Let me tell you the story of a person Mr. X who was a reporter working for the Discovery channel. He had been assigned the task of creating a detailed documentary on the life of a hyena. Hyenas are nocturnal animals; which means they are active at night. So he would have to do most of his research at night. He hired a small glider plane (with the company credit card of course!) with a suitable floodlight that could illuminate the entire mountain. In the nights, he would take off in the glider plane and when he was above the mountain he would switch the floodlight on. The light was really powerful, it would light up the entire area and he could see all the hyenas, wild animals, trees, rivers, rocks and everything else on that mountain. Every night he would carefully scan the entire mountain, choose a particular hyena, adjust the illumination of the light to focus only on that hyena and simply follow it well into the night. He kept doing this every night until he was convinced that he had all the material he needed and finally created the documentary. The documentary turned out to be a masterpiece and was given an award for its depth and attention to detail. When asked for his secret he said that, “The success of my nightly trips depended on two things – how aware I was of all that that was happening in the forest at that time and how tightly I followed the hyena without getting distracted by anything else.”
Unbeknownst to him, Mr. X had stumbled on two of the most essential qualities needed for successful completion of a task – awareness and mindfulness. In the above story we can liken the mind to the jungle of the night and when we shine the light of awareness on it we become aware of the various thoughts, desires and fantasies roaming in there. In order for us to focus on the task at hand, we need to adjust the illumination of the light so that we can zoom into that particular stream of thought that is necessary for this task. And most importantly, we need to ignore all other distractions that tend to keep shifting the focus of the light from one place to another.
Awareness and mindfulness are like the two wheels of a bicycle. The cycle cannot move forward unless both wheels work together. One cannot be mindful when drinking a cup of coffee unless one is aware of the actions of holding the cup, raising it and smelling the coffee. Awareness is being conscious of what is going on, mindfulness is choosing what to be conscious of. Only when you are aware that you are angry, will you be mindful of not letting your voice be raised. Only when you become aware that you are not focusing on the task at hand, will you be able to keep the phone away and come back to the task.
Even when it comes to meditation, if you don’t know anything about meditation and if you just understand the concepts of awareness and mindfulness; you know enough to meditate for a lifetime. At any point in time, be aware of what is going on in the mind and in the body and at the same point in time; choose what you wish to focus on – your breath, the sensations in the heart center or in between your eyebrows or anything else.
Outside of meditation, in the arena of life mindfulness (which is used to mean awareness and mindfulness) is a key quality. At a ground level, mindfulness helps to stay focused on task at hand, to get to the root of a problem, to avoid costly mistakes and to not get carried away by emotions. When practiced over a period of time, mindfulness helps to make the right decision for all the right reasons, to choose the right track, to stay on track despite all obstacles; and at the same time helps you adapt to changes in the environment.
Mindfulness although touted as the tool for success and efficiency is really much more than that. Mindfulness is a way of being. When you are mindful, life takes on a completely different quality; life becomes what it is – a wondrous miracle. There are two opposite quotes that essentially mean the same thing – “The devil is in the details” and “God is in the details”. Mindfulness gets you closer to the God and Devil within you. And if practiced correctly, it helps you be friends with the both of them.
As you become more mindful of your state of mind, you stop reacting to the situation outside, you start questioning your own self – “Why did I feel so angry over a small thing?” As you start questioning yourself, you discover facets of your personality you never knew before – “Whenever I feel like someone is taking advantage of my niceness I get disproportionately angry”. As you start noticing your blind spots, you start to let go of your biases – “May be others are not trying to take advantage of me; they probably behave this way with everyone”. When you let go of your biases, you are able to deal with the situation in an objective fashion – “Their behavior has nothing to do with me. It is a reflection of who they are.” When you deal with situations in an objective fashion, you are able to let go of non productive thought patterns and actions – “I have no control over the actions of others. I did the best I could and there is nothing more for me to do.” And thus you free up the space in your mind that was coiled up with years of negativity and faulty suspicions about how the world is out to take advantage of you.
In the process you freed yourself from the constant, unconscious effort needed to be in the survival mode; of being on your guard all the time and thinking one step further than the other person so that you are not “being taken advantage of”. When you drop that load, you become free in the true sense of the word. You have done yourself a huge favor because you have given yourself the permission to be helpful to others in an open and carefree manner – the way you were when you were born; the way one human being is meant to help another; the way nature intended helpfulness to be. And thus mindfulness brought you closer to your own self. Any action that originates from this free, open, unguarded mind is bound to bring joy and beauty in your life
Mindfulness works from the inside out. Mindfulness is actually a place holder, a space you retreat into when you choose to play the role of a witness. Just sit back, relax and watch very carefully the movie of your life. Very soon you will get to meet the main character and become familiar with their compulsions, biases, fears, talents and hidden desires. As you keep watching, you become acutely aware of how human they are; how utterly common. They are exactly like the other 6 billion people on the planet; struggling to make sense of the world around them. And yet they are unique because none of the other 6 billion people on the planet have the exact same combination of experiences, desires and talents that they have. As you keep watching, you fall in love with them because of their humanity and uniqueness; you accept them as they are, you start rooting for them in their struggles, you appreciate them in their triumphs and a regular,olife actually becomes what its meant to be – a wondrous miracle!
p.s. This blog actually started out as how mindfulness helps improve effectiveness in life. The purist in me finds “improving effectiveness” to be a very shallow application of a beautiful and subtle thing such as mindfulness. A simple google search will produce at least a million tips for ‘how to be mindful’. We will explore them another time. For now, you can try this simple thing – For every feeling, thought, word and action – ask yourself, “Why this?”
Feel free to share your experience in the comments section.
Image – bikeexchange.com.au, desktopwallpapers4.me