Mindfulness isn’t about chasing mystical experiences, but the down to earth practice of paying attention to your own life, as it unfolds in each moment. The tragedy is that we spend so little time fully available to our present moment experience, that we essentially miss life as it happens in front of us. If we haven’t noticed the dance, then how can we join in?
There is an old statistic which claims that we spend almost a third of our lives asleep. If true, then even if we are lucky enough to live to 100, we are only able to enjoy 66 years of waking life. But actually, we don’t even have that. A 2010 study run by Harvard University revealed that the average American spends almost half their lives disengaged from their present moment experience, absorbed in mind-wandering and day-dreaming.
This means that we are spending nearly half of our waking lives, thinkingabout life, rather than experiencing it as it happens. And because mind-wandering is aways a mixed bag of content, ranging from uplifting and positive states of mind, to dysfunctional and negative states of mind, we experience much of our lives in a constant state of stress, anxiety, fear and confusion.
Our waking life is cluttered with dream-like dramas, stories and narratives which actually disrupt our ability to feel fully free, happy and at ease right now.
So this leaves us with a grand total of 33 years of eyes-open, wide-awake, fully-aware living, out of a potential 66 years – and that’s only if we live to 100.
We can do better. In fact we can turn that potential 66 years of waking life into 132 years simply by practicing Mindfulness. If we are able to double the amount of attention we pay to each and every moment – regardless of its content – then we can receive more experience than if we are living in a distracted way and more experience means more life.
By paying attention to ourselves in this way, whether we are sat in formal meditation, walking to work or washing the dishes, two things begin to happen:
Firstly the intensity, flavour and texture of our lives starts to increase. Suddenly we feel alive again and have the sense that everything around us is coming alive too. This is because we are shifting our focus out of the mind and into our senses which are always plugged directly into our present moment environment. We have a sense of abundance and of living more fully, because we are beginning to notice that life has always been, and always is, here and not over there.
Secondly, we begin to understand ourselves. We observe the mind, buzzing with 70,000 thoughts a day and come to see that I cannot be those thoughts. We feel-into the emotions and sensations shifting like electricity through the body and discover that they cannot be me either. We stay aware of our circumstances, situations and plans as they change and transform before our very eyes, revealing that nothing ever gets “stuck.”
So not only does Mindfulness allow us to taste the joy of life’s exuberance, but it also produces the the understanding that whatever I am is not really bound by thoughts, emotions, sensations or outer circumstances. In fact, all of this shifting content simply arises and fades through my natural awareness. Actually anything I can point to as “me” is also just more content passing through this still, silent knowing.
Contrary to what we have believed, we have never been a fixed stable object, but a constant dance of transformation. The entire universe dies and is reborn in each moment. This means that every single moment without exception is the mystical experience we are looking for.
It’s all here, it’s all now, it’s all free.
So whether we live for 10 years, 50 years or 100 years, let’s not fritter our precious time and energy away on the stories and dramas which constantly flood our heads. Let’s give up the belief that happiness, health and enlightenment exist “out there” ….somewhere, hidden from view on lofty mountain tops or in rare states of consciousness.
Let’s dare to simply stop and soak up the glory of our own existence whilst it lasts. Your life may not depend upon it, but noticing your life certainly does