This is the latest installation of a 27-part series, featuring my book, Chasing Unicorns. To read the previous installation, CLICK THIS LINK. To start at the beginning, CLICK THIS LINK. To read the entire book at once, tap the book cover. Thanks for reading!
RECAP: Yesterday’s topic was about formal mindfulness, and how to practice it. It’s a singular task, where all you do is sit or lie down, while meditating. You watch your breath. You watch your thoughts. You see how your thoughts disappear when you try to observe them. You try to maintain self-awareness, but this is the hardest part of meditating, and is why so many people give up on the practice. It can also require a lot of time, which many people don’t have. But informal mindfulness can be practiced at any time, and any place.
On the Path of Unicorns, Part 4
Have you ever kept your eyes open during a prayer? What?! You sinner, you! That’ll be ten thousand Hail Mary’s and a donation of your paycheck into the church coffers.
But at least now you have an idea of what informal mindfulness is about. I call it this, but it goes by many labels. Some call it every-minute meditation. Other labels include: working meditation, ongoing meditation, and perpetual meditation. Some simply call it mindfulness, as if it were a different animal from formal, sitting meditation.
But it isn’t that different. It’s all mindfulness, whether formal or informal, so don’t get too hung up on the labels.
Informal mindfulness involves watching your mind while going about the everyday activities of life. It’s not formal, like sitting cross-legged with your eyes closed or half-closed, or like kneeling in prayer with your eyes fully closed. Why do religious leaders insist that you pray with your eyes closed, anyway? Is it so they can pick your pocket more easily?
Rest assured, you’re less likely to have your pocket picked if you practice informal mindfulness. No, you’re eyes are generally wide-open, and you’re very aware of everything going on around you. And behind you.
You’re very aware because you’ve pulled out a piece of your brain, and it’s sitting outside your skull with a big eyeball, watching everything you’re thinking, saying, and doing.
No actually, this is a metaphor again. You’ve set aside part of your mind, and that part is watching all that you do.
Now, when you do this, your thoughts tend to disappear, the same as I’ve noted above with formal mindfulness. And when your thoughts disappear it becomes nearly impossible to get anything done. After all, you have to think about what you’re doing before you can do it. At least if you want to do it with any intelligence.
And so it would seem impossible for you to function, while being informally mindful. But not so. Go ahead and try it, and you’ll see that it can actually be done quite proficiently. This is because your mind is very good at switching back and forth between metacognition and conventional, unself-aware cognition. It can switch back and forth instantaneously, many times per second.
But only if you’re loosely mindful. If you try to be tightly mindful, so that you’re perfectly mindful all the time, then you’ll become as helpless as a corpse. Your mind simply won’t be able to do two things at the exact same time.
Loose mindfulness is why I call it informal mindfulness. You’re not trying to prove anything to anybody, as you might feel tempted to do while formally meditating. No, you’re simply trying to function in the real world, while paying some attention to the goings-on within your mind.
You have the power to adjust your level of self-awareness. You can be strongly self-aware, while helpless to do much of anything, or you can be weakly self-aware, and capable of doing much.
Different things we do in our everyday lives, require different levels of attention and concentration. If we’re just picking our nose, we can be more mindful than if we’re performing brain surgery, or defusing a pipe bomb.
The more you must devote your mind to concentrating on the task at hand, the less mindful you must be, if you want to be successful at it. So I’m not asking you to be very mindful while engaging in a critical operation, such as fusing a patient’s left and right brain hemispheres together. But you can be a little tiny bit mindful, if you want to. Just make sure your malpractice insurance is paid up.
The more engrossed your mind becomes in something, such as a good book or television show, the less mindful you will likely be. But in less critical situations, you can be more mindful if you want to be, and still successfully accomplish the task. You might find yourself reading a little more slowly, or missing a few good lines from the TV show. But since there’s nothing highly critical at stake, no disaster is likely to result.
This is a good thing, because as we go about our daily routine we usually find ourselves engrossed in things that are not critical. Hell, most of life is filled with trivial details and distractions. This is fertile ground for practicing informal mindfulness. And yet it’s very challenging ground, because the mind is always at play, daydreaming and getting deeply involved in unimportant ponderings. And so, it’s easy to forget to be mindful.
Every-minute meditation is never easy. It requires much persistence. And it requires much patience with yourself, and much self-forgiveness. Many times, you’ll catch yourself after having gone for hours, or maybe the entire day, without being an ounce mindful. And then you’ll kick yourself and, hopefully, return to the self-observation of mindfulness.
It’s the returning that’s important. It’s much more important than maintaining. It builds a self-discipline and devotion to this practice, that will make the returning more and more habitual over time, until you’re so damned hooked, you can’t quit.
After decades of practice, I still forget to be mindful, many times a day. But I also remember many times a day, and then return to the practice. It’s all about the returning. One must habitually keep returning, as soon as one remembers to be mindful.
[Tomorrow you’ll have a substitute teacher. Because tomorrow some gurus will be visiting, and giving you meditation instructions.]