Mindfulness: A Boring Pursuit?
I actually feel kind of badly referring to mindfulness as boring–even potentially boring. It’s like I’m betraying it. I have been practicing meditation and mindfulness strategies since I was a teenager and I can’t imagine a life without it. So to mindfulness, I say ‘sorry.’
So why refer to it as boring? I get a little riled up when I hear all the mindfulness hype, the promise, the seeming ease of implementation. While I can say with conviction that mindfulness and meditation have had profound effects on the way I live, I hardly find it a flashy, sensational practice. Actually, even monotonous, boring and anxiety-provoking at times.
I thought it would be useful to deliberately avoid looking up definitions of mindfulness online or via other sources, just so I could be honest about how I see it and how I practice it; you could then tell whether this is the article for you. There are certainly other takes on the subject which might be better suited to you.
My understanding of mindfulness is being fully present in the current moment. For example, if I am hand-washing dishes, my mind is focused on the dish, the spots that need cleaning and my hands are doing the cleaning. When worries arise about my day, I let them drop and I go back to what I’m doing. And I repeat this cycle over and over again.
Some say that when we’re being mindful we are paying attention to all aspects of our experience. Using the dishwashing example again, it might be recommended that we pay attention to the warm dishwasher, the smell of the dish soap, our feet grounded on the floor. While this works for many people, for me personally, these details are not important. I am not trying to have a sense-based experience. I’m just trying to do what is in front of me to the fullest extent possible.
Opportunities abound for mindfulness. Short of laying claim to every single moment of the day, opportunities could include:
- Driving a car
- Listening to a friend
- Doing housework
- Doing computer work
- Feeding a cat
- Reading a story to a child
- Being present in our emotions
With any of these examples, and countless more, we notice when our mind is wandering off and we bring ourself back to the present moment. If you find yourself planning your weekend while your friend is talking to you, you bring your mind back to listening to what she or he is saying.
Why be Mindful
If the activity that you’re engaged with is particularly dry, staying with the activity at hand can be very hard! I find this to be the case when I’m preparing my taxes. Hours of boring data entry, and I’m supposed to focus on that??? Er, yes, Megan. And strangely, I’m more at peace when I move from digit to digit, entering each, than when I’m thinking about how dull this all is and someone please rescue me from the drudgery. I might even put on some music to distract me but later I notice that it’s just adding to my unrest. In scenario A I am bored but not upset, in scenario B I’m bored and agitated. I’d prefer the first one, thanks.
But boring can be a hard sell when some purveyors of mindfulness promise miracles.
I choose to look at mindfulness’ potential a little differently. When I’m mindful, the chances are that I, and others around me, will experience less emotional distress or suffering. Put even more simply, it’s like “less bad” rather than “more great.” To me, overall less pressure and expectation. And, I may contradict myself when I say that there can be genuine contentment that comes with mindfulness. But, to me, it’s to be found in our relationship with our everyday world.
But often, it’s exactly those elements of daily life that we just want to run away from. Commonly, when we’re bored, or experiencing unpleasant thoughts, memories, strong emotions or uncomfortable body sensations, we want to get away from such discomfort, and fast.
- Distract ourselves
- Eat a bowl, or three, of ice cream
- Get drunk
- Go to sleep
- Binge eat
- Crank the music
- Physically harm ourselves
Anything to be not where we are.
And healthy distraction strategies, when used judiciously, can be very helpful, especially if we’re getting to a place where we feel like we can no longer cope, when we are being engulfed by our feelings. Activity can be a great antidote to despair.
So if escape is such a possibility and we can make that happen so easily, why then would we want to be present? I have always found the decision to turn towards mindfulness a challenging one – I may have to psychologically pull myself away from something that is very comfortable, easy, entertaining or gratifying and move towards something simple (although not always), dull at times and everyday.
Then why do it? For me it’s about being comfortable with me – every bit of me – having ease in my existence with whatever comes my way, whether that be mundane or grand. Loosening the resistance in my mind, the fight for things to be other than they are. As a friend of mine says, “this moment is complete.” And I want to recognize that.
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