“Cogito, ergo sum.” René Descartes’s famous conclusion often interpreted as, “I think, therefore I am.” Our society holds the mind as extremely important. The push toward intellectual horizons of college, life long learning and figuring out the meaning to life are just some of the ways we find the mind held in the highest regard.
A Mind of Its Own
Add to society’s focus on the intellect in fact our minds want to think. Gestalt psychology gives us the perspective that our minds want to understand, to come to a place of completion, and wants everything to fit well into a box. Even if we don’t have all of the information about a situation our minds try to fill in the blanks to complete the story so it makes sense to us. While this is an important function of the mind and it is much needed for us to function in the world, it can also cause great difficulties. We can fill in the blanks with incorrect information, we can go down a rabbit hole of worry and stress that is difficult to get out of, and ultimately our mind never stops its ceaseless endeavor to think, think, think. Mindfulness gives us another approach.
The practice of mindfulness is paying attention on purpose in the moment without judgement. One of the ways we can disengage from the mind’s constant need to figure things out is to focus on one of our five senses- tastes, touch, smell, sight, or listening. By bringing our awareness to one of these five things it allows the mind to take a place to come home to and rest. However, anyone who has tried to practice mindfulness knows, the mind is afraid to be taken out of the limelight. The mind raises its voice and says, “Hey, I’m still here. Look at me!”
The Practice of Mindfulness
Many people think mindfulness is about being “zen.” Yet, what many don’t realize is that calmness and centeredness really comes from persevering through the phases where the mind jumps up and down wanting attention. Having been at mindfulness retreats one common comment made is, “Everyone looks so calm while my mind is going crazy and won’t stop.” What the person finds is other people nodding in agreement- all those who seems so serene were actually sitting with the intensity of the mind going in a hundred different directions. They just didn’t get up from the room to do something to distract themselves. At some point everyone who practices mindfulness for any length of time has their thoughts highjack their attention. That line is so important I’m going to say it again, everyone who practices mindfulness has their thoughts highjack their attention- even the people whom you think of as being the most “zen.” Mindfulness is NOT about staying focused. It is about noticing that our mind has gone off doing what it does again (thinking, plotting, planning), gently bringing our attention back to our object of focus (our breath, our feelings, our sensations), and beginning again……and again……and again……..and again.
Logic and Mindfulness
While logic and mindfulness can seem diametrically opposed they are not. They are simply different parts that support an overall holistic approach to being human. Practicing mindful sitting is like playing scales on the piano. Even the best pianist still does it. However, when we are proficient in that practice we bring our mindfulness to all areas of our life including logical thinking. We can be mindful of our logical thinking bringing awareness of the nuisances, deceptions and profound insights that arise. So what I tell people is, “Don’t stop thinking. Just do it mindfully!”