A parent, guardian or other familial caregiver might have provided your first instruction in mindfulness:
Mind your manners!
Or, often with more raw emotion, a third-grade playmate, shouting:
Mind your own business!
before stomping off in a huff.
A less likely source: the obverse of the first official U.S. coin, known as the Fugio cent, which carries the aphorism, a favorite of coin designer Benjamin Franklin:
MIND YOUR BUSINESS
None of these phrases might occur to the modern meditator and mindfulness adept, but the concept of attention is fundamental to each and to mindfulness itself.
(I heard that just today in the grocery store, mother to son, who was dashing off.)
Paying greater attention is exactly what mindfulness awareness coach, Daron Larson, suggested at a recent meeting of the Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP), Ohio Chapter, in February, 2018, when he spoke on “Exercising Your Attention for a Change.”
Larson asserted that we live in an “attention economy,” a view supported by the dramatic rise in the diagnosis of attention deficit disorder in children. Increasingly, we live in a society that both demands–and rewards–our attention, creating addictive habits of low, or at least unknown, value. And as we now know with greater scientific clarity, habits arise because of changes in the brain.
That’s what’s at stake: your brain, your habits, and ultimately, your well-being.
With the conviction and simplifying clarity of a years-long practitioner, Larson offered mindfulness as a “natural capacity for direct, frictionless awareness or real-time sensory experience,” while simultaneously admitting that no definition can describe or substitute for subjective experience and awareness.
Living fully in the now, being fully present in the moment, is your experience alone.
Why is living in the moment so difficult? In large part, it’s the brain. As an advanced prediction machine and memory maker, the brain is almost always looking ahead and drawing upon memory. This is essential to our well being, of course, but this default activity can overwhelm the present moment, which, I think we can all agree, is the only time when we are actually alive.
By learning how to quiet the internal conversation through mindfulness activities, “we switch from narrative mode to experience,” said Larson. “This is what it feels like to be alive.”
But being alive, as it turns out, is not without its difficulties, nor is practicing even very simple mindfulness exercises such as listening to ambient sounds, following one’s breath, or feeling bodily sensations head to foot. It’s just at these moments when the unschooled noise in our brain, which, for the most part, is just trying to be helpful, arises and we find that our attention has drifted.
Drifting away is not surprising, though often discouraging for new and experienced practitioners alike. Becoming aware of the drift: that is the beginning of mindfulness. And returning one’s focus without judgment and condemnation is an act of self-compassion.
“Mindfulness does not solve problems, it makes you a better problem solver,” said Larson, who went on to suggest that we can learn how to experience difficult feelings without making them worse.
For the organizational change management practitioners in the audience, this seemed to resonate. Change can be difficult. Unwanted. Uncomfortable. Untimely. Convincing others that they should think or feel otherwise seems futile and can actually increase resistance. But by allowing discomfort to simply be, with mindfulness practice and attention, we can be less disturbed and better able to act in the moment more authentically and beneficially.
“I do not practice mindfulness so that I can be better at sitting on a cushion in a quite room,” said Larson. Mindfulness is not for those special moments, but for every moment.