How much of the phenomenal world can you focus your mind upon at one time? Only so much can come into awareness at one time. Awareness is like a searchlight. It illuminates a spot and scans the space around it seeking other objects upon which to focus. Once focus shifts to a new object, focus on the last one is lost. Since we live surrounded by stimuli demanding our attention, we hop our consciousness around from one object to the next. We may think we are multi-tasking, but the process is jumping back and forth from one task or object of perception to another. As we move through our day, consciousness may be a blur as we zip from one thought, observation, emotion or action to another.
As we blow through our daily routine like a small tornado of competing thoughts, desires, aversions, and sensations, we can easily lose ourselves. We lose track of our intention. We respond out of habit rather than conscious wise choice, and we perform less effectively in our tasks than we would if they had our full attention.
When we practice mindfulness, we lose the disharmony of competing mental activities. Rather than moving dreamlike through confusing experiences, we are awake. Our awareness grows more coherent. Our actions performed with intention are more likely to be effective and less tainted by unwanted consequences.
In order to become physically stronger we exercise our muscles. In order to become better musicians we must practice. In order to be more awake in our lives we practice mindfulness.
Sitting in meditation prepares us for mindfulness in action. Being mindful moment to moment while doing what we do is both practice and the end of practice. There are many meditation activities to encourage mindfulness.* The essence is coming back to the present moment, remembering to be present.
Practice:Try starting your day with mindfulness. When you wake up, gather your intention, sit up and become aware of your body. If you need a stretch, stretch with awareness. When you find yourself distracted, bring your awareness back to your body and your movements. Proceed with your morning routine and hold your attention on what you are doing, feeling and thinking. You may find it easier to stay present in activity by slowing down. You can do each activity as if it were a ritual. Brushing your teeth can become a ritual cleansing rather than a haphazard chore to get through as quickly as possible. Note each step in the process. You could say to yourself. “I am preparing to brush my teeth. I am picking up my toothbrush. I am unscrewing the cap. I am squeezing toothpaste. I am putting down the toothpaste. I am wetting the brush. I am brushing my upper teeth,” and so on.
Try eating breakfast with more awareness of eating breakfast. If you read the newspaper while eating breakfast, just eat and read the newspaper. Be in the process; be in the experience. Keep pulling yourself back to awareness: all day.
© 2002 Tom Barrett