How does mindfulness really work?
We’ve talked lots about the technique and the process, but why do it at all? Aren’t we always paying attention? Isn’t that how we manage to get work done, responsibilities met and our lives managed?
In a word, no. It’s not. There are several modes, or ways, of living, even of existing. Most people, most of us living in the “doing” mode. It’s an externally oriented method of living. We learn from early childhood.
“Doing” is usually focused outward. It’s focused on how we can serve the needs of those standards and requirements that are outside ourselves.
“Doing” is, just like it sounds, concerned with getting things done. Accomplishing tasks. “Doing” is a fine mode for bulling our way through a stack of work as long as our leg, but it isn’t so good at other things.
If people don’t develop a “relaxation” mode, they work through vacations, through family time, through time where they could cycle down.
The stereotype of the type A personality, yelling into a cell phone, balancing a laptop on her knees as she sits on a beach blanket, obvious to her surroundings is unfortunately based in truth.
How many of us have loved ones who’ll take a phone call during family meal times? “Doing” mode is always turned on for them.
Unless the existence of the different modes is brought to their present, immediate attention, “doers” will keep doing and miss much of life. They’re rewarded with money, stable positions, advancement and much material gain, but they end up discovering, often too late, their family is made up of strangers, and the years have flown by in a blur.
There are many other modes, but here let’s contrast mindfulness with “doing”.
Mindfulness is the mode of “being.”
“Doing” is almost always future focused, even if the future is only a few hours away. “Being”, on the other hand, is right now. We exist in this moment of time. No other.
We have memories of a past, and plans for a future, but we are not living there. It’s simply not possible for a human being to exist in the past, present, and future simultaneously (unless you want to discuss the quantum nature of time, and do let’s not, shall we?).
If we’re going to pick any time to be in, let’s be in the now.
Here’s a little trick: “being” and “doing” are not exclusive states.
What does “doing” lack that “being” doesn’t? Mindful awareness. In the chaos and clamor of getting things done, look inward.
What are you doing?
What are you thinking, feeling?
You don’t need to climb a mountaintop to be mindful. At a traffic light you can be mindful. Waiting in a line, you can be mindful.
Even during a bathroom break you can clear your mind of your itinerary and breathe, close your eyes for a minute or two, and let those inner depths of yourself process all that you’ve been doing. Please, give it a try!