Mindless vs mindful: Why it is hard to be mindful?
We so value mindfulness that we sometimes put it on a pedestal. The problem is that, when we put something up there, it starts to feel like an ideal that is difficult to reach. So we slide into perfectionism. We get intimidated. We forget that mindfulness is very much part of our evolutionary heritage. But so is mindlessness.
Here are a few dimensions that sketch a sense of a broader concept of mindfulness:
Here are a few dimensions that sketch a sense of this broader concept:
– We start with a simple definition of “mindful” as the opposite of “mindless”. Of course, this begs the question of what we mean by “mindless”. We use this in the ordinary, every day sense of the word, as in “watching TV mindlessly“. There’s a connotation of being passive in that... but we cannot just say that “mindless” is a synonym for “passive“. We are not trying to find a perfect way to define the concept through words, just giving a broad sense of the general area that it might cover.
– We see mindfulness as a skill that we all have the potential for. It is like other skills: some people might be more talented at running, or at playing piano than others. And some people may develop their potential way beyond what ordinary people can, through skillful practice. But we all have the potential for it, as something that was honed by evolution. Just think how hard it would have been for our mindless would be ancestors to find food, escape becoming food, and more generally survive. We are the descendants of a very long line of mindful forebears.
- While we all have the potential for mindfulness, it is important to keep in mind that life in a civilized world makes it harder to automatically be mindful. This does not just refer to contemporary society, but to the past few thousand years, in which humans have been living in organized societies as opposed to the natural world we evolved in. We are not even just talking about Buddha’s time. Even before Buddha, people had already noticed that it takes intentionality to shift from “mindless” to “mindful“.
In case this all feels a little abstract to you, here is a concrete example. This 30-send video shows why, for some of us, "listening" has a bad connotation. It's good to understand why, and to see how things can be different.
It's not so much about "listening" as it is about the nature of the relationship:
- It doesn't feel good to be forced to listen.
- It feels really good to feel the deep connection that comes from listening to somebody we want to listen to.
Similarly, forcing ourselves to be more mindful is not necessarily the most effective way. It helps to better understand the context, and what it means to us.