Mindful of a Full Mind

“Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then, gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
— Rainer Maria Wilke

Mindfulness is now a popular practice, with classes, apps and the endorsement of the NHS and various mental health advocacy groups as a way of living that could really help everyone feel better. At its heart, mindfulness is about being intentionally present and in so doing, letting go of that which was or might be.

Staying present in our lives is one of the most significant challenges facing modern society. Life moves at such a clip that people struggle to live in the here and now, let alone slow down — and yet, so many are seeking ways to do exactly that, recognizing that a hamster-wheel existence is a sure path to burnout or worse.

Modern technology has been blamed for a lot of stress today — however, technology exists to meet a demand. Most people are in control of their phones, not vice versa. Unless one is addicted to technology, choices and priorities determine how much sway your phone, computer, tablet, television etc. have over your time and your life. There have been attempts to bring mindfulness into the equation, such as considering how you can mindfully use your phone, or how you can be mindful as you are on the treadmill. While these are laudatory attempts, they don’t quite address the root causes of a distracted, over-scheduled and stretched life — fear and uncertainty.

It may seem like a bold sweeping statement, but I wonder if people fill their lives to the max out of fear — of the unknown, of time running out, of missing out…the list goes on. Tied very closely to this fear is the fact that life is uncertain — there are no guarantees or sure things — and people’s attempts to exert some level of control over their lives are often driven by the need to know what to expect. The issue with this attitude is that it necessarily takes you out of the present moment into the future. If you think about what to expect based on what has happened before, you are living simultaneously in the past and the future. This is perhaps an oversimplification of the myriad reasons why people feel unfulfilled, but it is clear that this is a malaise that cannot be solved via mindfulness alone.

Attempting to graft a mindful attitude onto a life that is already full simply adds one more thing onto most people’s to-do list. I recently saw an article exhorting you to mindful while taking a shower — while I again applaud the sentiment and intention, for most people, I suspect this would result in them having to “mindfulness” rather than “be” mindful.

Rilke’s quote at the beginning of this post tackles what I suspect is the core issue — we are all looking for answers to questions we don’t know we are asking. One way mindfulness can be successfully applied is to surface these questions to our awareness and allow us to consider who is asking and why. If we are able to live with this awareness, the ‘what’s up next’ syndrome becomes less of an issue because we would be grappling with ‘what is’ — in fact, we would be intentionally present, and ergo, mindful.