This article is about 650 words long. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to read to the end in one sitting without having your mind wander off once to Alberta or to Albertsons or to your son’s algebra exam. Ready? Go.
Our minds are miracles of their Maker. They are capable of doing many things at once, processing incredible amounts of information in nanoseconds and making complex calculations effortlessly. They are also capable of concentrating on one thing at a time. We are getting better at the former and worse at the latter. And we are worse off for it.
Artful Choice blogger Maria Konnikova reports in a recent study by Harvard University, researchers “found that people think about something other than what they’re doing about as often as they think about what they are doing — 46.9 percent of the time. Not only that, but what they are actually doing doesn’t seem to make a difference; minds wander about equally in all of the 22 surveyed activities (with one exception: making love. At least there’s that!).
And finally, the crucial point: People are less happy, no matter the activity, when their mind is wandering than when it isn’t — even if the things they are thinking about are pleasant. Furthermore, according to time-lag analyses of the data, mind-wandering seems to be the cause, and not the result, of unhappiness.”
Psychology and religion agree that mindfulness and happiness go hand in hand. Being fully present in the moment is being fully awake to life.
Technology is a wonderful tool but a cruel master. When my iPhone controls me instead of I my iPhone, I have gone AWOL from life. My wife wonders whether I have said my vows to her or to it. Attending to many relationships at one time virtually can virtually destroy the relationship right in front of you.
Worry is another form of mind-wandering. Worry’s energy comes drifting from the knowable present to the unknowable future. Maybe you have a secret you fear will come out one day, or you obsess over whether your retirement funds will hold out or your husband’s love will hold up. It’s hard to focus on the smile of your granddaughter or the smell of gardenias when you walk through your day mentally guarding against and girding for something bad that might happen.
Worry’s energy is like a fossil fuel; it’s exhaustible, and exhausting. It pollutes the air around us as it harms the heart within us. We need a clean and renewable energy source instead.
Mindfulness in the moment allows us to be “here” and not there. It keeps mind and body together. Mind-wandering makes us divided selves — here in body but somewhere else in mind.
The Jesus antidote: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. … And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? … Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. … Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
Striving for the kingdom of God is not another form of worry about the future; it is mindfully attending to the present gift of God’s presence. It tells us to make the most of this time — to receive the day with a grateful heart, and then go about to make the crooked straight and the unlevel plain.
Mind-wandering is mental multitasking, and it’s not all bad. But mindfulness is like a mini-Sabbath rest that allows us to say thank you to the Giver of all good gifts — including this moment, now.
How did you do? Need to read it again more mindfully? You may be happier if you do.