For 5 weeks we look at 5 practical skills that will help you learn faster, and supercharge your personal and work life. Week 2 continues with mindfulness.
Mindfulness: internet buzzword of the 21st century. A concept ripped from the monastery halls of Tibet and transplanted into every startup boardroom and business magazine this side of the Atlantic.
It's the one degree of separation that binds members of the Forbes 500 to every Starbucks barista. What is mindfulness, and why does the internet need another article about it?
A young Buddhist monk visits his old and infinitely wise teacher. The student enters the master's home, and after they greet each other the master asks,
"When you came in, did you lean your umbrella on the left or right side of the door?"
The young monk can't remember, reminding him that he's still in training.
In my own lack of mindfulness I can't remember where I cribbed this story from, but it beautifully illustrates mindfulness. Simply put, mindfulness is paying radical attention to life.
Had the young monk been paying attention in every moment, he would have known exactly where he'd left his umbrella. If I could learn the same, I could finally stop asking my fiancee twice a day where I left my glasses.
Do we need to know where our umbrella and keys are at every moment? It makes for a nice parlor trick, but there's a better reason for learning mindfulness: It's arguably the most fundamental life skill, on which all others rely.
When we are not present, where is our mind? Either in the future or the past. Thinking about the future, we often create anxiety: "How am I going to pay the mortgage? When will I have time to pick up milk? Will I get this project done on time?"
When our mind lives in the past this leads to depression. We think about past insults, past wrongs, and the body we had at 25.
A mind grounded in the present is always happier. When we pay attention we have better conversations, food tastes better, and this unexplainable feeling of contentment comes to visit more often.
My first year at university I read this introduction to mindfulness, and I started meditating daily.
Weeks later when I returned home I got into a political debate with my dad over dinner, a subject that made us lose our cool. But this time I saw my anger before it overtook me.
I was able to avoid engaging him. The calmer I was, the angrier he became, but I had broken the passive-aggressive pattern we shared, and family life was better after that.
15 years later I still meditate at least 10 minutes a day, and so I avoid a lot of suffering caused by automatic emotional reactions. When I skip the practice for a few days I notice myself becoming angry, frustrated, and cranky.
I assume you also want to spend less of your time with these emotions.
I was raised in a part of the world that taught that this brand of Eastern philosophy encouraged surrender of critical thinking, a departure from logic into lobotomization. Pop culture also said that the road to enlightenment meant disavowing money, family, and my values.
None of that is true. Mindfulness is simply paying attention so that we can detach from thoughts and actions that don't serve us well, while remaining passionately engaged in life.
Does meditation = mindfulness? No. Meditation is a tool to become more mindful, the one I prefer, but you can choose your own tool. Walking in the woods? Calendar reminders? Tattooing your hands? Whatever works for you, man.
When you're mindful most of the time you can expect to be:
And my favorite of all, something the Japanese call Kenshō, a temporary taste of enlightenment. I've had a handful of these experiences, some lasting hours, some weeks, where I feel total peace with myself and the world.
Practice this skill and you will see gains in all other areas of your life.
Have an experience with mindfulness? Let us know in the comments.
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