Mindful or mindless?
Founder of The Mindful Moment, Dr. Alexandra Domelle shares 4 lessons from her mindless moments
“Bring your awareness to the present moment.”
“This moment, here, now is your only certainty.”
“Where else is there to be, but now?”
These are the phrases, along with many others that I use every day to help myself and others appreciate the present moment. This is what I coach, teach, live and breathe. #TheMindfulMoment
Meditation and mindfulness have been a part of my life for longer than I can remember. This awareness of the present moment has seen me through the darkest moments of anxiety, depression, and heartache.
It has helped me understand, guide and support hundreds of people, from friends, family, colleagues, clients, patients, students to strangers. It is perhaps the reason people say that I “get them,” that I understand what they are going through, that I see what others miss.
So does this mean I am always serenely mindful, completely present in the present moment, living without any thoughts of the past or the future, focussing only on now?
My mind wanders just like yours.
It gets sidetracked by memories from the past.
It fantasises about the future, of lives that I will never live in this body, space and time.
It gets overwhelmed by posts, tweets, and memes on social media, momentarily dazzled by the glamour, caught in the riveting cycle of scrolls, notifications and likes.
My body suffers too.
My eyes get tired of staring at the screen. When was the last time I blinked?
My fingers get sore from the scrolling, typing and clicking. Are these the reasons we have opposable thumbs?
Then there are the “not enough’s.” Not enough sleep, not enough exercise, not enough food — or at least not eating the right kinds of food.
I am guilty of not listening to my body, of choosing to focus on something external that holds my attention, bringing with it one dopamine hit after another.
How could mindfulness possibly compete?
There is fear too, of missing out. Missing out on new connections, on new opportunities, on new successes.
Are the old and current ones really so minute, so insignificant, so boring compared to what “could be”?
As I reflect on these questions, here are 4 things my mindless moments have taught me:
1. Zoning out is an inbuilt mechanism in every human being.
It often happens automatically, meaning we don’t even realise that we have checked out from the present moment. More often than not, it happens when we find ourselves in situations that are uncomfortable, unpleasant, and unsatisfying.
Who wants to feel negative emotions when our happy place is just a thought away?
Why should we stay present in the harshness of reality when everyone else appears to have already zoned out?
Why should we even bother?
Is mindfulness really that important? Or just another fad, enjoying the spotlight, thanks to health gurus and new age living?
2. Bringing your awareness back to the present moment takes practice.
Lots of practice.
The distraction and stimuli competing for your attention are everywhere. They are in your head, bouncing around as thoughts, feelings, memories, and fantasies. They are in your surroundings, relationships, food, drink, weather, and advertising. They are online as emails, websites, blogs and social media.
The list is endless.
Yet for all this drama, noise and chaos, all it takes is one moment for you to decide where you want your attention to be.
3. When I’m not paying attention, I am neglecting all that’s important to me, whether it’s my body, my relationships and/or my sanity.
And it’s not until I finally check-in to the present moment that I start seeing the damage.
This manifests as excess weight, aches and pains, depression and a general all-around self-loathing.
No wonder the impetus is so strong to dive into some far-flung fantasy where I am the hero, not the zero, sorry-looking mess facing reality.
4. Mindless moments are by design, the perfect escape into our chosen utopia.
Whether we are reliving the past or immersed in a future fantasy, mindlessness is a way to unplug and get away without the need to book an expensive holiday.
We can be anything and anyone in our imagination, playing out our deepest, darkest desires in a place with no one to judge, comment or ridicule us.
How much of our lives are spent daydreaming, detached from reality?
What do we miss out on in our quest to perfect our fantasy?
As hard as it can feel, staying present brings with it its own rewards. It’s during moments of discomfort, heartache and pain that I have witnessed the strength of the human spirit.
Staying completely present when patients receive news of their prognosis has helped me be there for them, a privileged witness to their vulnerability, their rawness, their reality.
When my mother went from being a happy, healthy woman to being classed as a palliative care patient, it was mindfulness that allowed me to listen, really listen to her wishes. So I listened to the words, pauses and emotions in conversations I’d never dreamed of having.
It was mindfulness that allowed me to sit with my feelings when a loved one took his life. The tears came, as the deluge of grief smashed its way through every pore, every cell, every atom over and over again until there was nothing left. No thoughts to think, no words to speak, no deeds to do.
Nothing, except to sit in silence.
And yet for all this pain, there are moments of joy too.
It was mindfulness that allowed me to listen to my friend, to what she really wanted to so with her life, being present in every conversation, coaching her through the obstacles, the challenges, and the opportunities to see her finally graduate with her doctorate.
When my client finally found the courage to say what he really wanted out of life, it was mindfulness that helped me stay present in the moment, and not worry and pass judgement about what his truth would mean for his career, his relationships and his family’s expectations.
It was mindfulness that moment I held a new-born baby, completely present, aware, in awe of the bundle of divine perfection resting in my arms. Then our eyes connected, and we both knew that despite everything going on around us, we were present with each other, for each other, our breaths and our hearts beating as one, in a moment beyond compare.
There will be mindless moments; of this I’m sure. But it’s the mindful ones that interest me the most; for they are like no other.
The funny thing is, if I hadn’t experienced mindlessness, I wouldn’t have known just how precious mindful ones are.
So these days, when I have a mindless moment, I take the opportunity to thank it for the clarity, insight and wisdom it has brought me. Then I let it go, for it no longer serves me. Now I am present, here, in the moment, allowing stillness and silence to flow through me.
All is well. #TheMindfulMoment