Life is a beautiful thing.
Just take it all in and breathe,
~ Creola Johnson
“I’m slowly learning how to bring anthropology and mindfulness together. I think they complement each other beautifully, but how to talk about it is a whole other thing. I think it comes down to excavation – what you do physically to understand where people come from. That’s a process of discovery and insight.”
Dr. Michael J. Kimball
It wasn’t until I stumbled clumsily toward a daily mindfulness practice in my mid-thirties that I discovered that there were ways I could get better at feeling my feelings.
Before intentionally working on my attentional skills, I had no idea how often I escalated my unpleasant feelings and zipped past the pleasant and subtler ones.
The kind of self-awareness that mindfulness exercise develops has helped me become more objective about my subjective experiences.
While I’m waiting impatiently for the rest of the world to calibrate to my ideal technology habits, I’ve started to watch myself watch other people peer into their devices as they walk down the street, sit in coffee shops, and stand at urinals.
This impulse has grown into a challenging, but fascinating attention exercise that has lead to some liberating insights that have shifted my reactions to other people’s observable tech habits.
Flying provides a steady stream of frustrations: the crowded isolation of DIY check-in, the sock-footed walk on eggshells through TSA, the hypervigilant tracking of an elusive ETA.
All the inevitable discomforts of air travel make it a fertile attentional fitness opportunity. I’ve been developing a strategy that transforms the situation from hell into heaven. Okay, maybe more like a really productive purgatory.
What does it mean to let our thoughts drift by like clouds?
Shifting our awareness from what our thoughts mean to how they fluctuate is an attentional exercise that develops liberating abilities over time.
Observing the movement of clouds can provide a glimpse into how we can relate to mental activity more objectively, but it oversimplifies things when the analogy is taken too literally.
The real magic happens when we become intimately familiar with the moment-by-moment experience of being alive. Instead of trying to force complete experiences to happen. I focus on setting the stage for them to happen by exercising my attention.
When remembering to notice that we're alive becomes a habit, we begin to erode the internal friction that obscures our view of the richness we're swimming in every day.
There are many obstacles to establishing a consistent mindfulness routine. Three big ones are finding time to practice, being distracted by thoughts, and feeling bored.
I discovered an exercise that obliterates all three simultaneously, but I’m pretty sure you’re going to hate the idea of it.
As with any good attention exercise, it leverages an ordinary activity as an opportunity to build capacities that for responding more effectively to the challenges of ordinary life.
"Right as rain, soft as snow,
It grows and grows and grows,
Our home sweet home."
~ Sleeping at Last
"You're going to die, too! Someday. And how will that be? Have you thought about it? What would you die for? Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand is where I fall."
~ Doctor Who