I replied to this on Quora, and thought it might make a good addition to this blog (the drawing to the right has nothing to do with it … it’s just something I do). Anyway, here’s the question. I thought it interesting:
‘Does being mindful ever exist without over trying? It seems that we have to be mindful in order to achieve being mindful.’
And my reply?
That’s true. We do have to be mindful to be mindful. That is to say, we need to consciously practice mindfulness, to build a habit of mindfulness. Because in the end, mindfulness, like every other capacity in our life, is a habit.
But moments of mindfulness do also happen spontaneously. We all experience inadvertent moments of mindfulness at certain times. For example, I’m sure you’ve had the experience where, during an altercation with a loved one or partner, in the heat of the moment, you’re sorely tempted to say something hurtful.
But you don’t. Instinctively you know it would be wrong, so you stop the impulse in its tracks.
This momentary pulse of wisdom is mindfulness in action. You rose above the fray and you saw the right way to act, and applied it.
Trouble is, though we’ve all experienced moments of spontaneous mindfulness at various times, more often than not we spend most of our lives in a relatively mindless state – following the well known tracks of our life habits through each day as we daydream or worry about other things.
One of my students described it this way:
‘I wake up in the morning and my hand automatically reaches out and shuts off the alarm. From that point, though I’m technically awake, I’m still effectively asleep because my entire day is a long line of automatic habits, each one leading to the next. I get up, take a shower, brush my teeth, make breakfast, start the car, drive to work … and all the while I’ve realized, I’m essentially unconscious. Because as I do all these things, I’m always somewhere else, in my head, daydreaming and thinking. It’s only if some unexpected event happens, like I run out of petrol or get lost or something, that I step out of my head and come into the moment. But the rest of the time it’s like I’m sleepwalking.’
I think most of us are a little like my student. Our body ‘sleepwalks’ through the days of our life as we think of other things.
And it kind of works. Our routines and habits do most of what we need done – and that’s all very well, if our habits are working for us.
But if we’re unlucky enough to have developed habits which hurt us or don’t work for us – like laziness or procrastination or, on a more extreme level, drug addiction or violence, then we become their victim and our life becomes very hard.
And considering even the lucky ones among us have some habits which hurt them, this is why mindfulness practice is essential if we are to change what we are.
In developing mindfulness we’re building a ‘master habit’ so to speak, which, once embedded in the mind, helps us to administrate and adjust all of our other habits.
‘BEING STILL – MEDITATION THAT MAKES SENSE’, Roger’s new book, is available now.
(The audiobook includes all the exercises, as well as ebooks of Being Still, to fit any device.)