A while back I read Thich Nhat Hanh’s book The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation. One of the key focuses of the book is being more aware of the current moment and appreciating experiences as they are happening. Hanh writes about times when we absentmindedly complete a task or when we do one thing with our mind on a completely different thing. We can still get through what we are doing and we may even want to be thinking about something different, but when we don’t focus our mind on the present moment, then what we are doing never really matters and we are constantly living in an imagined world in the past or future.
An example provided in the book involves tea. “While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future–and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.” To actually live one minute of life would be to sit and truly experience what is happening and what we are sensing of the world. All we would need to do to take in the world around us is tune our mind to the our present experience, but it is incredibly difficult to do.
In Meditation we are trying to zoom our focus into one sensation, often our breath, to concentrate on just one experience. What we find when we try to do this, and what we may find if we try to truly live one minute of life, is that our ability to stay grounded is often limited. Many forces pull at our attention and move our mind out of the present into a realm of imagination. We think back to memories and past experiences, or we think ahead to the demands that life places on us. Rather than experiencing the present moment and where we are physically located, our minds occupy another time and place. The Miracle of Mindfulness focuses on the benefits of learning to live in the present moment. Meditation helps us understand how distracted our minds become and helps us learn to focus on what is important. Controlling, or at least understanding, the various impulsive thoughts of our mind helps us as we move through life to be more intentional and aware of exactly what we are doing and how the world behaves around us.