The human mind is a time traveler. Much of its waking moments, and even when it is dreaming, are spent either thinking about tomorrow, or longing for yesterday. And there is nothing wrong with that. We need to project into the future where all our dreams lay, and reflecting on the past hopefully will help us avoid the same mistakes from yesterday.
But while this time traveling mind is useful, and even necessary, too much of it can shade the very beauty that lies in front of us in the moment to moment of living.
I think everyone is sensing this shading. The bipolar nature of our modern existence, thrashing us around between getting things done, and seeking some time to just sit still. It seems hopeless, unattainable.
No wonder so many people are hitting the meditation cushion. It seemingly offers a reprieve from the relentless onslaught from the to-do list, if even for a brief thirty minutes of the day.
The problem, as I see it, is that one still needs to go back into the fray of the chaos we call modern life.
Bringing that zen of meditation with you, while your body engages with the world like a warrior, can seem difficult and even impossible. What has helped me take on the martial arts of everyday life, is finding every opportunity to be mindful. Not just on the meditation cushion, but in the things that I take for granted each and every day. The mundane routine has been my greatest mindful teacher.
Everyone I know who meditates is hoping that the zen they achieved on the cushion will help them cope and kick ass in the big stressors in their life. But I have found that if you can’t meditate through the things you take for granted each day, taking on the big things with that Zen Mind is nearly impossible.
What is it then to be mindful?
Close your eyes for a moment. What do you feel, see and sense?
That ability to observe, to witness your own thoughts, feelings and sensations, is the first step to becoming mindful.
Now if you take that awareness of what you see, feel, and sense, and simply allow it to be, it comes, it goes, it stays, but you don’t try to change it. Whatever arises is neither right nor wrong, there is no judgement on your part as you observe. Then you are being mindful. In this sense, you are being fully present with yourself and the world around you.
It is when we time travel with our minds, especially when we create a story around it (“I feel this way because…,” “I am angry with him because…”), that we move away from being mindful.
As noted earlier, mind time traveling is important. But when we ruminate over and over about difficulties in our lives, both waking and dreaming, even when we know doing so will not make much difference to the reality we find ourselves in, is when we get stuck in a feedback loop of despair.
Practicing mindfulness in those moments, however, especially when they are charged with strong emotions, can be difficult. This is why the formative practice of mindfulness must take place elsewhere.
Practicing mindfulness in the mundane routines of life is the most beneficial.
What to do when your body goes into warrior mode?
Here’s an example: we all likely drive or commute in some way to work. If you are driving, it can be stressful at times. People cut you off, and rude drivers are part of this experience. This is the mundane of our routine.
Most of us have to do this each and every day. But, if every time someone cuts you off in traffic you fly off the handle into road rage, how are you going to deal with the really big stuff we inevitably have to deal with in life?
This is why I believe it is in the mundane that our best mindful practice can take place. Make a habit of it, and you slowly build your mindful resilience.
When you suddenly find yourself in one of those big explosions of stress in your life, and your body goes into warrior mode, you’ll find that all that time spent being mindful in the small things has built your mindful resilience so you can have a Zen Mind now.