace your humanity. It’s just what is. Take a deep breath and move forward with change, if needed, ever mindful of controlling what you can and letting go of the rest.
Best way I know to forestall the Zombie apocalypse.