Mindfulness is a term much in use today. Many may say, overused. It is a technique by which you focus your mind on that which you are doing, right now. Whether it be meditating, or washing the dishes. Focusing your mind, is hard to do. Our brains have such an aversion to the “here and now” that we find it almost impossible to keep focus on anything for more than a few seconds. (See my article here) Buddhist centers, companies, corporations, and Yoga centers offer mindfulness training. Advertising is full of the health benefits of practicing mindfulness. It has become big business. But why do it? Why spend time and money learning an ancient technique in our modern world?
It seems that every human being is born with a vague sense of unsatisfactoriness. We’re not even sure what it is, but we have this feeling that we’re missing something. Like there’s this space within ourselves that’s empty, and needs to be filled. Many look for an answer to this in alcohol or drugs. We look for an answer in sex, gambling, shopping, friendship, or religion. Spirituality, another term much used today is another area people turn to to find an answer as to why they feel unsatisfied in life. We meditate or worship gods. We buy products like singing bowls or malas or zafus to help us be more spiritual. None of these things are bad, in and of themselves. Shopping is is fun. Friendship, religion, or having a beer are not harmful. Overdoing anything is harmful, however. Trying to fill a hole inside of ourselves, a hole that we are not even sure of what it is, or why it is, with things from outside of ourselves can often be very harmful.
And this is the sad truth: We don’t know why we feel this way. We don’t know why we feel unsatisfied. We may have money, a nice home, a loving family and friends, and we still feel unsatisfied. We still feel like something is missing, and often we turn to things to fill that hole that become harmful addictions. Addiction is such a huge thing that often we have addictions and don’t even realize they are addictions. Advertising tells us we need the latest products to feel good about ourselves, to be healthy, to be whole. But is this the answer? Will we find that one thing we need to fill that empty space with the latest product or idea?
Everything changes, and everything is temporary. You buy a new car. It smells great, it has beautiful upholstery and runs great. You feel satisfied. Four years later it has been in the shop a few times, it’s dirty, with a rip in the seat and smells bad. It didn’t last. Now you want another new car to get that great feeling back. The truth is, nothing we try will fill up that sense of unsatisfactoriness we have. This is when we come back to mindfulness. It doesn’t cost anything, it isn’t a fad. It won’t fill the emptiness we feel, but it will help us not to feel it anymore. Focusing your mind on what it is you are doing right now, keeps your mind so occupied that you’re not thinking about the past, or fantasizing about the future. There are many mindfulness techniques that work well, like focusing on the breath while meditating. Or paying close attention to scrubbing the dishes. Noticing how the warm soapy water feels on your skin, watching as the plate or bowl comes clean as you scrub, the feel of it in your hands. Keeping your mind occupied keeps you from thinking about other, possibly more harmful things.
At first it’s hard to do. Your mind wants to wander. It wants to drift off to places you’ve been, or things you said, or why you feel this way or that. It’s said that nothing good comes easy. Training yourself in mindfulness is hard at first but gets easier with time. Unfortunately, humans are not patient. We want it now. We don’t want to wait and we certainly don’t want to work hard for it. But it works. After you’ve practiced mindfulness for a while you feel less and less of the unsatisfactory feeling. That feeling is inside your mind and therefore, nothing outside of your mind will help. Mindfulness is like mind overcoming mind. It’s learning control of your thoughts. Learning that we are all just human, with all the failings that entails. But we can overcome those negative emotions by focusing our minds. It doesn’t take religion or spirituality. It doesn’t take a new car. It takes focus. You can be spiritual, you can be religious. You can have a new car. As long as you realize that those things will not bring you the happiness and satisifactoriness you’re looking for. Focusing your mind on exactly what you are doing at this moment pushes out all other thoughts. It brings clarity, and peace of mind. It brings wholeness.