Mindfulness vs. Mindlessness
We all struggle with uncertainty. We want to embrace what is known and avoid what we don’t know. We really don’t care for doubt or the inability to understand things. This feeds our need to try to figure things out and can be of use when we are problem solving.
But have you ever thought about the problem of knowing?
Yes, knowing in-and-of-itself can be problematic. When you think you know something, it is likely that you really don’t.
For example, how long did people believe that the world was flat? It took Christopher Columbus, a daring man, who said “maybe it isn’t flat” to go forth and prove that it wasn’t.
Mindfulness is a result of questioning everything. Mindlessness is the tendency to categorize and believe we have things figured out.
We tend to fear the unknown when we may be well advised to fear the known. The known traps us within the structure of how we think things are. What I am saying can cause fear and trepidation because it goes against what you may have been taught all of your life.
The result of questioning everything.
The tendency to categorize and believe we have things all figured out.
Is it really possible to live as if everything is new?
I was with my two-year-old grandson the other day in our yard and I realized he was totally still, bent down and looking at a bug in the garden. He was intent, focused, and totally still.
He had made a discovery and was studying it with attention and true mindfulness. He was fully present in the moment and totally consumed by it.
I marveled at how a two-year-old could be so consumed by what seemed to me to be an insignificant little bug. In truth, we can all learn to live this way.
When you think about a young child studying a bug can you remember being there at one time in your life?
Can you remember the feeling of freedom on a summer day when life was exciting and there were so many things you didn’t know?
Life was full of possibilities.
If is has been a long time since you gazed at a starry sky far away, you may not remember the feeling of looking out at the universe and realizing the mystery that is all around us. If you haven’t taken the time to sit and watch children play lately then you may be out of touch with what it is like to live in wonder and realize that we really know very little.
Preconceived notions are the enemy of mindfulness. They make our minds dull and mindless.
I was talking to a woman recently about Zion Canyon in Utah, one of the most beautiful places on earth. When I was sharing with her how wonderful it is and encouraging her to visit, she said, “ Yes, it is beautiful, but I have been there. Why would I want to go there again?”
I couldn’t believe my ears. I have been there dozens of times and I can not completely take it in. It is always new and unbelievably beautiful. This same principle can be applied to every day, hour, and even seconds.
We categorize things for convenience, and it certainly can help us to organize our world. But when we conveniently ignore our limitations and allow expectations and beliefs to blind us to what is real, the consequences are tragic.
We tend to stick with our beliefs even if there is evidence or experience that may be contrary to our beliefs.
Ellen Langer, Ph.D., has made a study of mindfulness and states, “The mindless individual is committed to one predetermined use of the information, and other possible uses or applications are not explored.”
If you take into account that things are different due to time passing, or that our original beliefs need to be challenged it helps you to realize that things are not static. Life is constantly changing and new.
This in no way is saying that the truth is relative. It only means we may not have examined all the information before we made it a belief.
We recently had an eclipse of the sun. It drew hundreds of people outside to look at a rare and unique phenomenon. I was amazed at the reactions I saw. Many people became childlike in their excitement.
We tend to have fewer categories for things that happen rarely. Langer also said, “No matter what you are doing you are doing things mindlessly or mindfully.” When we look at an eclipse, we tend to be more mindful because it is a rare experience.
But isn’t every moment rare?
Is not every day, hour, minute and second an as-of-yet-unexperienced rarity?
How do we use mindfulness to embrace uncertainty?
We can see that the ego doesn’t like to be unsure. The ego is focused on survival and it has learned that when it knows something or when we do things routinely, it is safe.
When things are safe, then uncertainty is lost. Depak Chopra talks about the wisdom of uncertainty. Possibility is severely limited by being tied to the known. We live in a society that has figured out a lot of things.
Technology is a wonderful thing and has truly helped with our quality of life. But all of that technology was not found by saying “this is how it is.” Technology is the product of someone saying “what if it is this way?” Langer says, “Questions help people move from mindless to mindful.”
What does it cost to admit uncertainty, or to question an old belief system that does not work for us anymore?
I am not talking about the tried and true core beliefs and values that help us to be better people or those that actually help us to be safe.
In therapy, I recognize most people have belief systems that work for them and belief systems that don’t. The more firmly they hold on to some of the old beliefs that cause anxiety or depression, the more I recognize that they find security in something that truly doesn’t help them.
Mindfulness is a way of moving from the known into the unknown. This is where we may find the answers to problems and develop new ways of looking at the world.
Mindfulness is a path of accepting who you are and others as fellow travelers on an amazing journey in an amazing world.
A child knows this.
You knew it once when things were simpler.
Mindfulness is the path back to that inner self that questions and believes.