Why is being mindful all the rage in the self-help world? I can tell you that there is more than one answer, and they are likely all right, and all wrong at the same time.
The concept of mindfulness and being mindful takes in a lot of different approaches. Meditation, psychiatry, self-help and philosophy all apply the idea in order to better ourselves and enrich our lives.
However, often the why doesn’t get explained.
Part of this is because the why is that wonderful paradox of super simple and insanely complex. It gets analyzed and examined ad nauseam, and we dive into the deep-end of the pool to see just how deep it really is.
While listening to Jeremy Irons reading Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist for the umpteenth time, I was struck by the notion of the Emerald Tablet in alchemy. If you are not familiar with this, the Emerald Tablet is the secret of alchemy, a few lines inscribed on the aforementioned emerald.
Yet rather than understand the simple meaning of those lines, scholars write long interpretations, tracts, and encoded, pseudo-scientific research papers on the deeper meaning of those lines. In the story, The Alchemist himself explains that people rejected simple things in the attempt to find shortcuts and better ways.
Mindfulness is along that same line. In the simplest of terms, being mindful is about being aware of ourselves. Mindfulness is being able to know, right now, in this singular moment, what you are thinking, what and how you are feeling, and what you are doing as a result of that.
However, many lack enough self-awareness to be mindful.
Being mindful of the self
Most of the animal kingdom has a very simple existence, relatively speaking. Find food, get shelter, propagate the species, survive and thrive. Humans do this as well…except we can think on a far more abstract level.
Most of the rest of the animal kingdom fears tangibles, like predators, storms, and other natural disasters.
Humans, on the other hand, fear intangibles like am I worthy? do I deserve this? am I good enough? and so on. Because of these abstract intangibles, as well as any number of outside influences, the notion of self gets convoluted, confused, and even lost.
My cats know who they are. They eat, play, sleep, and demand attention on their own terms. With the exception of anticipating that the red dot might be around for a chase or it’s time to wake the thumb-monkeys for treats, they live in this moment alone. They are always mindful of their self.
Humans, however, tend to lose themselves. We get lost in our jobs, our plans for the future, our mistakes of the past, and the impressions made on other people. I would guess that at least ninety-five percent of how we get lost is entirely in our own heads. Thoughts and feelings get all jumbled, and as such actions are often tentative or even subconscious.
I do not know anyone who hasn’t gone through a period of questioning their life in some way or other. Job choices, relationship choices, dietary choices, and other potentially life-altering issues get called to question. In the wake of this, the notion of identity, the self, gets lost.
This is why being mindful of the self matters. We tend to be aware of the world around us, but less so about the world within us.
Being mindful is easier than we think
When we look at the world around us, it is complicated, and blended in a largely disorderly manner. Further, just to add another layer of complexity, people have an unfortunate tendency to take too many things personally. Often-abstract issues become personal affronts, and an off-color joke, which might well be inappropriate, becomes a terrible slight.
I believe that much of this is because we are so caught-up in the idea of being connected to the world around us, that we have lost our connection to ourselves. Being mindful is, put simply, connecting to ourselves. It’s like commenting on your own Facebook post rather than the post a friend or acquaintance put up.
We worry about the future and angst about the past. Instead of being mindful of our own place, we are concerned more about the impression we are making on others. Like any addiction, the longer we stray from being aware of our own selves, the more rehab it takes to be mindful.
Oh, and just to add one more obnoxious twist: being mindful can feel selfish. Self-care, which is utterly necessary to our wellbeing, gets too-easily confused with selfishness. As such, we will frequently put it aside in the interest of making a good impression on our friends, family, coworkers, and random strangers. Why? So that we do not come across as a selfish jerk like that guy (insert random selfish person you know or see on TV here.)
But being mindful is NOT selfish. All being mindful is is being aware of what you are thinking, feeling, and subsequently acting upon. Asking What am I thinking? What am I feeling? How am I feeling? What am I doing? in the here-and-now is simply being mindful, and present.
Why be mindful?
Because so many of us have lost ourselves along the way, mindfulness is knowledge of the self. When we know ourselves, we can take better care of ourselves. We can do things that make us feel good, strengthen our innate abilities, and as such provide ourselves with more to give to others.
Why be mindful? Because to live and experience rather than go through the motions and simply exist is, I believe, what most of us truly desire in life. Further, in being more aware of ourselves, we gain knowledge we can use to share better, and express more kindness and empathy to the rest of the animal kingdom on this planet.
This is far more practical and simple than we tend to make it. When you feel stuck, or lost, or anxious, or otherwise uncertain, consider if asking these four simple questions and being mindful of the answers might just help you. When you help yourself, you are better capable of helping the world.
What am I thinking?
What am I feeling?
How am I feeling?
What am I doing?
Originally published at titaniumdon.com on February 20, 2019.