If “mindfulness” wasn’t last year’s buzzword, then you can be sure to bet on it being one in 2015. Already there have been countless articles written about the practice, especially recently, as the New Year inspires people to make resolutions in hopes of improving certain aspects of their lives. The benefits of this age-old practice have been gaining more ground as of late, being empirically supported by collaborations between today’s great meditators and scientists. Often these benefits are felt immediately; reduced anxiety and stress, experiencing more pleasure and joy, contentment with the present moment (rather than anxiousness about the future), and greater compassion.
But why are we suddenly astounded by the power of breathing? Surely meditation is no novelty, for it has been written about for centuries – millennia even. Perhaps it has become popular because of its nature. Forcing us to unplug and focus on a single, simple event, our breath; with all of our technological gadgets these days, devoting our complete focus on a single task seems unproductive, inefficient, a poor use of our time.
In our contemporary world, things move extremely rapidly. A new Apple product comes out every 6 months, and other companies, in order to remain competitive, have to keep pace or risk being left in the dust… alongside “dinosaurs” such as the iPod Classic (rest in peace) or Blackberry (please stage a comeback). So-called advancements are coming out so quickly and so regularly, that all of us are being conditioned to believe that we are reaching higher and higher spheres of sophistication and advancement in both technology and lifestyle. The fact of the matter is that this? It’s all a delusion.
A great man recently said that technology hasn’t granted us anything more than speeding up what we could already do. The next frontier (in the consumer market) would be to innovate technology to do the things we can’t do – such as multi-tasking. Real multi-tasking. Not just switching between individual tasks, which we mistake for the true meaning of the word. We aren’t really moving at light speed, but we expect each other to because email has nearly become instant messaging and instant messaging has nearly become telepathic (á la word suggestions).
In the past, before we reduced our ability to delay gratification, we didn’t have to stress about “wasting our time” or just sitting down to listen to that newly purchased CD (and actually listening to the music instead of using it as background for another activity). We were more present focused because that’s what we knew how to do best, but today, we’re told to plan five, ten, fifteen – heck, even twenty years into the future. We’re always asking someone or something if we’re on the “right track”, and this causes us great stress and anxiety. This is where mindfulness comes in.
We like mindfulness because we regain control in our lives and are encouraged to engage in a lifestyle we’ve lived and know from the past. As children, we were completely immersed with the present moment. Not only did each day consist of distinct adventures, months felt like years, and years felt like lifetimes. Remember getting defensive, like you would go to Hell and back just to defend your honor, when a stranger assumed that you were SIX instead of SEVEN? Yeah, big difference man.
As adults, we have responsibilities and obligations that detract us from enjoying the present like we used to, but even more, we contest being present-oriented because it is reminiscent of our childlike tendencies – and we’re supposed to act as adults now, right? As a result, time zips by without so much a second thought. We’re always thinking about what’s around the corner, or the next ten corners, instead of looking out for the manhole that could by lying in wait just under your chin, or enjoying the wonderment of blossoming flowers in the garden you’re speed walking through on the way home.
Thus, we like mindfulness because it allows us to feel less guilty. We can indulge in activities and behaviors we rejoice, instead of feeling obligated to reduce how often we partake in them, rush them in fear of wasting too much time, or just abandoning them altogether. Sociologists call this crazy hustle and bustle “hurry sickness”, and it dominates our contemporary lives.
We like mindfulness because we can reclaim a piece of ourselves that hurry sickness has stolen from us. Our peace, our creativity, and our relaxation are all restored when we practice mindfulness regularly. We like this, because we can really feel like our true selves, rather than the personas that society expects from us. We reclaim our identity.
The articles out there regarding mindfulness as a New Year’s resolution advocate the benefits of the practice in a business sense – decrease your stress and your anxiety, and increase your efficiency. Take a breather, but then get back to work – this time, more quality work is expected, though. From these angles, the practice is being misused. Is that what you want mindfulness for? To be better at your job? To be better at doing something, that someone else expects of you?
Enjoy that ice-cream, but not the whole tub, because mindfulness is closely associated with Buddhism, based on the notion of moderation or the “Middle Way”. Don’t be afraid to daydream again. Studies have shown that doing so actually increases your levels of creativity. Indulge in a nice shower. Do those things that make you feel like you. No more guilt, no more worries. Most importantly, focus on your breath. The present is what matters. You matter. Reclaim your identity. This is why you’ll like mindfulness, and not because your boss says you’ll be more productive from practicing it.