Mindfulness is a pillar in Buddhist philosophy and good Christian ethics. Mindfulness is nothing more than awareness of the current moment. When we drink tea, we drink tea. When we hug someone, we hug someone. When we sit in a chair, we sit in a chair. Mindfulness is performing an action without distraction, fully aware of our actions and our surroundings.
Unfortunately for us, we live in a world full of distractions.
Without mindfulness we live like a leaf being blown about by the wind. We are constantly jostled about by external forces that all pull our minds this way and that. Things like advertising, our jobs, our friends, our possessions: all these things vie for our attention all at once and can even overwhelm us at times. Are these things bad? Not at all! They can be good and even wonderful, if viewed properly. Sometimes though these things that make up our daily lives can make us suffer. Sometimes they may not cause suffering but cannot be fully enjoyed because we don’t appreciate them fully, simply because we are not living in the present.
In reality, it is only the present moment that actually exists. The past is gone. The future never arrives. If we are not mindful, we spend our time falsely living in a past that is gone or a future that never comes. We lose the moments that make up our lives to illusion. Maybe it is sadness over something that happened in our childhood that takes us out of now: we relive that painful incident over and over, stuck in the past and unable to live in the present. Maybe it is anxiety over the future: we are so worried about the maybe’s, could be’s, and possibly’s that we forsake the current moment. Friends, I submit to you that life is a continuum of moments. The past and future are both contained in the present. The present generates the future, and when it passes becomes the past. To not live in the present sabotages our future and leaves us without a past: after all if we are not aware of what we are doing it does not matter how great a memory it COULD be…it will never get to become one because we are not focused enough for it to become one.
Without mindfulness we fail to see reality as it truly exists. We will die. You, me, all of us. We will die. This is reality. Morbid? I don’t see it that way. It simply is. Bring to your mind’s eye a beautiful flower…pick your favorite. Now, bring to mind a compost pile full of rotting waste. Couldn’t be two more different things could there? Ah, but what happens when the compost is added to a flower bed full of seeds? Why, the seeds grow! They produce beautiful flowers. The flowers grow, bloom, produce seeds, and die. Probably these flowers get put into the same compost pile used to fertillize them in the first place, and wind up fertilizing some future generation of flowers. The compost is in the flower, and the flower in the compost. The two are interrelated. The flower is already compost, and the compost already a flower. It just takes time for the nature of each to show itself.
All things are already broken. The flower is already compost, and the compost a flower. This is reality: all things end sooner or later. Realizing this fact allows us to enjoy things and people while they are here, and eases our suffering when they go away. After all, they are simply revealing their true nature to us.
Try the following exercises to keep mindfulness growing and cultivate appreciation for life:
- Look in the mirror. Realize the face in the mirror is not you, only a reflection of you. Now envision that reflection going through death’s decay. I know this is morbid, but it helps emphasize how finite our lives are and motivate us to live more fully. Do this exercise every morning.
- Don’t multitask. Multitasking is just a scattered mind. Better to focus on one project at a time than work on many serially. Concentrate on the project.
- Eat without interruption. No television, no radio, no music. Just eat. Focus on the aroma, textures, colors, and flavors of the food.
- Before going to sleep list the good aspects of the day. You are alive right? You have food. You have a bed. We only worry at bad aspects because they are rare compared to the good.
- Look into the blue sky. Think of how you appear to a bird. A cloud. A satellite. Now think of how you appear from the Moon. Mars. Jupiter. Pan your imagination out and try to see yourself from the center of the Milky Way. From the edge of the universe. Each of us are just an atom in the fabric of the cosmos. Don’t make small problems larger than an atom.
- When you see a car driving by, take a good look at the driver. Now imagine you are the person. Where are you going? What are you doing? Are you happy? Do you have kids? Often when we see cars we forget other people are driving them…it will do us well to remember that those behind the wheel are people too.
- Smile! Smiling relaxes you and makes you feel happier. You do not need a reason to smile…simply do it!