If you’re like me, you have a love and hate relationship with the mindfulness practice. It only seems to work when you’re actually doing it, at home in your chair far away from the chaos of life. The rest of your time you’re trying to install this moment-by-moment awareness into your real life to no avail. It’s both frustrating and hilarious.
The author of America the Anxious Ruth Whippman sums up the insidiousness of mindfulness in a recent op-ed in the New York Times:
“Mindfulness is supposed to be a defense against the pressures of modern life, but it’s starting to feel suspiciously like it’s actually adding to them. It’s a special circle of self-improvement hell, striving not just for a Pinterest-worthy home, but a Pinterest-worthy mind.”
There are some benefits of meditation–it calls attention to our lack of focus. We’re all so easily distractable in the smartphone age. Instead of acting smug about inner-noticing and our failure of presence, perhaps the quickest path to emotional calm is to stop trying so hard to be here now in the first place.
“This is a kind of neo-liberalism of the emotions, in which happiness is seen not as a response to our circumstances but as a result of our own individual mental effort, a reward for the deserving. The problem is not your sky-high rent or meager paycheck, your cheating spouse or unfair boss or teetering pile of dirty dishes. The problem is you.”
“Silence is a great canvass for your thoughts,” entrepreneur and musician/author Derek Sivers proclaimed. He’s right. But to understand why, we need to go deeper.
We live in a world of external distractions, more annoying than the incessant ringing of our phones. According to a 2013 study, children who grow up near airports or noisy urban areas can become immune to stress-inducing sounds, impairing their ability to detect speech in conversation. Says Cornell university researcher Gary W. Evans, spearheading the study:
“even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans”
In another study, silence has shown to more effective at releasing tension than relaxing to soothing music. In fact, silence does more than release stress and tension-it literally regrows neurons. No wonder mindfulness meditation is all the rage!
Silence is golden
Silence can rewire your brain and liberate our unconscious, stoking the imagination. We can paint the silence with our thoughts and tap into the creative parts of our brain.
“As Herman Melville once wrote, “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”
Throw in some earplugs and quiet the mind so the soul can speak. Shhhhhh.
Repeating the same motivational mantras in front of the bathroom mirror every morning
The benefits of establishing diurnal habits is the pre-planned automation that puts the body in motion before your mind. As a result, you don’t have to think, which saves brain space for other stuff like work priorities.
The drawbacks for habits, even the stuff you don’t want to think about, is that these things lose meaning over time. You’re doing them without questioning their utility in the first place.
Daily routines are meant to be switched up. You may wake up 10 minutes later or earlier. You may decide what to wear in the morning. You may want to choose a new set of mantras to motivate you, or none at all so you can just live.
We are rhythmic creatures
Change is good. Change often to keep the mind fresh from repetition. Mix it up every once in a while in order to stay awake.
Instead, we too often view the opposite of “doing” as “not doing,” and then demonize inaction. In fact, good judgment grows out of reflection, and reflection requires the sort of quiet time that gets crowded out by the next demand.
Don’t mistake inactivity for laziness, for doing nothing could also be deep thinking, or sleeping for that matter. Clarity emerges from an over-connected mind trying to be blank.
Sometimes the mind needs nothing other to do than to rest.