“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”
Can you imagine how Socrates would consider our modern Western lifestyle? Judging by the quote above he would have been floored and concerned by the massive amounts of diversion that are available to keep us occupied around the clock. We are witnessing a cultural paradigm shift with the rise of the smartphone and the ability it gives us to be plugged in to an alternate universe at all times instead of fully occupying the real world. If you’re like most people, when you start to feel uncomfortable, anxious, or bored an easy solution is to pull out your phone and jump online. To be fair having access to the internet wherever you are is great and I definitely wouldn’t want to go back, but this article is concerned with the drawbacks and how to carve out time to slow things down and exist in the moment.
Performing activities mindfully sounds very easy yet can be very challenging. All you have to do is focus 100% of your attention on whatever it is you are doing. From a Gestalt perspective this attitude allows you to make full contact with your object of interest and then be consciously aware when you have retired from it, feeling a sense of closure and wholeness until the next object of interest pops up. The problem with our modern style of living is that the massive amounts of information at our fingertips and the barrage of stimuli from the environment make it hard to focus for very long on any one thing.
An excellent way to interrupt the process is to choose an activity that you will try to do mindfully. Exercise makes a lot of sense since it is hopefully already an integral part of your life and lends itself to being in the moment. If it’s not a part of your life combining the physical and mental health benefits of cardiovascular exercise with the benefits of treating it as a meditation will be very potent for you.
We suggest eliminating some common distractions like watching television, listening to music, or getting on your smartphone while you’re working out. These distractions probably help some people get through their routine by partially letting them ignore the pain, and many would argue that music actually helps to focus attention, but if you decide to treat your exercise as a meditation and haven’t practiced mindfulness much you will want to get rid of as many extra stimuli from your environment as possible. Instead of trying to escape the way your body feels you want to inhabit that feeling even more, being mindful and purposeful both about the movements you are making and how your body feels as you make them.
Eastern masters do pretty much all their activities mindfully, whether cleaning up around the house, sipping tea with friends, or wrapping themselves into the lotus pose while quietly meditating on a mat. Our Western world often comes at us so fast and furious that the chance for meditation seems more like a pleasant fiction than an achievable goal. If you stick with making your exercise routine a meditation you will probably be surprised to find that you feel even more refreshed and invigorated afterwards and that you actually look forward to working out rather than dreading it.