Mindfulness · Year and a Day

Goldfish, Monks and the Mindful Soul



I’m sure some of my readers are wondering what the heck I’m talking about with all this “mindfulness” nonsense. After all, the last time I practiced in earnest, this blog didn’t exist. Though if you read my posts, you’ll get a flavor of my meditative world view. It’s in me… I just haven’t expressed it much recently.

I figured I’d take a moment, then, to explain just what mindfulness means to me. I could throw out a dictionary definition, but there’s a Google for that. Besides, when does a dictionary ever adequately convey definitions for concepts that relate to matters of the soul?

I find that starting with a story works best to discuss my definition of mindfulness So, to that end, I’ll relay one of my favorite Buddhist parables.

Once, a student approached a monk, and he said, “My mind is full of clutter, and my concentration fails me. How do you clear your mind and find peace?”

The monk said, “I eat. I walk. I work. I speak. I listen. I breathe.”

The student replied, “I do all of those things!”

And the monk said, “Yes, but you do them all at the same time.”

We’re taught, in our modern world, that the ability to multitask is a virtue. Microsoft conducted a study in 2015 that determined computer users’ attention spans to be roughly 8 seconds. They call it the “goldfish attention span,” because your average goldfish can concentrate longer than your average adult Internet user.


I’m not.

I’ve boasted my ability to carry on three IM conversations, work on 5 documents in tandem, catch up on the news, keep track of social media and plan dinner, all in the span of a tick on the clock. The problem is, when we run in this fashion, there’s no real concentration going on.

You may produce quality work, but are you really generating quality of life?

When I multitask, I find myself asking people to repeat themselves. I have to re-read what I just wrote to see if it actually makes sense. I occasionally put the wrong message in the wrong chat window, and then have to explain why I just asked my boss to pick up some chicken on her way home from work.

It’s interesting to think about it, really… when you’re multitasking, you’re not driving harder, or faster, or smarter. You’re actually asleep at your own wheel.

This is where the story of the monk comes in. The student is like our 8-second-attention-span Internet user… and the monk (who I’m now picturing as a goldfish) is giving him the prescription for his dis-ease.

When you eat, eat.

When you walk, walk.

When you work, work.

When you speak, speak.

When you listen, listen.

When you breathe, breathe.

There’s enough time in your day to do all of those things and more. And when you devote your mindful presence to that which you are doing, you’ll find that, at the end of your task, you’ll feel a sense of peace. You’ll feel complete. Whole. Unbroken.

Mindfulness to me is a relief from the clutter of our modern lives. The practice doesn’t remove the clutter… I simply remove myself from the burden of it.

Mindfulness is not easy… that’s why it’s called a practice.

Mindfulness is not a guarantee for enlightenment… but it will lighten your spirit.

Mindfulness is not dogmatic… you’re not being judged, so be gentle with yourself and know that you’re not doing it wrong, even if you feel like you’ve failed. Just return to your breath. As long as you’re still breathing, you’re doing alright.

Mindfulness isn’t a cure… there is no cure for life other than death, and I’m not ready for that step yet. If you’re reading this, chances are, neither are you.

Mindfulness isn’t a chore… the simple act of breathing can become joyous if you truly tune in.

Mindfulness is a tool… like any tool, it requires constant maintenance and care to function at peak performance.

So, next time you’re eating, or walking, or talking, or listening, or whatever it is you’re doing… slow your mind. Concentrate on your task and only your task. If your thoughts wander, gently bring yourself back to the present. Breathe it in. Let it out. And when whatever you’re doing is done, let it go, and check in with yourself to see how you feel.

With practice, you’ll find a quiet stillness forming inside of you that’s easier and easier to harness. And it’s that stillness that is your mindful soul.


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