Mindfulness. Awareness. Critical thinking. Selflessness. The act of choosing.
Whatever you may call this “new” approach to living, the effects of choosing to live in a more mindful manner are obvious, helping reduce stress levels and contributing to a more positive atmosphere.
However, while the Buddhist practice of mindfulness may focus on “being aware of your thoughts and actions in the present”, the truth is that its effects go beyond the obvious, rippling out to touch the lives of people you have not even met including future generations.
If you think about it though, you don’t need to live in a mindful manner to leave a mark on this world. No matter how you live your life, you WILL affect others with your choices. The question now is whether you choose to be a positive force or not. And this is what mindful living is all about – being more aware of your thoughts and actions so that you might choose to think and act in a more positive manner.
If you’ve been trying to live in a more mindful manner, then perhaps you’ve come to realize that the greatest challenge to the journey of mindfulness is not deciding on big issues like your stance on gay marriage, the death penalty, and even your religious beliefs.
Instead, it’s the endless trivial details that need to be decided day in and day out; things that might not seem as important to give attention to and consciously decide on but actually add up slowly to define how your day will pan out, and more importantly, how your character will be shaped.
Yes, the big issues matter. But it is everyday inane stuff like traffic jams, noisy neighbors, soiled diapers, illogical partners, and your own clumsiness that has resulted in lost keys for the nth time that will command your attention every single day and will cause you to give up in exasperation if you don’t consciously guard your thoughts so as to be able to respond in the best possible manner.
It’s the small stuff that has an insidious way of getting under your skin so that you tend to forget your best intentions and end up stewing, even blowing up, and end up having a “bad” day instead of a challenging but good day. Of course, always responding to irritants in a mindful manner is an impossible task. But that is why it’s even more important to practice mindfulness, because unless you do, then you don’t stand a chance against your own knee-jerk reactions.
As the late David Foster Wallace beautifully put it during his speech to the 2005 graduating class in Kenyon College, “thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities….But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down. Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.”
I repeat “you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.”
Again, this is what mindfulness is all about. Being more aware of situations not only for the sake of knowing, but to guide you in your daily decisions so that you may view and live life in a more meaningful and positive way.
First published in June 2013; updated July 2021