Awake, Alert, and Aware in a world of digital distractions

Last evening, December 14, 2014, a program was aired on 60 Minutes  entitled “The Newly Mindful Anderson Cooper” who interviewed Jon Kabat-Zinn, an MIT trained scientist who has been practicing mindfulness for the past 47 years.   Cooper reported on what the scientific world is reporting that “mindfulness” or “self-awareness” is very healthy. However, it is rarely achieved in today’s world of digital distractions.

The program was certainly an affirmation and confirmation for me since I have been practicing a meditative mindfulness for most of my adult life. In addition, for the first two minutes of each class, I promote a mindfulness by creating an atmosphere of silence and calm which hopefully will create a heightened awareness and greater focus. Prior to the beginning of class, I play instrumental, mood music which allows for a more relaxing atmosphere. The challenge for those 15 minutes before class is to discourage digital distractions such as cell phones.

Frank Andrews says, “Mindfulness is the practice of aiming your attention, moment to moment, in the direction of your purpose. It is called mindfulness because you have to keep your purpose in mind as you watch your attention. Then, whenever you notice that your aim has drifted off, you calmly realign it.”

The Eastern philosopher, Tagore wisely comments, “How can I be here if I am always there.” In today’s world the “there” could well mean checking your phone for messages on a miniature screen as you are driving along Mason Street, sitting at dinner with a friend, golfing, sitting in class, and the examples are endless. Case in point, recently I was at Sammy’s Pizza place, and I observed a young couple with a child as they seated themselves and the baby in a high chair. Immediately, they flipped out the phones to check out whatever? I thought to myself, look at one another, tend to your child, and enjoy the moment. Where is the life we have lost in living it?   Often when I walk down the corridors at school, at least 6 out of every 10 individuals are fixed on their phones. Why even one day I stopped to use the rest room, and a person is standing at the urinal with a phone nestled between his chin and shoulder. It has come to this.

As I move through the hallways, I attempt to make eye contact and hopefully to say “Hi” – you know, good customer service and creating a welcoming atmosphere. Not a chance. Mindfulness is the presence of the moment we bring to the here and now. When we are mindful, we encounter the moment, and we are totally immersed in it. Consequently, we are not aware of the thousand, tiny fingers of distractions, assumptions, biases, prejudices, unconsciousness modalities, and mindless conditioning that imprisons and dulls our mindfulness. We tend to live in two worlds: “What If?” and “If Only.”  “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery, and today is a gift,” writes Emerson.

As promoters of the program, “Dream…Learn It. Live It,” if we strive to pay attention at every moment, we form new relationships to time. In some magical way, by slowing down, we become more efficient, productive, energized while focusing, without distractions, on the tasks or human beings who are present to us.  “Not only do you become immersed in the moment, more importantly you become the moment.” (Michael Ray – Stanford University School of Business). How often might we say: “Where does the time go?” or “I did not have the time” or “Times flies” as found on the face of grandfather clocks inscribed in Latin as “Tempus fugit.” Consider how much time is lost in waiting in line, attending meetings that drag on beyond the hour, idling at red lights, watching commercials, and reading e-mails.

Mindfulness can actually help us to be more energy efficient, rather than burning up in the tension and distractions of ordinary mindless living. Here are a series of questions we can mindfully respond to in our everyday lives:

  1. What have I been paying the most attention to in my life this past week?
  2. What dimensions of my experiences are seeking greater attention?
  3. What specific activities do I want to bring greater awareness to?
  4. How does becoming more mindful improve the quality of my life, my work, my relations, and my family?
  5. What triggers or indicators have reminded me that I have drifted off to mindlessness?

We are challenged to bring our mind home realizing that the art of cultivating mindfulness is a lifelong process. Thus, be patient and know that every moment is an opportunity to increase our mindfulness.

“In the Native way, we are encouraged to recognize that every moment is a sacred moment, and every action, when imbued with dedication and commitment to benefit all beings, is a sacred act.” (Dhyani Ywahoo)

Roger J. Vanden Busch

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