What does it mean to be “mindful”? It could mean the practice of mindfulness, which looking at Wikipedia (the source of all knowledge) is defined as “…being aware moment-to-moment, of one’s subjective conscious experience from a first-person perspective.” This is hard. Very hard! Personally I’m not sure how possible or practical it is to be be aware, moment-to-moment of your conscious experience 100% of the time. There is a reason why we have both slow and fast thinking styles. The fast thinking style is related to involuntary reactions from our mind based on our sense perceptions. Think reflexes or automatically noticing someone when you seem them. That is all involuntary, quick, and very useful. The slow style of thinking is the more conscious analytical or even intuitive thought processes we use to evaluate stimuli we receive. Very often we use this slow process to make deliberate decisions weighing various pros and cons of the paths before us.
But what do these two styles of thinking (fast and slow) have to do with daily mindfulness? Well, to be frank I’m not sure. It seems, however, that maybe the concept of being aware moment-to-moment has a lot do with understanding the interplay between our fast and slow thinking. I’m typing right now this blog post and yet am really not consciously thinking about my keys hitting the keyboard. I’ve spent enough time typing that I’m pretty good and it’s automatic. When I start to think consciously about typing my typing slows down and I make errors! So mindfulness may not really be about being overly focused on the specific activities my fast thinking brain is driving, but maybe at a high-level making sure those fast thinking algorithms are what I need to be doing.
For example, typing is a skill, but could also be considered a habit in some ways. Humans are habitual in nature. We crave routine. Sometimes not so healthy habits. When habits form, there is more conscious thought put into them. As the habits become ingrained in our daily lives, those habits become much harder to change. Neuron pathways get established and we have trained our brain to develop a skill or establish a habit that we can then pay little attention as it is being accomplished.
This is a very powerful evolutionary advantage. We can train our minds and bodies with infinite possibilities! I guess for me, today, right now, mindfulness is being aware of those habits (good and bad) at a high-level and make a conscious decision if I wish to continue their development or not. To do this one needs a world view or set of goals by which to make a determination of the pros and cons of various habits. That brings into question many more things. Something for a later blog post…