Mindfulness or mindlessness?

By Kaydee Donohoo
Staff Writer

Mindfulness is a piece of Buddhist philosophy that I personally define in two ways.

In the first definition, mindfulness is stopping your mind from wandering in order to focus more fully on living in the present. We are not fully aware of all the things that are happening to us in a given moment, like breathing, what our five senses are telling us, and that sort of thing.

Take eating for instance. You may taste your food, but you aren’t usually concentrating fully on it to get the full sensation. You go into autopilot, and are probably multitasking by watching Netflix or talking to friends.

Now picture when you are at the store deciding which candle to buy. You close your eyes, tip the glass forward, and give that scent your absolute full attention. Mindfulness is treating the world like your candle.

Treating the world like your candle all the time, though? That is what impression I’ve had with most of what I’ve read about mindfulness so far. Later we’ll return to why I would not want to live my life like that.

The second definition makes a lot more practical sense. Some definition of mindfulness are more thorough in explaining it as a practice or meditation.

It’s taking maybe ten or twenty minutes, sitting comfortably, and simply bringing your thoughts back to your breath if your mind starts to wander. It’s letting background noises flow in and out of awareness, and not judging yourself if your mind wanders often. In my experience the end result is feeling relaxed and focused for the next few hours.

Mindfulness in everyday thinking can serve a variety of purposes. The basis of it is it to let your thoughts and feelings come and go without judging them. Nothing is positive or negative; it just is. This seems to be helpful to those fighting addiction or perhaps some forms of anxiety. Feelings of needing to smoke, for instance, feel less likely to destroy you because it’s just a feeling that is in that present moment as you experience it, neither positively or negatively.

These can be great and helpful things. But there is another piece that concerns me. Some descriptions of mindfulness out there, whether they explain it as a practice or not, emphasize living in the present so much that thinking about the past or future seems negative. Freely thinking of the future or past can lead to worry, and all sorts of other negative emotions. The goal is to only think of the past and future when you are focused and aware of it, so as to think positively.

Whoa, what? Put on the brakes. The only way to find happy memories or an optimistic future is not by focusing on it. Sure, negative thoughts can flow in and out when we let our minds wander, but so do positive ones. In fact, so many pleasant moments of the past or ideas of the future would never come to me without a freely flowing thought train. Then there are just plain pleasant fantasies that are more or less timeless. Not to mention that sometimes it’s very necessary to work through negative thoughts.

I don’t think I can imagine a punishment worse than one where my thoughts are tied down. I am a writer. I need space to zone out, and I need it nearly all the time. I love getting lost in my thoughts, and truly get anxious at the notion of following my train so closely that it doesn’t move forward without me manually putting in directions.

I don’t care about what being fully aware of brushing my teeth feels like, even if, yes, it’s nice to notice it once in a while. But a constant awareness for things like this is just not worth the worlds I can create, or the jokes I can relive, as I’m using muscle memory to complete a task I’ve done thousands of times before.

Mindfulness can be a helpful tool to people trying to change their thought patterns, whether that be addiction, depression, or other similar things. Yet for the average person with average thoughts, I can’t picture wanting to give up even a fraction of the power of zoning out.

I can certainly imagine giving up time to mediation, or letting mindful thinking lift us out of anxiety. But who would want to practice mindfulness enough to lose a piece of the world that floats invisible next to us?

Life is short, and while it is important to appreciate the sensations of the outside world, I know that it’s not the only aspect we get to enjoy from life. Life is also the time we’re given to enjoy the space in our heads.