Sometimes, when I’m walking through the trees, I feel almost transparent. The lush green of the leaves, the fragrance of the underbrush and the sound of the breeze are all so clear and alive that they seem to go right through me. Sometimes I’m so wrapped up in my thoughts and dreams that it’s as if my senses have been turned off – no awareness of the forest at all. Usually, though, I’m somewhere between these two extremes, feeling encased within my skin and regarding the trees as things outside me and thoughts and feelings as inside.
We can choose to spend more time in that “almost transparent” state, continuously and clearly aware of this present moment. To be fully here, present-moment after present-moment. This is mindfulness. It’s not about having your “mind-full” of something, it’s actually the opposite – it’s the setting aside of your mental and emotional baggage, resulting in a clarity and a fluidity that lets thoughts, feelings and perceptions flow smoothly through your awareness without sticking.
Continuous awareness of the present moment. At heart, this is sublimely simple. But when you first try to maintain this awareness, you find that such a simple thing can be quite difficult to do.
How often have you driven to your favorite grocery store and realized after you arrive that you don’t remember the trip there? That you were driving on automatic pilot while reviewing your plans for the day or thinking about some problem you had the day before? Maybe you were ruminating for the 99th time on how you loathe your work situation. Or maybe you were basking in how well things are going at your job and how you’re looking forward to presenting your latest project plans.
Regardless of what you were daydreaming about while driving, you weren’t really here. In a very real sense you were somewhere else, even though your body was here, functioning as if you were here. This is the opposite of mindfulness, and most of us spend a large percentage of our time in this “somewhere else”.
Is this a problem? If most of us spend most of our time not being present, that would mean it is our “normal” state. Why change? I look at questions like this in terms of opportunities and results, rather than “normal” vs “abnormal” or “right way” vs “wrong way”. What results are you getting being “normal”? What opportunities do you have that could bring different results?
As soon as you ask these questions you have stepped out of that “somewhere else” into the present. You have set aside the usual repetitive mental churnings and opened up to new possibilities. You are in a state of inquiry that is rooted in the open awareness associated with mindfulness, as are other dynamic frames of mind such as when improvising music, being “in the zone” playing basketball, or stepping into class on the first day of school. In each case you’ve left the “normal” state of mind behind and are fully engaged in the moment.
This full engagement is what mindfulness is all about – staying connected throughout the day, not just during those special times when you’re in the zone. But it takes dedication to stay focused, because our habit of bounding from thought to thought and emotion to emotion is so deeply ingrained. Even so, the fruits of practicing mindfulness come almost immediately – decrease in stress level, efficiency of thought process, and a relaxed state of being that in itself can be joyous.
Mindfulness is both the cause and the result, both the journey and the destination.